Commission Music

Commission Music
Get Noise in November

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Satisfied Customers

So far two of the comissions from this round have made it out to their final recipients. What did these folks have to say about it?

David is an American artist. My other commissioner was Dan, a British researcher who does computer analysis of bird songs.

You too could share in excitement like David's or get to be a patron of the arts. Or, you could pass this joy along to someone else this coming holiday season. Music commissions make great gifts! If you order in November, delivery is guaranteed in time for Hanukkah or Christmas!

Do you love noise music? Do you have fashion? Drop me an email if you'd like your image to be in forthcoming posts about noise and fashion

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Acoustic Noise

I've just posted a new piece of noise to my podcast, which was commissioned and titled by David Jensenius.

Shorts #31: 1416343620

The title he gave me is the unix timecode (aka: the time expressed as milliseconds since Midnight 1 January 1970 GMT) that he received the commission.

I've always had a particularly hard time coming up with titles. Sometimes, it took me as long to title a piece as it took to write the piece in the first place! When I first started this commissioning project, I was somewhat thinking of Mark Twain.

In one of the Tom Sawyer stories, Tom has been told to paint a fence. Since he doesn't enjoy the task, he starts thinking of ways to get somebody else to do it for him. He could pay them, but he doesn't have much money. He decided to use psychology instead. He would convince other boys that painting was really fun and they would ask to do it. Then, he realises, if it's such a joy, they might pay him for the chance to paint. All those pick-your-own strawberry fields are based on the same principle.

I hate picking titles, so therefore, other people should pay me to do it for me! Of course, there's more to a commission than that! There's the knowledge that you've caused a new work to exist, and a piece of music made just for you!

David wanted an acoustic piece, so I recorded a bunch of sounds around my house. The house is still being painted and the dog was still quarantined, so this combination limited my access to hard drives full of archived recordings (waiting for music to be put into) and made it hard to go out into the world and get new recordings. Fortunately, there's a lot of fascinating little sounds in the home. I've been intending to record my tea kettle for some time, and this finally got me to do it, with my zoom recorder. (Surprisingly, the wider angle microphones got a much nicer recording than the close ones, so keep that in mind, should you decide to record your own kettle.)

I got one extra sound that just did not fit into David's piece. I recorded myself growling into a microphone, which made a nice harsh noise sound, but the rest of this piece was not harsh. Fortunately, I found a good application for that sound: the Swift Noise Compilation.

A few weeks ago, Taylor Swift released 8 seconds of white noise to iTunes, which topped the charts in Canada. In dedication to her chart topping short noise single, a tribute album is being put together of 8 second long noise pieces. This is extremely short, even for me!

The brief said white noise, but I strayed from that. My growl was only about 4 seconds long, so I ran it through PaulStretch and then used sox to cut it to exactly the right length:
sox --norm stretch.wav trimmed.aiff fade 0 00:00:07.98 0.07 pad 0.02@7.98
This trimmed the sound to 7.98 seconds, with a 0.07 second fade out at the end and 0.02 seconds of silence after that. Then, I used Audacity to put a stereo plate reverb filter on it. I love plate reverb and if I lived some place quiet, I'd try to get a real one.

My next acoustic commission will have a wider world to draw from, as my puppy is now finally clear to walk anywhere I'd care to take him. Today he will have his first trip to a dog park!

I've got another commission in my queue and then after that, I'm free to work on yours! Commissions make great gifts. If you order in November, delivery is guaranteed in time for Hanukkah or Christmas!

Do you love noise music? Do you have fashion? Drop me an email if you'd like your image to be in forthcoming posts about noise and fashion

Monday, 17 November 2014

New Noise

I've just posted a new piece of noise to my podcast, which was commissioned and titled by Dan Stowell.

Shorts #30: A lazy afternoon in the shade

The title he gave me is a reference to the Philae comet landing. Dan asked for analogue noise, adding he wanted 'undulations', if possible. I made some sound that seemed fairly undulating to me, which I recorded in five tracks, all somewhat different from each other. They used my new Gravity Well module from Circuit Abbey, which does orbital modelling. Since I was checking for comet news in between recording, this seemed to fit with the feeling of the day. I decided to use the comet mission as a metaphor for how to mix the piece.

Synth patch for second commission

The first part has a slower undulation and a slowly looping cycle, which I imagined like orbiting the solar system. Then it goes to a much tighter, shorter loop, like orbiting the comet. Then it goes into a nice low rumble, like rocket engines. Finally, it ends with a very low clicky sound, like the comet might be making. Thinking of it in this way really helped me to organise the material, which had more variation than I would normally use for such a short piece.

Comet patch

However, a problem became apparent when I tried to listen on my laptop's internal speakers. The nice low rumbles were too low for my speakers! However, in the meantime, an actual comet sonification was released by the ESA, which is striking for a few reasons, including how beautiful it is and how much it sounds like synthesis! I decided to emulate it, with a pulse wave and white noise going through a resonant bandpass filter, with (alas, digital) reverb added on in the mix. This filled up the top frequencies and also gave it a good cadence at the end. It definitely made it a stronger piece, but I think it overwhelmed the undulating

Normally, in such a short piece, I would have three closely related ideas. This piece, however, has enough ideas for a piece two or three times as long. However, if I were going to do one thing different, it would be to use a different reverb. I've been wishing I had spring reverb for more than 20 years now, so maybe it's time to finally give in.

There are a lot of reasons you might pick to commission a piece of music, like just because you want to be a patron of the arts! Commissions also make great gifts. If you order in November, delivery is guaranteed in time for Hanukkah or Christmas!

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Vocal Contstructivists CD

In other music news, my choir, the Vocal Constructivists have released a CD, Walking Still, which is available for purchase. I've just ordered ten copies to give away as Christmas presents. It's also available via iTunes and you can listen to it on Spotify.

The album has been getting good press, most recently by the Arts Desk, who used words like 'compelling,' fabulous', and 'faultless'. A previous review, in the Independent, compared it to orgasms with machinery noises.

I've also been told that its eligible for Grammy nominations, meaning they think it's one of the best 500 CD released last year in its category.

I'm a tenor on the album. although I have written a piece for the choir, the first performance was not until after the recording session.

If you're pondering getting a musical gift for someone, but think noise music might be a bit too much, this is a good disk to introduce people into somewhat out there stuff. As the Arts Desk put it, 'Everyone needs a disc of offbeat contemporary music on their shelves. Start with this one.'

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Sounding Good

Last night, I decided to do the final mixdown of the latest piece while sat in my living room, through my internal speakers. I recorded a bunch of sounds that used my low pass filter, because it's really got a very nice, Moog-y sound. What the sounds don't have are high frequencies, because of the filtering. Which means when I went to mix them, there was nothing at all coming out of my speakers.

It happens to be the case that, as laptop speakers go, mine are particularly bad. But, judging from the statistics of people reading this blog, most of you aren't on mac either. When I got this computer, I told myself that the terrible internal speakers didn't matter, because I would never use them and would always plug into better speakers. That's what I told myself, at least. The reality is that I sometimes listen to stuff, even noise and other non-pop music, through the internal speakers. And it's not reasonable to make somebody a commission and then dictate that they have to use special speakers to listen to it. I'm going to have to record a bunch of new stuff, with higher frequencies in it.

This issue of mixing for laptop (or earbuds or internal phone speaker) was first brought up in popular music by Bjork in her 2001 album Vespertine, which was specifically mixed to sound good on a mac laptop. In the 13 years since, all of pop music has followed her. If you've ever wondered why bass lines seem to be missing from most top-40 dance-y singles, this is why. They don't sound good coming out of an internal laptop speaker or internal phone speaker and a lot of ear buds distort them.

Of course, all of pop music is, on some level a response to technology. singles are the length that they are partly because of the durations of wax cylinders - the first recording medium. But as a bass player, a tuba player and a composer, I have some nostalgic feelings for low notes. I think the answer to the conundrum is to mix carefully - make sure the piece sounds good coming from just laptop speakers, but leave in the low tones, so when people put it through better equipment, they get a nice surprise.

If you or someone you know wants to make a commission and don't care about laptop speakers, let me know, and I'll subwoof it up! Otherwise, you're getting music engineered to sound good no matter how you play it. Noise music commissions make great gifts for people, whether they're low-fi or high-fi! If you order in November, delivery is guaranteed in time for Hanukkah or Christmas!

Do you love noise music? Do you have fashion? Drop me an email if you'd like your image to be in forthcoming posts about noise and fashion