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Projects

This page contains additional projects that did not find their way into the second edition of the book, including repertoire pieces by the Case Study artists.

Elementary Projects

Hearing Fast
Understanding the way hearing works is important, but for the musician, awakening the sense of hearing is even more so. Notice that this is distinct from developing listening skills. This is simply a way to get the sense alive and receptive.

Sonic Collage
‘Collage’ was originally a technique in the visual arts, derived from the French word for ‘glue’, coller. Artists would literally stick ‘found objects’ (bus tickets, cigarette ends, whatever) to the canvas. A sonic collage, then, will use no ‘original’ material at all, but only sounds and samples gathered from elsewhere. Important note: extreme care should be taken in this project to avoid breaching copyright law, and copyrighted material should only be used with prior permission.

Intermediate Projects

Inner World, Outer World
This is really a kind of technologically mediated soundwalk. It is also something that many people do every day, but probably without the musical intentions suggested. The purpose of the project is to observe how listening to music affects perceptions of the world.

Composed Space
The aim of this project is to create a spatial ‘image’. The project may be realized in (or out of) a room, across loudspeakers, or in ‘headphone space’. The objective is to explore the relationship between the sound (or sounds) that is used and its spatial distribution. To give an example: a fly buzzing through a space would follow a typically zigzag route, which can be reproduced in a sound diffusion spatialization. Now consider a sound which does not have such a readily associated trajectory (a reversed piano sound or a square wave, for example). What would be an effective way to spatialize that sound?

Advanced Projects

Mobile Phone Piece
Music is an integral part of mobile phones, and the ringtone download culture is firmly established. However, the provision of music for ringtones does not necessarily make a musician into a ‘digital musician’. This project is designed to explore the creative potential of mobile phone networks.

Hydroponics 1 for Laptop Orchestra (2007) by Ambrose Field.
Performance instructions for this work. Includes instructions on how to construct and use hydrophones.

music-is-life(2006) by Rob Godman.
Score and instructions.

The Space Between (2011) by Synthia Payne.
Instructions for a collaborative online improvisation.

Pop Song Substitution (2011) by Quantazelle.
Instructions for creating an original track using substituted sounds.

Real to Surreal (2011) by Martyn Ware.
The idea of this project is to create a sense of 'magic' within a time-based composition, simultaneously forcing us to consider the nature of natural and unnatural sound and their relative strong and weak points.

Elementary Projects

Hearing Fast

Introduction

Understanding the way hearing works is important, but for the musician, awakening the sense of hearing is even more so. Notice that this is distinct from developing listening skills. This is simply a way to get the sense alive and receptive.

The Project

Buy a pair of good quality earplugs and wear them for an hour while going about normal daily business. Be ready for the moment at which they are removed and sound rushes in! This is a simple yet effective way of refreshing the sense of hearing, a bit like fasting for the digestion.

Notes

This is a useful exercise to repeat every so often. It also has the effect of focusing attention upon ‘inner’ sounds, as the head and body resonate or produce sounds themselves. At first, the dislocation from the outside world will feel strange, but after a few repetitions of this project it will become natural and easy.

Sonic Collage

Introduction

‘Collage’ was originally a technique in the visual arts, derived from the French word for ‘glue’, coller. Artists would literally stick ‘found objects’ (bus tickets, cigarette ends, whatever) to the canvas. A sonic collage, then, will use no ‘original’ material at all, but only sounds and samples gathered from elsewhere. Important note: extreme care should be taken in this project to avoid breaching copyright law, and copyrighted material should only be used with prior permission.

The Project

Make a sonic collage lasting 2 minutes.

Notes

The compositional decisions in this project are therefore: What material to use and why? How to combine the materials? When to start and stop materials?

Warning: collage can be a perfectly effective way of making music, but in order to achieve its effects it needs to show an awareness of its own dramaturgy. This means conveying a sense of what it would be like not to be a collage. In other words, the formal juxtapositions of collage need to be clearly heard as such, if the listener is to understand that a collage is taking place. To avoid a problem in this area is really up to the composer’s own critical faculties. The act of making a random collage in itself does not guarantee interesting results.

Intermediate Projects

Inner World, Outer World

Introduction

This is really a kind of technologically mediated soundwalk. It is also something that many people do every day, but probably without the musical intentions suggested. The purpose of the project is to observe how listening to music affects perceptions of the world.

The Project

Create a playlist on an mp3 player or other wearable music player. Turn up the volume and walk a fixed route of, say, half an hour’s duration.
Now do the same again with a completely different playlist.Try it again…

Each time, observe how the playlist alters perceptions of the world around, of space and of time. Relationships with the buildings, or other people, seem to change. What are those changes? How to explain them? Why do they happen?

Notes

It can be useful to make written notes on each walk, describing how perceptions change. Is the sense of distance altered by the sense of musical time passing?

Composed Space

Introduction

The aim of this project is to create a spatial ‘image’. The project may be realized in (or out of) a room, across loudspeakers, or in ‘headphone space’. The objective is to explore the relationship between the sound (or sounds) that is used and its spatial distribution. To give an example: a fly buzzing through a space would follow a typically zigzag route, which can be reproduced in a sound diffusion spatialization. Now consider a sound which does not have such a readily associated trajectory (a reversed piano sound, or a square wave, for example). What would be an effective way to spatialize that sound?

The Project

Take either a musical gesture, or the attack and continuant features of a given sound, and use it to ‘compose’ a space.

The main objective is to find a way to spatialize the chosen sound so that its environmental or dramatic properties are fully realized. The choice of sound is important, as is the choice of listening situation.

Notes

Despite the rather technical nature of the brief, this is potentially a highly creative project that can act as a study for a larger composition. It will take at least three sessions to complete, because time is needed to experiment with loudspeaker positions or sonic image on headphones, then to reflect critically on the results, then to refine the initial effort. The goal is primarily aesthetic, rather than technical, because the aim is to match an abstract musical gesture to a concrete spatial gesture. This is one great challenge of sound diffusion.

Advanced Projects

Mobile Phone Piece

Introduction

Music is an integral part of mobile phones, and the ringtone download culture is firmly established. However, the provision of music for ringtones does not necessarily make a musician into a ‘digital musician’. This project is designed to explore the creative potential of mobile phone networks.

The Project

Devise a performance in which the audience’s mobile phones become the instruments.

Notes

This idea is not new, and there have been several high-profile projects which have attempted to choreograph ringtones. The most successful was probably Dialtones (A Telesymphony) (2001) by Golan Levin, Scott Gibbons and Gregory Shakar, which is also available on CD (Staalplaat STCD160). Research into that piece might provide a useful source of inspiration for this project, but the challenge here is to devise some new way in which to realize the idea.

Hydroponics 1 for Laptop Orchestra (2007) by Ambrose Field

For: as many performers as there are available laptops and equipment, and conductor

Duration: 12 minutes minimum

Equipment

Each performer will need: one laptop computer, microphone, any sound processing or generation program, and an individual loudspeaker so that the computer system is a self-contained instrument without need for a unified, external public address system. Each performer will need a small Perspex tank of water. Size may vary between performers, but the audience must be able to see your hand gestures.

Construction of a Basic Hydrophone

You will need a hydrophone microphone for this task. If you do not have one, you can construct your own.

The following web reference (last checked March 2007) has good, detailed construction details: http://sonar-fs.lboro.ac.uk/uag/downloads/bender2.pdf

The following basic version also works well: Use a small Piezo Ceramic microphone disk. These are extremely inexpensive. Solder two wires from a shielded connecting cable to a jack plug suitable for your equipment directly from the contacts on the surface of the disk. Cover the disk and exposed connections in an epoxy resin-based solution and leave to harden.

Electrical safety in the work is your responsibility, so remember to consult your health and safety manual before undertaking electronics work, and keep all electrical equipment and power cables safely away from water!

Conductor

The role of the conductor in the work is to synchronize the performance and split the composition into sections: (1) Smooth sounds, (2) Waves, (3) Drips and (4) Turbulence. Write the section number on a back of a large card, and hold it up when 3 minutes have elapsed. You may freely repeat sections, and are free to experiment with the order of the sections.

Performance instructions

Place hydrophone in water tank. Keep laptop and mains electricity well away from water tank! In rehearsal, assign oneprocessing algorithm of your choice to the sounds picked up live by your hydrophone. This processing can be as simple or as complex as you like: filtering, reverberation, resampling and sample triggering are all good examples. Decide as a group whether you wish to share information with each other on the choice of processing algorithms, or not.  You may not change your processing algorithm during the piece: your task is to explore the sounds it can make by changing the nature of the water sounds arriving at your computer. Dry your hands if you need to operate the computer; do this carefully and visually each time. Create sounds in your water tank as indicated by the conductor. Each section lasts roughly 3 minutes, and note that section timing and order is controlled by the conductor.

Music-is-life (2006) by Rob Godman

Assign a letter, a number, to a pitch, a rhythm, a dynamic, a sample, a MIDI value, a . . .

The Space Between (2011) by Synthia Payne

First, download the NINJAM software and make sure you have it set up properly, and practice this piece before performing in public. You will need to make sure that there is Internet access on your stage.

  1. Let The Space Between you and other players be an active and integral member of the ensemble
  2. Listen to The Space Between before making your sounds
  3. Listen to The Space Between in conjunction with other players’ sounds.

Begin to make sounds in conjunction with the sounds of others and The Space Between.

Pop Song Substitution (2011) by Quantazelle

Pick a pop song you enjoy that you can copy easily (or find a multi-track MIDI file). Try to make it as close-sounding to the original as possible – use drum samples or synth versions of the original instruments. Try to mix it as close to how the original sounds. Keep every instrument on its own track. 

Once you're happy with this facsimile, create a duplicate track under each instrument, but replace the recognizable instrument with a new sound or synth that's innovative and completely unexpected, but works in the same 'space' as the original track. I'd recommend using synths instead of samples, because when you start mixing the tracks you'll start to notice muddy parts or sound cancelling. Keep mixing and tweaking until you've created your particular cover of this pop song that has your imprint. 

This will be fun! Remember, however, especially in the US that this is still a cover song and if you decide to commercially release the final product you will need to hit up Harry Fox or other agencies to make sure royalties get distributed to the original artist.

I hope that this project will show you, on a hands-on basis, how pop songs are created and also from what they are created, with the hope that you will recognize popular structure and keep pushing forward into more awesomeness (sound- and structure-wise) to create amazing songs with your particular take on them (and not just as pop songs – I just chose that parameter as a focusing agent).

Have fun, and keep pushing the envelope as well as our sonic expectations.

Real to Surreal (2011) by Martyn Ware

Introduction

The idea of this project is to create a sense of 'magic' within a time-based composition, simultaneously forcing us to consider the nature of natural and unnatural sound and their relative strong and weak points

The Project

  1. Create a multi-track composition using samples of real instruments, between 5 and 10 minutes long, then replicate every individual sound with its equivalent, but this time electronically generated using either virtual or real synthesisers (NB not just taking the original sounds and processing them – the imitated sounds should be created from scratch).
  2. Then crossfade between the two versions of the composition on the same timeline – starting with the 'real' becoming 'surreal'.

Notes

The aim of the crossfade process is to be as imperceptible as possible – the 'magic trick' is that by the end of the piece the listener becomes mysteriously disorientated and can't easily understand how or why. Try it, it works!