Extreme sound design, radical electronic music, and the impending hardware revolution — Darwin Grosse recently sat down with Symbolic Sound’s Carla Scaletti, and the resulting conversation took some unexpected turns. Listen to the full podcast on Darwin Grosse’s Art + Music + Technology podcast.
Tarantino is “truly an aural enthusiast and very much a sculptor of his cinema through the use of sound and music,” according to his longtime supervising sound editor, Wylie Stateman, who continues,
Sound is a major contributor to Quentin’s films and often the secret sauce that makes the meal just gel and come together as a coherent recognizable work…
Audio is very different from the other filmmaking aspects… Audio is very mysterious — a force that is just truly present in the moment. It’s just a vibration in the room. It’s something that the audience experiences but can’t see and can’t touch. It’s a different kind of art form, and as an audio artist I love working for Quentin because he is so particular and he values the contribution that sound makes to the experience of watching his film.
Tarantino is fascinated with the sounds of the actors’ voices and he wanted the ninth adversary in the film, the blizzard, to have its own character and its own unique ‘voice’. For that challenge, Stateman and co-supervising sound editor Harry Cohen called in sound designer Sylvain Lasseur. Sylvain brought in his Continuum fingerboard and Kyma / Pacarana system and set to work creating the voice of the blizzard.
Using Kyma and the Continuum, Lasseur was able to perform multiple layers of wind sounds to picture. They built the blizzard literally one gust, one whistle and one whisp at a time, designing the wind to complement the dialog and the picture editing in a unique way. According to Stateman, using Kyma, Lasseur was able to create an “instrument” on which he could perform the voice of the blizzard.
The first step was to create a guide track based around the dialog; then they modeled other sounds around that guide track. Stateman describes how they composed the sound design in an almost musical way:
So let’s say we have a base sound of a blizzard, we could then, very selectively, model wind wisps or rumbles or anything else against it. The Kyma would shape the other samples in time relative to the control track. Once we have them all modeled against each other we can start to pull them apart a little bit so that each element can have its own dynamic moment. It becomes more like a parade and you hear the low, the mid and the high — not on top of each other but offset from each other. The artistry comes in turning samples into instruments.
The importance of sound to Tarantino is evident in the fact that Lasseur ended up spending four months creating the instruments in Kyma and another four months performing and shaping the voice of the blizzard around the dialog and visuals.
For more insights on the sound for Hateful Eight, check out Jennifer Walden’s full article: Wyle Stateman Talks Sound Editing on ‘The Hateful Eight’
Flutist/composer Anne La Berge is featured on the cover of the July 2015 issue of freiStil magazine. Inside, an in-depth interview delves into Anne’s history, music, and politics.
When asked about her electronic beginnings, she recounts, “My first electronic instrument was the microphone. To this I owe some of the most magical aspects of my sound: whistling, harmonies, echoes of vowels and consonants, to name just a few.” She soon started to expand on those effects with hardware like the Clavia Micro Modular, then the Clavia Nord Modular G2, and now “currently I am a passionate Kyma system user… I do most of my pieces in conjunction with a Kyma. I am fascinated by the expansion of the flute sounds by electronics. I really appreciate auxiliary means for obtaining an incredible dynamic range. Sometimes in an ensemble situation, the flute can’t be heard. So I’ve developed sound patches that allow me to be heard in almost any musical situation.”
Anne can be heard performing her live Kyma-processed flute compositions at the Berlin Heroines of Sound festival in 10-12 July.
Anne La Berge is a flutist, composer and improviser working with interactive electronics in both composed and improvised music.
What Anne tries to provide audiences
I offer the individuals who come to my concerts the opportunity to be curious and to hear, see or think in a way that wakes them up, that sparks them to wonder if the world as they see it might be different than they usually assume it is, in some unexpected way.
Her work, in her own words
Most of my works embrace the unpolished and unbridled opportunities that unforeseen combinations offer us to respond to in the process of making art. I try to provide those opportunities by guiding players through improvisations.
Most people who hear my work (and that includes my purely free improvisations), hear that I am trying to communicate something. That I have something to say whether the message is a kinesthetic gesture, an emotion or even words.
On the joy of music and live improvisation
I was performing a piece called Lotus Blue Dream with my daughter, Diamanda, composed by my husband for piccolo and violin. There is one section of the piece where I feel elevated into another world. One of the contributing factors is that Diamanda and I relate to one another on an intuitive level and another is that the composition brings us to a musical place that moves me in a very special way every time we play it.
I play with a couple of small groups where that happens regularly. One is Shackle and the other is a trio called Zebra that has 2 saxophones and me. The improvising magic happens when we are all sharing the responsibility of musical invention and we arrive in a musical place that integrates our instrumental timbres and our personal fantasies in a way that we’ve never experienced before. We all know it when it is happening and have the skills and the desires to stay in the music and develop a mini-composition at that moment that works for us. I know for certain that the audience feels it too. Magic. Wholeness. Entirety in the moment.
On creating a thriving community of composers and performers
I am the director of VOLSAP, a non-profit foundation that supports and produces experimental music in The Netherlands and abroad.
Splendor is a collective of musicians in Amsterdam. We have renovated a historic bathhouse in the old city that has two concert halls, a bar, and a few small rehearsal spaces. The programming and production for Splendor is the responsibility of 50 musicians. We produce our own projects and we can produce other productions by artists outside of the 50 core musicians. We are a club and have around 1000 members who can come to our concerts for free or for a reduced price. Our members pay €100 a year to be part of Splendor. It is a musical mecca of our time.
Making music with others
[Shackle is] an electro acoustic duo that have found a way of making music all our own. At our heart is a self-designed, digital cueing system that operates as a sometimes-visible third member. Both prodding and reactive, the Shackle System suggests musical directions and textures to Robert van Heumen and I, opening up a fascinating array of sonic choices for us to both play with and against. Our performances are between improvisation without borders and tightly controlled forms. Improvisation and structure coincide in our music making. With spontaneous transitions and long, spun-out sections of sound, our music works on many levels at once: full of delightful discoveries that can happen at any moment, we savor the possibilities that those discoveries offer up.
With composer Scott L Miller
Scott and I usually send Kyma Timelines and/or Kyma Sounds back and forth after a lengthy email exchange regarding our desires and the practical issues of the project we are working on. Fortunately we’ve performed together a few times now so we know the ins and outs of one another’s musical quirks. We also send sound files of rehearsing with the Sounds. That gives us an aural feedback that words would never be able to fully communicate.
Taking an active role in new instrument development
Alexander Murray [Anne’s flute professor at the University of Illinois] developed a flute that was slightly different from the conventional western flute that most people play today. The flute was more in tune and the fingering system was more logical. I had a flute built for myself and played on it for a few years. A couple of the design features did not suit me, so I had another one built that I used for many years until I moved to The Netherlands and met Eva Kingma. She was developing a quartertone flute in the early 1990’s that interested me. My experimental passions and history with unusual flutes made me a prime suspect to work with her as one of the consultants on the development of the Kingma flute. After playing a couple of prototypes, I ended up with a quartertone flute that has worked wonderfully for me for many years. As to my experimental nature, I think that is simply in my DNA. When someone needs a guinea pig, I’m first in line.
How Anne became an improviser
Both my piano and flute teachers had me invent and improvise exercises and/or tunes as part of my training. I grew up believing that improvising was part of one’s personal practice routine. Much later, I learned that some people made a career doing it!
During college and then directly after I was always part of improvisation ensembles. When I graduated from the University of Illinois and moved to Los Angeles, I became part of a few improv groups that performed regularly. One was with the musicians Ron George and Susan Rawcliffe who built their own instruments. While working with Ron and Susan, I developed a playing style where I didn’t sound at all like a classical western flute in order to fit into the the group sound.
Another extreme milestone was while I was living in Los Angeles in the early 1980’s, had no access to a music library and was not willing to put out the money to purchase music. I asked the clarinetist, David Ocker, to play with me on a concert but we didn’t have any composed music to play so we improvised. The duo worked so well that we formed a trio with Vinny Golia and had a fantastic time playing together for some years.
After I moved to The Netherlands I performed regularly with full time professional improvisers. The free jazz scene in Amsterdam was remarkable and has remained so. The musicians in the Corkestra were particularly influential for me. Playing with them brought my improvising and my general artistic growth to another level.
On teaching improvisation to classically trained performers
Most classically trained performers have music that they know well and that they feel is somehow close to their hearts and bodies. When asked to improvise using the pitch, rhythmic and timbre material of that music, they are usually excited to do so. The next step would be to make the separate parameters of that music more available to improvise further. An example of combining parameters and waking up musical fantasy would be if one imagined two or three favorite pieces and combined them in different ways over a period of a few minutes. For example using the “feel” of a Berio Sequenza while playing Country Western that breaks down into the rhythmic structure of a Bartok piece and then ending up in sustained noise. That sounds like fun to me. And potentially our imaginations would be focused on the task of group instant composition and not on our own shortcomings or other personal inhibitions.
Advice for a performer/composers at the start of their careers
Composer/performers are a rare breed. The majority of composer/performers began their musical careers as exceptional instrumentalists or singers. By exceptional, I mean that they, somewhere along the line, developed a somewhat convoluted approach to learning the music put in front of them confounded by a spotty devotion to the conventions of music performance. I would recommend that they follow their noses and move to a place where they can work with like-minded colleagues. Usually this would be a metropolitan area with a vital improvisation and new music scene. Most hopping scenes have institutions where one can study but it is the colleagues who are most important. Collaborations inspire us to learn and develop. And those collaborations are essential in launching our careers as performer/composers.
Her philosophy of teaching, workshops and master classes
…my main focus in all workshops is to inspire people to take musical risks and to help them free their imaginations so that they can play together without obsessing on their own issues and discover ways to focus on making music. That way they can dig deeper into playing their instrument(s), coping with technology and building an ensemble sound and/or behavior.
A day in the life…
Depending how late I stayed up the night before, I get up and have tea while my husband David has coffee. We go into the yard and feed our pet bunnies Syd and Ginger and then we go to our desks. I turn on my computer and check my email just to see if there are any world catastrophes to solve and then I work creatively for a while. At some point in the day I practice the flute for a couple of hours. Then I have rehearsals, or meetings or concerts. My schedule is not regular seeing that I tour regularly. I practice the flute wherever I go. I also keep thinking or working on new work. Either in my head or with my gear.
Humor in new music
Frank Bowen [Anne’s flute professor at the University of New Mexico] was an incredibly talented musician and a warm hearted and devoted teacher. He was also extremely shy socially. He encouraged his students, including me, to develop a personal style of playing that would be immediately recognized as unique. He wanted us all to be who we were and even more. One comical memory that I have is when I brought in the Berio Sequenza to a lesson and during the second lesson he asked me what I was playing as the fourth event. It seemed wrong. As it turned out, my score had an ink mark on it that wasn’t part of the notation and I was just playing a smudge! A serious and ambitious flutist interpreting a glob of lost ink. Ridiculous? How would I have known? I’ll never forget how hard we laughed.
Current work in progress — A Lovely Gesture (world premiere scheduled for 28 September at KISS2014 in Lübeck Germany)
A Lovely Gesture is a 12-minute work for acoustic performer(s) with live Kyma processing and a Max patch communicating with the Kyma. The Kyma will have Sounds that process the musicians. We [Anne and collaborator Scott Miller] would like to give the performers and the computer the responsibility to progress through presets in the sounds. Therefore the players will be given pedals to press when they would like to move to a new preset. At least three players will need to vote to move on before the Max patch will consider sending the request to the Kyma. The Kyma and the Max patch will choose the next sound randomly each time. This system of moving to a new musical section randomly guides the players into all sorts of unexpected musical opportunities, especially as they strategize in real time from section to section including all the transitions between sections. The Kyma VCS will be visible on iPads located where the performers can see them. It is essential that the performers see what sections and presets we are in and that their votes are coming in loud and clear.
Basic description of Anne’s performance setup
1x acoustic microphone for flute – Neumann 184
RME ff400 firewire audio device: I use the RME as an onstage mixer. I use the pre amp for the flute and send the signal to a Mackie Blackjack that is the audio device for the Kyma. The Blackjack then returns the Kyma stereo audio to the RME so I can mix it into a stereo signal with audio coming from my computer that is usually generated by Max but sometimes Ableton Live.
I communicate with the MacBook Pro running Max and the Kyma software via a set of pedals sending data via an Arduino. The pedals are used to cue sounds on the Kyma Timeline and to control volume and parameters that I have clumped into one continuous controller. I try to keep the number of pedals to a minimum and use the audio from the flute as the main controller and musical voice.
I use the Kyma to process the flute in live performances. This summer I am working on using it to play sounds as part of compositions. Until now I have used Max to play audio samples in my compositions and used the Kyma to process the instruments. I am making a work now were the Kyma processes and plays samples or synthesized sounds in addition to processing the live performer.
On the Kyma community and KISS
The Kyma users I have met are for the most part exceptionally imaginative and intelligent people who have a penchant for creating music that is very much their own. People who love sound and through tinkering with hardware and software are convinced they will come up with yet another musical moment that feels fresh and exciting.
[At KISS] I was pleasantly surprised to meet up with people who I knew from years past. The level of invention and funky use of all kinds of hardware was also a high point for me. I …was delighted to see and hear work that gave me ideas for my own work.
I hear from musicians that I run into at gigs, festivals or just hanging around that the Kyma is a fantastic instrument but many of them have never actually gotten their hands on one to try it out. I think that these people who are curious…would be a great group to encourage to come to KISS.
Origins and the future!
My father is a scientist and a choral conductor. My mother is a violinist who has always been faithful at caring for people. Both parents are 85 and still active in their chosen paths. I have inherited a perpetual curiosity and penchant for invention from my father. I have been gifted with a fine musical ear, physical endurance and a preference for time-present focus from my mother. If I have to live a life that is nearly as long and rewarding as they both are continuing to do, I have years of challenges in front of me!
Tobias Enhus‘ Santa Monica California-based film-scoring studio is featured in the November 2013 issue of STUDIO magazine. You can get a preview of the article through this video in which Enhus gives a demo tour of his unique collection of gear (including a rack with three Pacaranas) presented in Swedish and the universal language of audio gear, all to the soft accompaniment of the glassy, metallic, vocal, analog electronics that have become his signature sound. Near the end of the video, Enhus does an impromptu performance with Max Mathews’ Radio Baton controlling vocal resynthesis in Kyma!
The article describes how Tobias was born in Sweden and began by following in his father’s footsteps as a construction engineer before changing course to follow his true passion: music and sound design. Now he is a successful film composer and sound designer in Hollywood, and he has what he describes as a real monster in his sound design studio: “This is my audio playground,” Tobias says, referring to his Kyma system, the programming language considered by some to be the most powerful sound design tool available. Enhus’ Kyma system (his 3-Pacarana rack is among the world’s largest sound computing clusters), along with his Synclavier and analog synthesizer modules, have laid the technical foundation for Enhus’ successes in Los Angeles; his composing credits include the films Narc and the soon-to-be-released feature film Sisterhood of Night, the television series Top Gear and video game Spiderman 3, as well as sound design and music composition for numerous ads for companies like Mercedes and Coca Cola.
The article is full of photos, anecdotes, advice, and insights on the life of a professional composer and sound designer in LA. And it’s an inspiring story for anyone who feels they are expected to take one path in life and is seeking the courage to risk it all in order to follow their dreams.
On 1 January 2013, Fiona Talkington celebrates the New Year on BBC Radio 3 with special guest, multi-instrumentalist and Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones performing live in the BBC’s Maida Vale studios. On this special New Year’s installment of Talkington’s Late Junction, Jones plays acoustic piano, lap steel ukulele, and Kyma-processed electric mandolin and lap steel guitar. The show will air Tuesday, 1 January 2013 at 23:00 on BBC Radio 3 (after which it will be archived on the website for one week). Happy New Year!
Composer and unrepentant avant-gardist Dick Robinson is featured in the June 2012 issue of Arts Atlanta. In an interview with reviewer Mark Gresham, Robinson traces his journey from mechanical engineering student, to professional violinist, to electronic composer (he studied with Bob Moog and Pauline Oliveros) and live computer music improviser (he was the first person in the United States to own a Kyma system), all informed by his passion for the abstract visual arts and a fiercely independent spirit (“I was pretty much, as is my preference, isolated” as he describes his working style, adding “I do my own thing.”). Despite (or because of?) his independence, Robinson has a long history of collaborating with visual artists, poets, film makers, and other musicians. When Gresham asks him why, Robinson’s answer captures the joi de vivre underlying all his work: “I’ve always improvised, and have collaborated since the ‘70s without the thought of anything more than having fun” Luckily for us, audiences always get to share in his fun, most recently on June 10th when Robinson collaborated with fellow composer Pedro Rivadeneira in a live improvisation they called Invasive Species at Sycamore Place Gallery in Atlanta.
Jörg-Peter Klotz interviewed John Paul Jones for Mannheimer Morgen (http://www.morgenweb.de/) while Jones and Helge Sten were in Mannheim for a performance in November 2011. Here, with the help of Google Chrome’s translator, is a rough English translation of that interview:
As a bassist and keyboardist John Paul Jones was a member of one of the greatest rock bands ever: Led Zeppelin. On Monday, 14 November, the 65-year-old Briton will be at the Old Fire Station Mannheim for the second appearance of the duo Minibus Pimps exploring entirely new sound spaces. In our interview, he gives an insight into the unusual sound.
Jörg-Peter Klotz: Mr. Jones, previously there has been only one appearance of Minibus Pimps, at the Punkt festival in Norway. Can you explain what might happen with you and Helge Sten on stage – or is it completely open?
John Paul Jones: (laughs) It’s been very open. There is a kind of map, supplied by the computer programs and the Kyma language. We play instruments, Helge and I, to control the sounds of the processors. And iPads. Within this map, we improvise. For this reason, no one knows exactly what will happen. There will be textures, sounds, noise emerging. But also notes … (laughs), but not very many. I can promise you that it sounds very intense – you will not fall asleep!
What attracts you to such experimental music?
I’ve been improvising for a long time, and electronic music has always interested me. In Led Zeppelin we used some very early synthesizers. It was just always a problem of how to control the sound. Then came the computer, which was the next step. After that, I’ve been involved, for example, in John Cage’s Musicircus.
On the other hand, you currently play with a lot of blues rockers like Seasick Steve, comparatively simple blues-rock – you need both sides of the musical coin?
Music has more than two pages! It is always the same phenomenon; there are just different ways to play it. Monday I play with Helge, then with Seasick Steve, back in March it was John Cage – for me it is always the same game and everything exists side by side. Also, I’m currently writing on a classic opera based on Strindberg’s “Ghost Sonata”.
What do you find important for the general development of music: Experiments in a Sound Lab à la Minibus Pimps or redefining traditional styles that you maintain with different partners?
Again, there is room for both. Music must stay alive. Therefore one must not look only to the past. Without experiments, music has no future. At the same time, the old styles are important and valuable: There is still much to talk about the blues and in rock music. I will always love to play bass, guitar, mandolin or fiddle in a band. But I also do this in order to renew music – it’s a natural development.
One concept that the Enjoy Jazz Festival is importing from Punkt is that of the live remix concerts. Will you listen to the “After-Show” by Sidsel Endresen, Jan Bang and Erik Honoré?
Sure. This is a great idea. I find it very interesting to see how other people play the material.
Led Zeppelin’s 40 year old ballad “Stairway To Heaven” is still winning the most votes on the most popular rock song. Do you find this backward?
Oh, it’s always good when people like your music. Why should I interfere with that?
In 2010 when Them Crooked Vultures played at Rock am Ring, there were sparks flying between you and drummer Dave Grohl. Wouldn’t he be ideal for a Led Zeppelin reunion?
There will be no Led Zeppelin reunion! But Dave and I were a very good rhythm section (laughs). And he had a blast because he enjoys being a drummer and not always the front man of the Foo Fighters.
Translated from the original German as it appeared in Mannheimer Morgen 12th November 2011
While studying at NYU and working as a research assistant in the brain imaging department at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, John Littig was simultaneously hard at work developing his craft as a jazz drummer in clubs from Greenwich Village to Harlem. In a December 27th interview on Lynne Rosen‘s “In Pursuit of Happiness” radio show on WBAI in New York, John gave a shout-out to Symbolic Sound and played the Kyma-generated intro to Inside Reprise, one of the songs from Audio Grafitti, his new show opening at Tuesday January 18 2011 at SOB’s in New York.
Listen to John Littig interview on WBAI; the Kyma shout-out occurs at around 39 minutes, and the larger discussion on the importance of surrounding yourself with positive, affirming influences is important advice for all artists to reflect upon at the beginning of this new year. As Littig points out, “No one can do this alone.”