Words & Music

This semester I collaborated with three creative writing MFA students at University of Virginia to create three new multimedia works based on and incorporating poetry they wrote. The pieces were presented at the Second Street Gallery in Charlottesville as part of the Tom Tom Founders Festival 2015.

The first piece, “For My Brother”, was created in collaboration with Courtney Flerlage for fixed media:

The process for creating the piece involved initially creating the first section without Courtney’s voice, to get an idea for the kinds of textures and overall mood that meshed with both of our visions for the work. I then recorded Courtney reading the poem (both in a normal speaking voice and whispered). The voice was then chopped up, manipulated, and accompanied with materials that “painted” the text (e.g. “falling” in text -> some musical concept of falling in music). Lastly pitched material was added in (violin samples and manipulated train whistle) to tie the sections together timbrally.

The second piece, “BLUR”, was created in collaboration with Caitlin Neely for video art and live reading:

Creating video art for text was a new venture for me. I have done sound design for film and video art for live music in the past, but actually creating visuals to accompany words was new. I ended up creating a set of visuals that I mentally tied to parts of the text and then arranged them in time such that enough synchronicity was present for the audience to pair them in a meaningful way. I then went back through and added simple, descriptive sound cues to flesh out the texture.

The last piece, “Singing Saw” was created in collaboration with Matthew MacFarland, for live electronics and live reading:

Because of the focus of this piece on a musical saw, the first step to creating this piece was, of course, to record sounds of the musical saw. Along with this recording I also recorded guitar samples and a variety of foleys (apples falling, leaves movement, foot steps, etc.) used to accompany the reading of the text. I used foley and non-musical sounds to create the sense of sections within the work and instrumental samples to make the sections cohesive overall. Because of the constant story-telling accompaniment of the sounds in this work it could be classified as “Cinema for the Ears”.

Collaborating with poets was wonderful. Being able to dive into the musical world of a poem hidden beneath the text and bring it to life was a great deal of fun and work, and I look forward to doing it again.

Life at International Sound Art Festival Berlin 2012

In 2012 I had a minute-long piece titled “Life” selected to be a part of the 60x60 Voice Mix, a part of the longstanding 60x60 project created by Robert Voisey. The Mix was played at the International Sound Art Festival Berlin 2012 in the Mitte Museum.

The piece’s source material is solely a recording of me saying “life”, which you can hear below.

I then took that sample and stretched it in various ways using the PaulStretch and native Pro Tools time-stretching algorithms.

I then divided these samples in a variety of ways: sectioning them over time (separating the “luh”, “eye”, and “fuh” phonemes, for example) and over frequency (separating the low, voiced sounds from the breathy, noisy sibilants). I then used a variety of effects and techniques, including granular synthesis, distortion, pitch-shifting, and more, to create different textures. I sculpted and organized these textures and ended up with the final, minute-long piece that was heard at the festival, below.

"Industrial Revelations" Analysis II

Continuing to look at Natasha Barrett’s “Industrial Revelations” I am developing a loose thesis that is based on 3 levels of appreciation of, and my seeking to understand, her work in general and this piece specifically.

First, this work is sonically “masterful”: the sounds within it are rich, precisely composed, and highly varied, and I am interested in how Barrett achieves this. What effects and techniques are used to produce the sounds? How does she combine sounds to create gestures? A great deal of creatively used convolution and phase vocoder time-stretching is employed, which could be a result of software created by Øyvind Hammer, whom I know has worked with Barrett in the past.

Secondly, as mentioned in my first post, I have broken the types of sounds within the piece into 3 broad categories: humanly-produced sounds, machine sounds, and environmental sounds. I am interested in seeing how Barrett uses groupings and juxtapositions of these sound types in this composition. Below you can see a spreadsheet containing (an incomplete set of) tagged data of each sound in the piece. “mac” indicates a machine sound, “env” indicates an environmental sound, and “hum” indicates a humanly made sound. When tagging these sounds I am also analyzing how they are produced, but have not determined a concise way to mark this.


Lastly, the formal structure of the piece (and other pieces by Barrett) seems to be very related to other acousmatic pieces (characterized by sections with amorphous or sharply defined (gestural) boundaries that vary greatly in density and gestural rhythm), but still holds a certain mystery to me. What is the logic behind the form? How are sections structured internally? The formal structure is slowly being revealed to me as I listen to the piece over and over and also analyze which sound types (and their combinations) are used to define formal subdivisions within the piece.

Below you can see a complete sectional analysis of the piece as represented in EAnalysis. There are seven sections (including an extended coda), the majority of which contain codas themselves (usually long “reverb tails” that meld sections together). 


Once I have tagged all of the sounds and am happy with my formal analysis I will view the piece from several different analytical angles, most likely related to Simon Emmerson’s work. I’m excited to represent the tagged data extracted from the piece graphically and determine if any trends can be seen visually that I otherwise haven’t perceived aurally. I’m also interested in exploring why this piece impacts me so much, as a listener and composer. More to follow.

First Post & "Industrial Revelations" Analysis

I have tried in the past to maintain a blog and failed. My goal with this blog is to post something interesting every day, be it of my own work, just an idea, or a link to some other artist’s/group’s work. 

The first project I’m going to discuss is an on-going analytical paper focused on Natasha Barrett’s “Industrial Revelations”, an eleven-and-a-half minute electroacoustic composition that is the last cut on her 2002 album Isostasie that I am writing for Ted Coffey’s seminar class here at University of Virginia.

I have been fascinated by the work of Barrett for many years (hearing her piece Racing Through, Racing Unseen on Miniatures Concrétes is what got me interested in acousmatic-style electronic music).

My goal in the analysis is to explore how the piece traverses the areas between the sounds of machines (predominantly trains in the piece), human sounds (voice, residual sounds of human actions), and the sounds of their respective (and at times overlapping) environment (organic, textural sounds).

I am using Pierre Couprie’s EAnalysis program to analyze the structure and source material of the piece. Here’s a screen shot of the analysis in progress:


Another plan is to transcribe the last minute of the piece onto traditional staff notation. I feel that pitched material in acousmatic music is rarely analyzed melodically or harmonically, and that the last minute of this piece is a particularly good candidate to do this with: spatialization is barely existent and all of the sounds have focused pitch centers.

I will be writing the paper through the rest of November.