Commission Music

Commission Music
Bespoke Noise!!

Sunday, 14 December 2003


Celeste Hutchins
Music 222
Final Project Notes


Program notes:

Researchers have discovered that if they take the syllables of a word and play them backwards, but in the correct order, people will be unable to hear the reversal. This piece explores how backwards things have to be, before you can hear it.

The male voice is George Bush. The female voice is Jessica Feldman reading text from Jeffner Allen, Lesbian Philosophy: Explorations (Palo Alto: Institute of Lesbian Studies, 1987)


I wanted to write something that could only be done with a computer, so granular synthesis seemed link an obvious choice. My friend posted about the syllable reversing thing in his blog several weeks ago, so I thought I should try that. I decided to use Bush, because everything he says is so very backwards. I searched for aiff files of Bush speaking and only found two good ones. One was him speaking about the ABM treaty, but my wife just wrote a piece using that one (also premiering 8:00 p.m. Dec 10th, but in Paris), and didn't want me to use it. The other one is the one I am using, where he gives a speech about terrorism and destroying American culture. One of the students in MUSC 220 used the same audio clip for a different sort of tape project. I had been thinking about the subtext of the speech since hearing that project and about how to make Bush's real message - his desire to destroy pop culture - clear. Repeated listening, which this piece contains, helps get people hear the real message behind the seeming non-sequiturs of the presidential speech. To make it clearer, I splatter key phrases, using the same reversal algorithm, out to any one of the 4 speakers. As the piece progresses, I add additional sound-bites, from the ABM treaty speech and from press conferences where Bush talks more about foreign policy.

After Bush winds down, I launch the contrary text from Allen's book. I run the algorithm in the opposite direction, because I take the opposite view of the words. Allen also talks about violence, terrorism and victimhood, but unlike Bush, everything she says is true and real. Her words are ultimately empowering to her reader, giving her readers freedom instead of taking it away. Her viewpoint is equally extremist, but exists in reaction to the sort of evil that Bush proposes.

Also, I find that listening to Bush talk about destroying culture for 5 minutes makes me very tense and Jessica's soothing voice talking about women uprising against men is an antidote to Bush's evil rhetoric.


I put the splattering in a routine, because I found it hard to fight my impulse to send out bushisms in all directions as key words popped up. The texture was always too dense. and I thought it would better to not necessarily have the highlighted text match what was just said. Doing a computer implementation was much easier than teaching myself to play the piece. The Allen quotes at the end are still manually triggered, as it's easier to manually put them in the right spot than to get the computer to do it.

I always have an instinct to generalize software that I've written so it could take any audio files and do the same piece, or make it very general so it could do a number of related pieces. This is not always a good instinct, although the reversing routine might come in useful. It is already stand-alone. The maxTimesThroughLoop variable may not be useful going in reverse. Would you want your loop to start from the largest possible grain and run N times? Or start from N loops from the smallest possible grain? My instinct is that the second case would be more useful, but the first case is what would happen currently.

The weighted averages of buf2 in the splatter routine are kludgy. While the splattering code works, I wouldn't want to invite it to dinner parties. The three while loops are especially awful. If I want to do more with this piece, I would fix the splattering. But for now, it works. My old boss used to say, "worse is better," as in, it was better to release something that worked than work forever to make the most pristine thing in the world. You could fix it later. He also used to go through and remove comments from code, saying that the code itself was truth and comments were distorting, so I don't think he always gave the best advice on programming. If someone took out the comment around figuring out what number should reside in timesthroughLoop, for example, I would be hopelessly confused.

postmortem - blog comments

The concert was sparsely attended. only around 4 spectators came. my piece crashed right near the end of the George Bush section, so the radical feminist text was not played at all. Ron, the prof, said that Ashcroft had gotten in my computer. I was using a different computer than i had used to test and develop (and compile the intrepretter on) the piece, and i think that may have been a factor. so i'm going to get a laptop this week. as a student, i won't have to pay for it for a long time. i think i can pay it off over a year with an interest free loan.

and christi did Working Girl instead of the ABM tresty piece, perhaps due to a shortage of elephant samples. I will be going to the library on monday to return my interlibrary loan books, so if i take my brain with me, i'll check out some elephant tapes.

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