Early Studies in Sound [RGMS-005] (-2,3)

Released November 30, 2020

Early Studies in Sound, Chris Chraca: November 2020

    During our lives we reflect on what we create, how we act, and how we present ourselves. For some who consider themselves artists, reflection upon one’s craft is the way that craft may evolve and become something unique. That is what this album Early Studies in Sound is, a reflection of my artistic journey during my early time studying and experimenting with sound, in particular my fascination with Pierre Schaeffer’s research and work on the sound object and musique concrète.
    My early introduction to music was piano lessons and listening to popular music; I always had music in my life, but I never felt like what I listened to or played had any correlation to my own musical tastes. I had this underlying thought that most music I heard on the radio or played was simplistic. There was nothing interesting and unique happening, and it felt as if the same concepts were being rehashed for the last few centuries. This was until I read about musique concrète and Schaeffer’s concept of the sound object. In this realm I can focus on the sonic aspects of the music and explore more than just tonality and rhythm. Music is more than just about how instrumentalists perform the music, live or in a recording, music has the ability to use sounds from our lives, the mundane and noise, to create compositions that are unique in so many different ways. Using the advancements in music technology it has become extremely easy to manipulate sounds to create anything you can dream of. An example of this is the cardboard assignment many students will be asked to do at the start of their post-secondary education. In this assignment, the student is asked to create music only using a piece of cardboard. The student can create sounds with the cardboard which they record and then manipulate the recorded sounds using a gamut of signal processing applications (digital or analog). The final products these students create are truly inspiring. 
    This brings me back to my album Early Studies in Sound, the compositions you will hear were created between the years 2015 and 2019. They best reflect my experimentation and evolution during my early time as a composer. The methodology of this album has no coherent structure outside of this idea of reflecting on the past. One concept that I am reflecting on, through conversations with Sean, is the Apollonian and Dionysian dichotomy. What is interesting about this dichotomy is I created a similar dichotomy between two concepts in the electroacoustic composition world, reduced listening and heightened listening. Reduced listening comes from Schaefferian theory and focusing on only the sound objects physical characteristics or “listening to sound for its own sake” while heightened listening comes from soundscape studies and focuses on allowing the audience to “hold on to something” or the more emotional aspect of the sound. These two concepts create an axis of active listening and is a similar dichotomy to that of the Apollonian and Dionysian. Unconsciously, I somehow came across the same dichotomy as Sean, although the active listening axis is implicitly about listening to sound so it would fall under the Apollonian and Dionysian dichotomy. 
    The album is organized in chronological order of when I created each piece, and since each piece was created independently of one another I will discuss each one separately. Most of the early pieces were created around half a decade ago and will primarily be reflections of what I hear now rather than detailed notes on what I was consciously thinking while I was creating them. 

Concrète Projet 1 is part of the concrete project series and uses recorded sounds and two synthesizers. It is strange that I called this a concrete project, inspired from the musique concrete genre name, but use synthesizers that are not recorded sounds but synthesized sounds. Using synthesizers is a trend in most of my early work and I believe is my own internal struggle to let go of the comfort of using such easily manipulatable sound sources(keep this in mind). One interesting aspect of this piece is that the synthesizers are being used not just to create a tonal motif but also are used to mimic the recorded sounds (the birds tweeting and the church bell). 

Concrète Projet 2 is another piece from the concrete project series and as such also has both recorded sounds and synthesized sounds.In this piece I move away from the idea of a traditional musical motif like there was in Concrete Project 1. Here there is more emphasis placed on the recorded sounds versus the melodic synthesis. 

Concrète Projet 3 is another piece from the concrete project series and as such also has both recorded sounds and synthesized sounds. In this piece the synthesizer is much quieter than it would normally be. This obvious dynamic issue was done to put even more emphasis on the recorded sound over the synthesizer. Comparing Concrete Project 1 and Concrete Project 2 to this piece there is a continuation in the departure from synthesized sounds. 

Sound Collage #1 is a piece that uses only recorded sounds that are heavily processed. It was at this point I started to only use recorded sound within compositions that were considered sound collages or musique concrete. The signal processes I used primarily consisted of equalizers and reverbs which is how I was able to extract tonality from the recorded sounds. Using pitch shifting I was able to create tonal motifs. 

Words only uses the recordings of various people saying 20 different words. These words were edited into syllables and used as sound objects to be organized. The piece is partitioned into 3 sections, section 1 is a dry version of the piece, and the two other sections are processed through a custom synthetic reverb modeling chain. Section 2 goes through the modeling once and section 3 is created by taking section 2 and processing it through the modeling chain a second time. Listening through the piece you will notice the delay and reverb getting more intense between the three sections. Around the time I was creating this piece I was getting familiar with Alvin Lucier’s works and enjoyed I Am Sitting In A Room and employed a similar method to this piece. What I unconsciously created by using delays and reverbs were interesting rhythmic syncopations. 

Concrète Projet 4 is another piece from the concrete project series, but in this piece, there is no synthesized sound, just recorded sounds. Expanding on the concepts I used in Words, this piece uses delay and reverb to create rhythms from various recorded sounds, but applies pitch shifting processing to create a semblance of tonality. There is a great deal of sounds that have noise elements or timbral structures that do not align with a tonality, but by using reverberation and equalization I am able to pull tones out of these kinds of sounds. 

Alchemy is a piece where an individual read the short story The Alchemist by H.P. Lovecraft and this reading was recorded, I then edited and mangled parts of the recording that had great significance to the story. Instead of taking away all meaning from the recorded audio I intentionally kept some meaning to tell a story. This piece is probably the furthest away I have gotten from reduced listening in my approach to creating. 

Electronic Cave Short Excerpt is my first experience in visual coding using Pure Data and my first sound installation. This recording is an excerpt from an hour-long sound installation, and during the installation I sat down in the middle of the room and recorded the piece. The Pure Data patch was coded to play sine waves in random frequencies at random intervals out of stereo speakers. The room that this installation was set up in was a reverb chamber which allowed the sine waves to be very reverberant even though the dry signal was unprocessed sine waves. When individuals came to listen, they believed I created this installation to make them feel like they are in a cave, but this was accidental. My main purpose for this piece was to experiment with using sine waves as a sound source in musical works and understand how to code in Pure Data. I was purely looking to experiment with the new tools I had and not create a soundscape. 

Homicidal Excerpt is a sonification of homicide data collected in the city of Chicago from 2000 to 2015. The data was imported as a text file into a Max/MSP patch to be parsed. Once parsed into usable data the information is then used to change the frequency of the synthesizer and adjust the filter size affecting the synthesizer. Each tone heard is one murder that happened in Chicago and they are played chronologically. Like the Electronic Cave piece this was an experiment with Max/MSP and the concept of sonification. I would have not done much in terms of sonification and there is more I can do to explore this area. This is not the full recording of the sonification but only an excerpt. 

Wonderful Feedback is a piece using 1.92 seconds of What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong which is heavily processed using different reverb applications to completely morph those 1.92 seconds into something ethereal and unique. I use a similar process as I did with the piece Words but to a more extreme level. Using the same reverb process over and over on the recorded audio brings out unique frequencies within the sampled audio. 

Muzyka Konkretna #1 is a musique concrete piece and was created with three distinct recorded sound sources. This is the last piece I created and uses the same sound sources I used for in my installation for my master’s project. Just like most of the other pieces I use rhythmic and timbral motifs with the sound objects in the composition to form structure in each piece. This is a style I used naturally without reading or learning about. Since the music is not based on a tonal theory there is something else that listeners need to focus on to follow the music. That something else is the physical characteristic’s structure of these pieces (timbre, rhythm, loudness, spatialization). 

Electronic Cave Long Excerpt (Bonus Track) is the same thing as the Electronic Cave Short Excerpt but is an extended version.

'Early Studies in Sound'
Composed and Produced by Chris Chraca