Thursday, July 20, 2017

Galenean Harp

I've spent a lot of time in the three and a half months since my last post messing around with different parts of my musical/audio instrument collection:  whacking bells, banging on the toy piano, hooking up contact mics to random objects and hitting them, learning how difficult good field recording is, patching miscellaneous objects together in Max and M4L, etc.  I've produced a lot of noise, started a lot of projects, and none of it seemed really to want to go very far -- at least until the last week or so, when a couple of disparate ideas came together and formed this new piece.

It's an ambient work, so you can put it on in the background or you can sit and listen meditatively; I wrote it more with the latter in mind, but it works for the former.  As usual, I recommend good headphones and sufficient volume so you can hear all that's going on (it doesn't get much louder than where it is by the first 90 seconds or so).

This post's title is a reference* to aeolian harps, string instruments that are played by the wind; the central instrument in this piece is a kind of electronic version of that which is "played" by the field recording of waves I made recently.  It's called a resonator; I built it in M4L and gen~, based on an instrument built by a Max programmer (who had, in turn, built his instrument based on a Karplus-Strong synthesizer).  It works analogously to an aeolian harp in that it takes random energy -- in the case of the aeolian harp, wind; in the case of the resonator here, white noise in the form of surf -- and allows tiny samples (effectively grains) to loop in on themselves at specific frequencies and, well, resonate.  The frequencies are, in my version, determined by MIDI pitches, which are programmed by me in an adjacent Live track and fed into the resonator on the audio track through a side channel.  The end result is this sound like waves brushing against open strings, which I just love.

The two additional instruments here are a choir sample pack and Valhalla VintageVerb.  I wanted the choir to remain almost hidden, leading the listener to stretch her ear to hear it.  The reverb fades in very slowly, again, being something you tend to notice only after it's been there a while; I really liked the otherworldly effect it has on the familiar sound of the surf.

Last, a bit on the surf itself:  the waves were recorded among rocks on a stony/sandy beach in Westport, MA early this summer.  I placed my field recorder down as close to the waves as I could get; this yielded the wonderful sloppy, smacking, slapping sounds as the water played around the stones.  The high dynamic range was especially well-suited for use with the resonator, producing the strum-like tones; narrower dynamic ranges tend to produce more organ-like or sustained-string sounds from it.  The stones in the pic accompanying the piece were photographed on the beach as I found them.

*The piece's title is a bit of a pun, in case you hadn't already noticed:  resonances are, by definition, waves.