This blog is only in English.
Welcome back to my BLOG pages.
This is a long post of some changes and an important addition to my website. I have written a new and rather elaborated explanation of my motivation for this project. So please read the whole post!
I have added Spanish versions of some pages on this website. The Home page is now bilingual. The Project pages have separate English and Spanish versions. The other pages are (still) only in English.
Because of these changes I had to reshuffle the menu, and did an update here and there.
I recently created a new soundscape with my software, I called it “The Tuning of an Unstable World”, rather applicable these days! Some people have heard it already and gave me many positive reactions. So now I want to spread it further to the readers and listeners of this site.
The title is a variation on the title of the book “The Soundscape: our sonic environment and the tuning of the world” (1977) by R. Murray Schafer. He wrote, “… the earth forms the body of an instrument across which strings are stretched and are tuned by a divine hand. We must try once again to find the secret of that tuning.”
This soundscape is about the present turbulent world we live in and the almost impossibility to find such a secret.
For this soundscape I used sounds of El Hierro: the tuning of a local orchestra, the sounds of a landslide near my house and of the ever-blowing wind. It is composed by moving my hands in front of the webcam of my laptop.
You can listen to this and more on my Soundcloud page.
New friends, a new explanation
For new friends I had to reformulate my explanation for doing all this work. It is good to do this after some 5 years of experimenting and programming. Am I still on my way…?
In the past I have been searching for the ‘musicality’ of all kinds of sound, mostly natural sounds, but also some anthropogenic sounds such as machines, concrete mixers, and special musical instruments. Since a long time those built by Luigi Russolo (1885-1947) or such as the Theremin inspired me. Or watch this beautiful clip: “Frank Zappa Teaches Steve Allen to Play The Bicycle” (1963). Then maybe you have an idea of what was and is driving me…
A recorded sound might be interesting or ‘musical’ on its own, but often ‘comes to live‘ when manipulated with changes in pitch, timbre, volume, adding special effects like reverb, echo, stereo widening etc. Combining different sounds opens up new dimensions. Simultaneous sounds can form an ‘orchestra’ and can interact, communicate or even fight with each other.
I listen to a lot of audio experiments on the internet, some beautiful, others terrible, but for me the definition of what makes a sound ‘musical’ is still rather vague. I can hardly put it into words. It is personal, emotional and a matter of taste.
I was curious to listen to modern compositions and experiments, especially coming from the French Ircam forum that pretends to be the ‘avant-garde’ in this field. Contemporary composers don’t shy away from using algorithms and mathematical structures, like the golden ratio, Fibonacci sequences, even using artificial intelligence, but seldom I am convinced that these techniques enrich the pure musicality of their pieces. I wonder if long streams of monotonous sounds with impressive and intrusive sound effects that make me think of yoga sessions, shopping centres or waiting rooms, represent the final intended results of these very complex techniques and the sincere intentions of the composers.
I have to think of compositions by the Dutch composer Jan Boerman (1923-2020), for example “De Zee” (1966). He composed a lot of electronic music in the 1960’s, and recorded and mastered his pieces only on magnetic tape, by cutting and pasting with scissors and glue. He articulated very meticulously what he was looking for in sounds, especially those generated by the analog equipment (tone generators, noise generators, filters etc.) that he had at his disposal. He wrote about ‘transparency of sounds‘: “A sound must be transparent for intentions and emotions”.
I appreciate the use of this visual metaphor: there is something ‘behind’ the sound that moves you. You have to look ‘through’ a thin curtain at something beautiful that is behind. Without this metaphor, it’s hard to explain how to enjoy sounds and I can’t make it clearer than this.
Comparing “De Zee” with aspects of general modern compositions or soundscapes, perhaps an anachronism given the resources available to Boerman and today’s composers, would be the best way for me to formulate some criteria for what I consider as ‘musicality’. But that would take too many words here, or is not espressible in words at all. In brief this is what I can say now about what sounds should ‘do’ to me:
- seduce me to unknown places and stimulate my fantasy. Then I can listen again and again and every time something new is happening to me. Isn’t that a criterion for a real work of art?
- fitting of sounds. I hear and make pieces but often the sounds don’t fit with each other, or have no relationship with each other. Therefore they cannot build tension, a climax or relax.
- maladjusted or inappropriate spaces. Sound effects sometimes seem to be very beautiful at first ‘sight’ but the sounds then lack a relation with a physical location where the recordings are supposed to be made. The effects move the sounds and me to a maladjusted or inappropriate space. Acoustical effects must seduce me to a place of fantasy, but if not well done or if nothing really ‘happens‘ in that place, I start to think “What am I doing here?”
My own experience in the last 5 years is that manipulating sound only in a few cases might result in success. I discovered that the presence of something like pitch in sound is important. I can manipulate pitch easily (digitally) to make a sound more ‘musical’. Boerman also discovered this. But also atonal sounds, such as from my ‘desprendimientos’ can become ‘musical’, but not always. Manipulating the timbre of a sound by using filter techniques can add to the musicality to a great extend.
Recent neuroscientific research shows that the locations of perception of pitch and timbre in human brains are generally overlapping. Probably these causes similar, intertwined and maybe indistinguishable experiences. This is the field of ‘tonotopy’, the study of the mapping of sound (in particular pitch and timbre) to locations in the human brain. I would like to read more about this…
The combination of several different sounds with different pitches, timbres, effects and dynamics is a problem ‘of higher order’ for me. When I combine natural sounds with digital synthesizer sounds, I have to be very careful, it quickly becomes too smooth, too glossy and too ‘beautiful’ or ‘inappropriate’.
I hope to find some more clues what makes combinations musical. It still is a big challenge for me to get a grip on this. There is a lot of research publications on musical perception available and surely I will read some, but first I have to explore and research my own experiences!
For me it is very important to work with ‘natural’ or bodily gestures to generate and orchestrate sound to music. A keyboard or guitar is mentally and sonically very far away from the produced sounds. A musician is often very concentrated on combining his manual, vocal, gestural and electronic techniques in order to express intentions and emotions by means of sound. Finally these techniques can ‘merge’ within a person or a group, but there is a long bridge to cross. I try to cross that bridge by using natural gestures with my hands, body, by manipulating objects, walking, jumping, etc. I experienced that these movements can come mentally and sonically much closer to the manipulation and generation of sound. By doing this, supported by my software, there grows in me a direct and natural link between producing and hearing sound. This requires another ‘mindset’ if your favourite instrument is a piano or a bass guitar!
So, to come to the point, what is my purpose with all this work? I am convinced that playing with sounds and manipulating sounds in combination with bodily gestures is a congenital way of making expressive music that can generate some form of ‘alienation’ in me as ‘composer’ and can open my mind for unknown viewpoints, capabilities and experiences. Not only for music, but also for other aspects of life.
Before Russolo nobody would consider my music as ‘musical’. Today, after a century, some of us are liberated from old frontiers by listening to products of ‘sound designers’ who abandoned traditional criteria. This had great influence on all kind of audiovisual products, from websites, movies to video games. I can hear this every moment of the day if I want to.
Creating sound by making gestures is becoming an essential aspect of my life that offers me many possibilities to travel to unknown places and tell about these to my public!
In fact, listening is an essential aspect of life that silently seduces us to enter new environments behind the sounds, provoking all kind of new experiences, not because of the perception of sound itself, but by opening one’s mind. In the past decades there is a strong tendency to close our minds, be it by external oppression, repression or individualistic and protective self-imposed restrictions, or simply the fear for strangeness.
The current time needs people with an open mindedness to solve large intertwined problems to generate a peaceful and dignified societies. I hope to provide a sincere contribution to this with this project.