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Daedelus and his Monome

Yesterday I saw Daedelus perform on the Monome at de Verdieping. It gave rise to the question: What is the perfect performance instrument for electronic musicians? Does such an instrument exist at all? What does the audience want to see?

First of all, any device is better than a performer sitting behind his laptop with a mouse an nothing else. We all know he’s not checking his email but the fact that he could be is enough to conclude this is not a very pleasing way of addressing an audience, right?

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Birds singing in the spring forest

I recorded these birds singing in the forest last weekend in Belgium. It was a calm day, with some sun now and then and a few drops of rain. It seems like the birds never get tired from singing their songs all day. On the left there are some people talking in the distance, enjoying a walk in the spring forest.

After a minute a few drops come down from the leaves above me, but it doesn't really start to rain. This recording nicely illustrates my previous post Sound and levels of annoyance.

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Particle by Kanta Horio

On the subject of the physical value of sound, this is another interesting example. Kanta Horio created Particle, an instrument containing nine electromagnets and broken paper-clips. By controlling the current for each magnet separately the instrument creates interesting patterns.

What I particularly like about Particle is how it physically shows you how the somewhat abstract sounds are created. This makes it more interesting to watch than similar sounds being produced and processed by a computer. The performance lacks complexity though. By adding various other layers of sound a more interesting composition could be created, with sounds from Particle as an ongoing supporting element, rustling in the background.


Sound and levels of annoyance

Last week I experienced two completely different soundscapes. First it was Queensday in Amsterdam, which means a whole day of loud music, masses on the streets, shouting children, overdriven speakers and boat horns. A day on which my head had to stand a lot of sonic pressure.

I spent the weekend in a forest in Belgium, with no one around except for a casual walker, enjoying the oxygen-filled forest air in spring. A complete opposite of the screaming city soundscape I experienced two days before.

I need silence at times. After a long day of teaching, traveling or working on a sound design project I don’t switch on my stereo when I get home to listen to some new music. It’s like I can only handle a certain amount of sound a day, next to the fact that I don’t like to just play some music without being able to really pay attention to it.

Sitting on a grass field in the forest I was surprised though by what I heard. It wasn’t that quiet at all.

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Prepared turntable by Yuri Suzuki

Yuri Suzuki, born in Tokyo and now working in London, created the 'prepared turntable'. We could call it an analog looping machine, with great looks! This is a good example of a sound installation with a great visual aspect to it, yet still what you see is totally functional.

On the sonic side I don't find the prepared turntable particularly interesting, but of course there only so much you can do with a two-second loop. I like how Suzuki reminds us of the physical side of sound, a side we almost forget in these days of digital files and the internet.


International Noise Awareness Day

Today is International Noise Awareness Day. I didn't even know this existed, until a woman on the street handed me a flyer advertising a soundwalk - a walk through the city passing the most interesting sounding spots, while listening carefully to the soundscape. A nice idea. I do it all the time.

The flyer also mentioned International Noise Awareness Day. A day to become aware of the impact of noise on hearing, health and the quality of life. Noise is everywhere around us, it's a by-product of our industrial society, but we are not very aware about how it can cause negative physical and psychological changes in humans.

What can we do about it? Everybody makes noise, it's not just there. So we can start by paying attention to the noise we make ourselves. The Center for Hearing and Communication in New York has a recipe for a quiet diet on their website. A good place to start.

Photo by: BarelyFitz


Morocco: Crowded Jamaa el Fna square

Join me for five minutes on the Jamaa El Fna Square in Marrakech, Morocco. It's one of the busiest places I've ever been. At the entrance of the Medina (the old city) of Marrakech, the Jamaa El Fna Square forms the hot-spot of the city for tourist planning to go shopping, dining, or riding a horse carriage.

Groups of musicians play traditional Gnaoua music, there are a lot of stands with food, orange juice, olives, and motor scooters try to navigate their way through the crowd. Children are running around, even late at night. The smell and the smoke of the grills is surrounding us.

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Tank-FX: a huge tank for natural reverb

Why try to emulate the reverb of a space if you can have the real thing? Tank-FX is a website where you can upload a sample and have it played back in a huge 11m high former water tank. The sound gets sent back to you immediately, including the natural reverb from this tank:

On their website (German only for now) you can upload a sample from an Akai S-2000 style interface. You can set the desired output file format (flac, ogg, mp3), and the dry/wet ratio. Your sound will be played through a set of JBL speakers and recorded by a matched pair of Røde NT-5 microphones, providing a good quality recording. I was expecting to hear a huge reverb tail and I found the result a bit disappointing the first time, but it actually sounds very good. Try it yourself or get an idea by listening to the examples on their website.

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Can the human body be an instrument?

Yesterday I visited Steim to see Tanto de Nada for voice, live electronics and live video by duo bang.grab.stutter and Eric Lyon with The Biomuse Trio. Tanto de Nada is a very nice composition by Evelien van den Broek and Danny de Graan, in which the voice controls software processing the voice, resulting in a pleasant and dynamic sonic experience based on sung and spoken words in different languages.

The Biomuse Trio showed a work in progress by composer Eric Lyon consisting of sound input from violinist Gascia Ouzounian, processed by software controlled by sensors attached to Benjamin Knapps' arms. After the performances there was room for discussion and one interesting question arose: Do those sensors attached to a persons body form an instrument?

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Social sound design: Tweet a Sound

Tweet a Sound is a small application that lets you design a simple sound and send it over Twitter. You download the application from the Sound + Design website, and you can start tweaking your sound. Once you're happy with the result you can tweet it, which sends an unreadable tweet to your account. It's just a series of numbers prefixed with #tas:

Tweet on twitter

It would be nice to have Twitter integrated in the program so you can receive sounds directly. This is not possible though. You'll have to copy paste the code into the program in order to play the sound.

Now why would you want to do this?

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