Commission Music

Commission Music
Get Noise in November

Friday, 28 November 2014


Really really really the wrong bicycle for touring

I took most of this week off. I went to the New Forest with my puppy, my wife and a couple of bicycles. She rode my touring bike and I rode my delivery bike, with a dog trailer attached. The kit I was carrying definitely outweighed me. Fortunately, the New Forest is only slightly hilly.

It is full of wild horses! These are not like the wild Mustangs of Nevada, but are sort of fat, large ponies that mill around and eat, but they very nice looking and unafraid of people. This is probably because the term 'national park' in Britain means an area where you are allowed to build houses and have farms and it not actually a park as I know the term. Although the new forest does have little pockets of land that have trees on them.

We were staying in kind of an odd cabin. Upon arrival, it became clear that the 'kitchen' was a bit of an optical illusion. It had lots of kitchen cabinets and a cutting board and a tea kettle and a surprisingly large supply of wooden spoons, but was missing some details like a sink or any kind of cooker. It turned out that a microwave and a tiny oven were located in an outdoor shed that had a combination lock and no lighting. Which is how I came to be standing outside a shed in the pouring rain checking if a ready meal was done. I very strongly suspect that the cabin was registered with the local authority as a shed or something. As there was no kitchen, then it obviously isn't meant for human habitation, right?

After returning from the fun but slightly shambolic holiday, it was time to prepare for Thanksgiving. One of the advantages of being abroad is that all the shops are open as normal, so its completely reasonable to stroll into a shop Thanksgiving morning (or even evening) and get what you need. My menu this year was:

  • boiled brussel sprouts
  • sweet potatoes
  • garlic mashed potatoes
  • nutloaf
  • roast carrots and spuds
  • american-style stuffing
  • mushroom gravy

My mother in law got very enthusiastic about everything and contacted her American friends for some recipes and so turned up with a wild ride with sausages, a green bean casserole and cranberry sorbet. She had a bit of a comical adventure trying to find ingredients, not realising that 'frozen orange juice' meant concentrated. Also, she read that an American cup measure was half a pint, and so was using British pint, which is significantly larger. I've never seen so much cranberry in my life.

My wife also made some lovely pumpkin bread and my friend Irene brought rice pudding. I made a pumpkin pie, which went terribly wrong and will not be mentioned again.

Around 12 people came over and fortunately, I made enough food that nobody left hungry. It was a lovely evening, at the end of which, I was too tired to move.

Now that this little break is over, when my hangover wears off, I will quickly be back hard at work at making noise commissions. I brought my recorder to the New Forest, but I learned that English forests are extremely quiet in November. The horses made some nice sounds, but my dog was acting strange and untrustworthy around them, so I didn't get any recordings. Indeed, I was so exhausted from pedalling such a heavy bicycle that I barely took any pictures.

In my home country, this weekend has been taken over by a million holiday sales in shops and finally with 'Cyber Monday' which is the big day for online sales. All of it filled with desperate searching for the perfect gift for friends and family.

My dad is really hard to shop for. He doesn't want much and what he does want, he just buys for himself. However, he is interested in arts and culture. A few years ago he had season tickets to the San Francisco Symphony and even managed to get me an introduction to the conductor!

For people like my dad, noise music commissions make fantastic gifts. The physical CD from the commission can be wrapped up for under the tree or other exchange. It's something unexpected, with cultural capital and his name attached as the honouree of the actual piece of music. It's a great conversation piece. The music is short, so he can store it on his phone and play it for his Square Dancing buddies before the dance starts.

Do you have somebody like my dad in your family, who is hard to shop for, but loves a good conversational started and has an interest in arts or music? This would make a thoughtful gift - something they'll mention for years afterwards. Get a commission today and the CD will arrive in time for Christmas or Hanukkah. The price goes up after Cyber Monday so get it now!

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.'