Emerging from the Shatter Zone

 Album, Interview, Release, Sound Design, Studio  Comments Off on Emerging from the Shatter Zone
Aug 302021
 

As part of an on-going series of interviews with artists adapting to and emerging from the disruptions of 2020-22, we had a chance to speak with independent sound artist and photographer Will Klingenmeier to ask him about how he continued his creative work in spite of (or because of?) the restrictions last year, what he is up to now, and some of his hopes and inspirations for the future.

Will is a self-described omnivore of sound and noise, living as a borderline hermit and wanderer in order to focus on developing his unique artistic voice.


Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, Will!

Thank you so much for having me. I’m honored and happy to have the opportunity to talk about my work.

The colors and arrangement of your studio photo seem to capture just how central your studio is in your life (you’ve said that you spend more time there than in in any other place, and I think a lot of us can identify with that). Can you give us a brief description of how you’ve set up your studio workflow and say a bit about how you feel when you’re in the studio and in the flow?

My studio is really sacred ground for me. It’s a special place that I have spent thousands of hours in, as well as making. All of the acoustic treatment, gear racks, speaker stands and shelves I made with my dad over the course of many years. When I’m in the flow it’s like I’m on a tiny planet in my own little world, and it’s immensely satisfying. It’s a source of constant joy and a never-ending project.

At the moment, a lot of what I do is based in Kyma so it is the heart of my studio. I try to perform everything in real-time without editing afterwards; even if it takes longer to get there, it’s more satisfying. I have a few different set-ups including laptops and an old Mac Pro. I have mostly the same content on multiple computers not only for back-ups, but also to make it easier for traveling with a mobile rig. When I can’t avoid using a DAW, I have an old version of Pro Tools on my Mac Pro. Outside of Kyma, I have a handful of microphones, instruments, synthesizers, outboard gear and tape machines that I use. There’s a ton of cabling to the closet turned machine room which looks confusing, but my set-up is actually quite straightforward. Also, I leave all the knick-knacks out so my studio looks like a bricolage, but that way I know where everything is when I need it, and it’s only an arm’s reach away.

During the lockdowns and travel restrictions of spring 2020, you were caught about 7000 miles away from your studio. How did that come about?

I don’t go looking for tough situations, but I always seem to find them. On February 1st, 2020, I left Colorado for Armenia where I was scheduled to volunteer teaching the next generation of noisemakers; two week intensives at four locations around the country, including Artsakh, for a total of two months. I booked a one-way flight so I would be able to travel Armenia and the region, and I had another flight afterward to visit a friend in India, but needless to say that’s not what happened.

When I left the states COVID-19 was around but every day things seemed to stay about the same. For the first month in Armenia things were normal, there wasn’t even a documented case of COVID until March. I made it through two schools and I was at the third when I got a call that the World Health Organization had increased the epidemic to a pandemic. That’s when things changed. A driver came for me and took me back to Yerevan where I was told things were going to change and ultimately go into lockdown. The school said I could stay in their apartment or do whatever I felt I needed to, including going home. I didn’t really know what to do; who did? Throughout my travels I’ve learned not to be reactionary and instead concentrate on options and to realize a working solution. As such, I figured if the virus was going to spread it would be mostly in Yerevan, the biggest city, so I left Yerevan on my own and went to the Little Switzerland of Armenia, Dilijan. It’s an incredibly beautiful place in the mountains and I thought ‘I’ll lay low here for a few days and plan my next move.’

After five days I decided to go back to Yerevan, and found out that I could have a three bedroom apartment all to myself indefinitely. I thought, “that sounds a lot better than scrambling and traveling 7,000 miles across the world right now”, so I talked with my family and I decided to stay put. I was in that apartment by myself for six months and it was an incredible opportunity to turn inwards. As it turned out, I stayed until one day before my passport stamp expired so I took the experience as far as I possibly could. In hindsight, I don’t think it was ever impossible for me to leave, but I never actually pursued it until I absolutely had to. And I wouldn’t change any of it.

Can you describe how your sound work was modified by your “quarantine” in Armenia? How is it different from the way you normally work in Colorado? Has it changed the way you work now, even after you’ve returned home?

It turns out that an ironing board makes an excellent, height-adjustable desk for a sound artist in exile.

Basically everything I’m doing now has come out of exceedingly difficult situations that I persevered through. Several things happened that I’m aware of and probably even more that I’m unaware of and still digesting. I definitely breached a new threshold of understanding how to use my gear. And I absolutely learned to make the most of what’s on hand—to repurpose things, up-cycle and reimagine. I remember taking inventory of everything I had, laying it all out in front of me and considering what it was capable of doing, the obvious things to start like the various connection ports and so on, then I moved to the more subtle. By doing this I was able to accomplish several things that I didn’t think I could previously based solely on my short-sighted view.

This same awareness and curiosity has stayed with me and I’m really grateful for it. Essentially, it was realizing there’s a lot to be gained in working through discomfort. Moreover, I’ve heard that creativity can really blossom when you’re alone, so maybe that is some of what happened. Not that I held back much before this time, but now I really swing for the fences—I love surreal, far-out, subjective, ambiguous sounds. Creatively speaking, I’m most interested and focussed on doing something that’s meaningful to me, and then I might share it.

Once I returned to Colorado a different level of comfort and convenience came back into my life. Some things were left in Armenia and some things were gained in Colorado. I’ve made it a point to make the most of wherever I am with whatever I have. That’s something I’ve lived by, and now it is a part of me. It is nice to be back in my studio though. I’ve spent more time in this room than any other so I know it intimately. To be sure, I’ve always enjoyed my space and I thrive in solitude so having the situation I did in Armenia really brought out the best in me. Back in the states there are definitely more distractions, so since returning I’ve become even more of a night owl to help mitigate them.

Do you have Armenian roots? Can you explain for your readers what’s going on there right now?

I don’t have Armenian roots, at least none that I know of. That said, I have been told by my Armenian friends that I am Armenian by choice, and I will agree with that. They are a wonderful people and it breaks my heart with what is happening there now. A lot is going on and I don’t claim to understand it all, but there is definitely a humanitarian crisis—thousands dead, thousands of refugees and displaced peoples, and many severely injured people from a 44 day war launched by Azerbaijan. As a result, there are both internal and external problems including on-going hate from the two enemy nations Armenia is sandwiched between. It is a tough time and when I ask my Armenian friends about it they don’t even know how to put it into words. I can see the sadness and worry in their eyes though.

Throughout the pandemic, you’ve maintained connections and collaborations with multiple artists. Please talk about some of those connections, how you established them, how you maintained them, how you continued collaborating (both in terms of technological and human connections).

The first of these collaborations began when I received a ping from one of my good friends and fellow Kyma user Dr. Simon Hutchinson. He said he would like to talk about YouTube. I’d recently started ramping-up my channel (under the name Spectral Evolver) and he was looking to do the same. We discussed the potential for collaboration and cross-promoting our channels. At the time, I was making walking videos around Armenia and we eventually decided to create a glitch art series which used these videos as source material for Simon’s datamoshing. Additionally, we decided to encode the audio for binaural and to use Kyma as a part of the process. We started with short videos up to a minute long with varying content to run some tests, and then started doing longer videos around ten minutes once we figured out the process. We used Google Drive to share the files. It was immensely satisfying and a totally new avenue for me; he is incredibly creative and talented and I was thrilled to be taken along for the datamoshed ride.

Another collaboration during this period was with my long-time friend from college Tim Dickson Jr. He is one of my favorite pianists. Everything he plays is very thoughtful and he has developed this wonderfully minimalist approach. He was going through tough times and wanted to share as much of his creations as possible so I asked him if he wouldn’t mind sending me some of his compositions for me to reimagine. He uploaded about 15 pieces and I used only them and Kyma in creating our album ‘abstractions from underground‘.

The Unpronounceables’ as a trio was yet another collaboration that started during lockdown. Somehow I finagled my way into the group comprised of İlker Işıkyakar and Robert Efroymson, both friends of mine from the Kyma community. At that point, there was still hope for KISS 2020 in Illinois and for us performing as a trio, therefore we needed to start practicing. The only way that was possible at the time was online. As I remember we had a few chats to check-in and say ‘hi’ then we jumped in and started feeling our way forward. The only guideline we ever had was to split the sonic spectrum in thirds, one of us would take the lows, one of us the mids, one of us the highs—that was İlker’s idea I think. However, that quickly disappeared and we all just did what we could. I remember using a crinkled piece of paper as an instrument and opening my window to let the sound of birds and children playing in the courtyard come into the jam. I didn’t have my ganjo yet so I used whatever I could to be expressive, it was really beneficial to work through that. To jam, we used a free application called ‘Jamulus’. Robert made a dedicated server and the three of us would join in once a week and play for 30 minutes or so. Surprisingly the latency wasn’t unbearable. We were doing mostly atonal, nonrhythmic sounds though and I suspect if we needed tight sync it would have been painful.

Finally, despite the lockdown, I was able to continue volunteering with the school once they made the transition to online. While brainstorming with the school on how it would be possible to offer workshops for kids in lockdown at home with seemingly limited resources, I realized I could immediately share what I had just learned: to use whatever you have where you are! The results were spectacular: they created a wonderful variety of sound collages created, recorded and edited mostly through cell phones. I assigned daily exercises to record objects of a certain material, for example, metal, glass, wood etc. I asked them to consider the way the object was brought into vibration by another object. Don’t just bang on it! We also discussed the opportunity to use sound to tell a story even if it’s a highly bizarre, surreal, subjective story. In the end, I learned far more from them than they did from me. I was asking them how they made sounds and I was taking notes. For these classes, we met through Google Hangouts and shared everything on Google Drive.

Your recent release, “the front lines of the war,” is the result of another collaboration, this time with Pacific rim poet/multi-disciplinary artist Scott Ezell. Visually, tactilely, sonically and verbally, you and Scott employ multiple senses to express the disintegration and despair of the “shatter zone”. What exactly is a shatter zone?

Shatter Zone has at least a double meaning. It started off in geology to describe randomly cracked and fissured rocks then came to also be used to describe borderlands usually with displaced peoples, so for me, it carries both of those resonances.

The sounds you created for this project are also intentionally distressed and distorted through techniques like bit-crushing, digital encoding artifacts and vocal modulations. Particularly striking is the section that begins “In the shatter zone too long…” whose cracking dripping conveys a miasma of putrescence and disease carried along on a dry wind. Can you describe how you did the vocal processing in this section (and any other techniques you employed in this section that you’d like to share)?

True, there’s a lot of different audio processes happening to make the album sound the way it does including all of the things you’ve mentioned. The piece you’re talking about is called “Shatter Zones” and it came to sound the way it does through Kyma granulation. Scott’s reading of the poem is one take of about 8 minutes and I used a SampleCloud to read through the recording in a few seconds longer than that and used a short grain duration of less than 1 second. What results is a very slightly slower reading, but the pitch of his voice stays the same. It’s just slow enough and granulated enough that we can feel uneasy but not so much that the words aren’t intelligible. It’s super important that we understand what he’s saying so I had to find the line between making an evocative sound and leaving his voice intelligible. I thought there was an obvious correlation to Shatter Zones and granulation which is why I decided to use that technique. The sound around his voice is granular synthesis as well but with long grains of 5 or more seconds. I had this field recording I did on my cell phone of a dwindling campfire, down to the embers, and it always sounded really interesting to me. I brought it into Kyma, replicated it, added some frequency and pan jitter so each iteration wouldn’t sound the same, and used the long grain technique.

What other techniques did you use to “degrade” and “distort” the sound? Did you intentionally choose to distribute the sound component on cassette tape for that  reason?

We arrived at putting the sound on a cassette for several reasons. I think a physical element is a really meaningful necessity for music and with the chapbook there was already going to be a physical element so we knew we wanted physical music. These days there’s basically three options: CD, vinyl, cassette — all of which will have a noticeably different sound. We thought about this from the beginning instead of it being an afterthought. Initially, we were thinking vinyl but because of the cost and the length of the sides we realized it probably wasn’t the best solution, if it was even possible. Between a CD and a cassette, this content lends itself to the cassette format more than a CD, not that CD would have been a bad choice. We welcome what the cassette tape might do to the sound—a further opportunity for the medium to influence the art. Besides, over the last year or so I’ve been buying music on cassette—they are really coming back—and they don’t sound nearly as undesireably bad as you might think. In fact, some music sounds best on cassette. I think it’s really cool if an artist considers all the different formats and decides which one is best for the art—like a painter choosing what they will paint on, it matters, it changes the look. When listening to this project on cassette there is a noticeably different experience than listening digitally, and with the exception of one track I think it is all more desirable on the cassette version. As for other techniques for degradation and distortion, I used a lot of cell phone field recordings, there’s a few databent audio files and I recorded out of Kyma into another recorder and during that process a bunch of noise came along. I also have a 1960’s style tone-bender pedal I made a long time ago that’s super special to me, and all of the guitar tones went through that. Then, of course, there’s the stuff inside Kyma which you’ve already hinted at: Bitwise operators, granulation, cross-synthesis and frequency domain haze.

Do you think it’s ironic to use Kyma, a system designed for generating high-quality sound, to intentionally degrade and distort the audio?

Kyma is definitely known for high quality, meticulous sound, but that’s not actually why I got into it, or why I continue to use it. Over the years, I’ve developed and found a way of working that’s meaningful to me and it’s centered around Kyma: real-time creation, no editing, and performing the sound. Kyma thrives in that situation and is extremely stable in both the studio and live use, therefore it’s where I feel really creative and capable of expressing the sound in my head.

One way I think about Kyma is like a musical instrument, say a guitar. What does a guitar sound like? What could it sound like? When does it stop being a guitar sound? Seems to me there’s no end to that and definitely no right or wrong. Kyma is the same way for me. In fact, it never occurred to me that I was making lo-fi sounds in a hi-fi system. I think there’s a sadness when data compression is used for convenience and to miniaturize art, but when it’s used from the onset for a unique sound or look, like we’ve done here, that’s different.

Is this piece about Myanmar? Or is it about “every war” in any place?

Both. The spoken words are specifically based on Scott’s first-person experience of a Myanmar Army offensive against the Shan State Army-North and ethnic minority civilians in Shan State, Myanmar in 2015. Scott was smuggled into Shan State under a tarp in the back of an SUV. The Shan State Suite (side one of the cassette) tells this story. At the same time, the project is expressing a bigger realization as it explores the ways that global systems implicate us all in vectors of destruction and conflict in which “everyone is on the front lines of the war.” (This last sentence is Scott’s words, he said it perfectly for our liner notes, so I’ve just repeated it here.)

Can you offer your listeners any suggestions for remediating action?

It is incredibly difficult not to be lost in despair and discouraged by the things that we, especially Scott, have seen and experienced, but I think the work of art itself is actually meant to be a positive thing. It’s once we fully ignore and disregard things that hope is lost, or rather that we are taking an impossible chance hoping that it “works out for the best.”

I believe we have to make an effort and that effort can come in many forms. This project cracks open the door and offers a start to a conversation, a very difficult, long conversation, but a necessary one, I think. Scott and I have had success bringing this kind of content into different University environments including an ethics of engineering course at the University of Virginia. We shared a piece of art we made and shared our personal experiences and relationships to contested landscapes and marginalized peoples. The response we got from the professors and students suggested there would be on-going consideration for the topic.

Finally, there are lots of good people in the world and lots of human rights organizations seeking to stop violence both before and after it has started, so that’s something encouraging. There is hope and we can start to do better immediately even if only on a very small, personal level. In fact, that’s actually where it all needs to start, I think.

In an ideal world, what would you love to work on for your next project?

An installation of some kind. I really want to do something on a bigger, more immersive, more tactile scale using Kyma and sound as a medium of expression along with some of the visual forms I’ve been getting into. In the meantime I’ll continue to do what I’m doing!

What do you see as the future direction(s) for digital media art and artists? For example, you’ve gone all-in on developing your youtube channel for both educational and artistic purposes, video, and live streaming. How does youtube (and more) figure into your own future plans?

I think we are going to continue to see extremes and new forms of art. Artists, as a whole, always challenge and question which leads to new horizons. Digital media has certainly created many incredible and wonderful on-going opportunities for artists. I see VR/AR getting more and more capable as well as popular. Also, with the advent of everything becoming ‘smart’, new needs have arisen for artists. Like Kyma being used in the design of the Jaguar I-PACE, that kind of stuff. As for my YouTube channel, I have every intention of continuing it. I don’t know exactly what all the content is going to be, but that’s why I put ‘Evolver’ in the name.


As a coda, we strongly recommend that everyone check out the detailed description of ‘the front lines of the war’ on Will Klingenmeier’s website, where you can also place an order for a copy of this beautifully produced, limited-edition chapbook and cassette for yourself or as a gift for a friend.

It’s not an easy work to categorize. It’s an album, it is a video, it’s a chapbook of poetry, yet it’s so much more than that: it is a meticulously crafted artifact which, in its every detail, conveys the degradation, despoilment and degeneration of a “shatter zone”. It arrives at your mailbox in a muddied, distressed envelope with multiple mismatched stamps and a torn, grease-marked address label, like a precious letter somehow secreted out of a war zone, typed on torn and blood/flower stained stationary and reeking of unrelenting grief, wretchedness, and inescapable loss. It deals with many topics that are not easy or comfortable to confront, so be sure to prepare yourself before you start listening.

 

 

Interview with Madison Heying

 Concert, Conference, Event, Festival, Interview  Comments Off on Interview with Madison Heying
Aug 162018
 

Madison Heying shows us the view from the Music Center at UC Santa Cruz

Madison Heying is a PhD candidate in cultural musicology at the University of California Santa Cruz where she focuses on experimental, electronic, and computer music. On any given day, you’re as likely to find Madison on a stage performing DYI analog electronic circuits with her partner David Kant as you are to find her holed up in the experimental music archives at the UCSC library. In between publishing scholarly articles and presenting papers at international musicology conferences, she also hosts a podcast and curates experimental music events around the Monterey Bay area as a member of Indexical, a composer-run artist collective that focuses on new chamber and experimental music, and especially music that lies outside of the aesthetic boundaries of major musical institutions.

Somehow Madison has also found time in her schedule to co-organize the Kyma International Sound Symposium this year in Santa Cruz on the themes: Altered States and Ecosystems. She sat down with us recently to talk a little about Santa Cruz, experimental music, and banana slugs…

Experimental, electronic, and computer music

Hi Madison. Could you please tell us what a cultural musicologist is (as distinct from historical musicology, etc)? What do you study and how?

A cultural musicologist is a music historian that pays particular attention to the people groups behind a given musical phenomenon. I think the attention given to cultural context has been a trend in musicology for a while now, but my PhD program makes it a priority. Many of us study living or recent composers and music-making communities and borrow a lot of our methodology and theory from ethnomusicology. My work broadly focuses on experimental, electronic, and computer music.

At UC Santa Cruz, it appears that experimental music is still very much ongoing and supported. Can you talk a little bit about what “Experimental Music” is and why UC Santa Cruz was and continues to be a strong center for this aesthetic or this mindset?

There is a really strong history of musical experimentation in the Bay Area in general, dating back to composers like Henry Cowell and Lou Harrison to the San Francisco Tape Music Center in the 1960s, and later programs at Mills College, CCRMA, and UCSC. James Tenney taught at UCSC for a year in the 70s. Gordon Mumma started the Electronic Music studio here, David Cope ran the Algorithmic Composition program for years. Along with the Cabrillo Music Festival (which used to be VERY experimental), Santa Cruz was something of a hub for weird music in the 70s and 80s. There’s a really strong tradition here of incorporating elements of non-Western music into a more experimental compositional practice, of developing hand-made electronics, and also big developments in DSP and computer music.

At UCSC there are currently some really exciting people on the faculty including composers Larry Polansky, David Dunn, and musicologist Amy C. Beal in the Music Department, sound artist Anna Friz and Yolande Harris in the Arts Division, and Kristin Erickson Galvin, who is also co-organising KISS2018, on the staff of the Digital Arts and New Media Program.

You’ve been learning Kyma and building analog circuits as part of your research. Does having hands-on experience with the tools change the way you view, understand, and report on the cultural implications and impact of technology?

Absolutely! Taking a hands on approach has given me significant insight not only into how a given technology works, but how it might have been used historically, and some of the reasons why a composer or musician employed the technology in a particular way.

The thing with Kyma in particular is that it’s such a rich, deep language, so I think even if I spent 20 years using it, I’d still learn new things. Having the hands-on experience has been a total necessity to just scratching the surface of understanding of how Kyma works and why it’s so unique. It’s also made a big difference to collaborate or work with people that know a lot more about electronics or programming; I’m able to learn so much by seeing how they tackle/think through problems and find solutions.

Kyma International Sound Symposium (KISS)

Kristin Erickson Galvin and Madison Heying at UCSC talking about their implementation of cellular automata in Kyma

What motivated you to co-host KISS2018 in Santa Cruz? What would you like to show people about Santa Cruz, your university, your home state? What are you hoping people will come away with after participating in this conference?

My first impulse was that co-hosting KISS2018 would be a very tangible way to give back to the Kyma community, who have given me so much! I also thought UCSC would be the perfect place to host KISS and I knew that this would be my last year here, so I figured, why not do it now?!

I think the first KISS you attended was KISS2015 in Bozeman Montana. What struck you about KISS that made it different from other conferences that you regularly attend?

I was particularly struck by how nice everyone is. At academic conferences people can be really cruel during the Q & A after a presentation or in down time. A good number of people are jockeying to make a good impression on senior scholars or prove their intelligence by making someone else look bad, there is definitely more of a hostile competitive atmosphere. It just takes time to find your people and to be comfortable being yourself in that kind of environment.

But at KISS, it’s different. Everyone is there to learn and share their work, so there is a much greater sense of camaraderie. If there is competition, it seems like it’s mostly self-imposed, that people just want to get better at using Kyma or their compositional or performative practice.

Madison in front of the Music Center Recital Hall at UCSC

Was KISS2016 in Leicester UK different from the experience you had in Montana? How was it different and how was it similar in terms of the people, the atmosphere, the content, the music? Has your picture of the Kyma community evolved over time and with more experience?

Yes, I think each KISS has its own flavor based on the host institution and the people that end up coming. On a personal level they were also different because in Bozeman I didn’t really know anyone except the people I came with. So I felt a bit more like a newbie outsider. But in Leicester, I felt like I was already part of the group and it was great to see so many familiar faces and reconnect with people I met in Bozeman (and of course to meet new people as well).

Are there some things that you’re particularly looking forward to for KISS2018?

For me it’s been really fascinating to see how people interpret the theme. I love the variety of approaches Kyma users take to composition and performance, it makes for really dynamic concerts. Each time I attend KISS there’s usually a few pieces that totally shock me and blow me away and leave me wondering how they did it or just in awe of someone’s prowess as a performer/composer. I’m looking forward to seeing the thing that’s just under everyone’s radar, but that’s going to be the really memorable piece.

Santa Cruz and the spirit of place

Do you believe there is such a thing as “spirit of place”? If so, then how does the natural, cultural, political environment of Santa Cruz affect you and your colleagues?

Yes, I do. I think the biggest thing I notice is that life moves at a slower pace in Santa Cruz than other places, people are rarely in a rush to do things. As an impatient person this is probably the best and most frustrating aspect of living here, it’s difficult to get other people to feel the same sense of urgency about something, but at the same time it also helps me slow down and “stop and smell the roses” as they say.

Madison at Seabright Beach

How is the atmosphere influenced by, yet distinct from, the culture of “The Valley”? Since it’s so close by, does Silicon Valley ever act as a magnet, draining people and activities away from Santa Cruz? Do people ever “escape” from the Valley and seek refuge in Santa Cruz?

Yes, it’s becoming more and more common for techies from “over the hill” to live in Santa Cruz and commute into Silicon Valley. They realized that the commute is the same as it is from San Francisco, with slightly cheaper rents and better beach access! In general I love being so close to Silicon Valley. Many of my close friends work for tech companies like Google, Facebook, or Uber. Some of the excitement and energy of their fast-paced lifestyles oozes into Santa Cruz and sends a jolt of fresh possibilities into this sleepy beach town. I also love to think about the history of the place, how since the 60s there’s a real convergence of counter-cultural values with the most cutting-edge, high-tech and commercial innovations. It makes for some interesting paradoxes, like the wealthy aging-hippy beach bum software developer 🙂

For those of us who are planning to come to KISS2018, what’s the one thing that every visitor to Santa Cruz absolutely, unequivocally, cannot miss seeing or experiencing on their first visit there?

Well, the best thing about Santa Cruz is that it has the beach and redwood forests, so I’d say they have to visit both things. To go for a hike in the redwoods, maybe on Pogonip trail near campus, or Nisene Marks, about 5 miles south. And then visit the beach. Seabright beach, near where I live, is great, because the tourists don’t know about it, so it’s not usually too crowded. If you don’t want to go in the water, a walk along West Cliff Drive will also blow you away, I think it’s probably one of the most beautiful beach walks in California! And of course you should probably take a ride on the Giant Dipper at the boardwalk!

Madison enjoys a Penny ice cream at the beach

Guilty pleasures?

Penny ice cream at the beach! (Sadly it does cost more than a penny but is worth it — some of the best ice cream I’ve ever had!) Also my favorite bakery/coffee shop is Companion Bakers. Both Companion and Penny have vegan/gf options, and REALLY good regular stuff too!

Should people bring their Zoom recorders to Santa Cruz? What is the must-record sound they have to capture while they are there?

Yes! The seals of the wharf are really fun to record. If you have a hydrophone there are also a lot of interesting sounds under the water, including snapping shrimp!

 
 

 

Banana slugs. Why or why not?

I am very pro-banana slugs! You really have to see one in person to appreciate them and what a ridiculous creature they are. I can’t imagine a better mascot to capture the spirit of this place.

How hearing can change the world

Thanks for taking time out to talk with us, Madison! To conclude, if there were one thing you could change that you think would be of most help to other people or to society as a whole, what would it be?

To be able to listen to someone that is different than you and have understanding and compassion, and to let that act of hearing change how you operate in the world. For everyone to have more empathy, to really understand that everyone has a singular view of the world, based on so many factors like where and how they were raised, race, gender, etc. and that everyone else’s experience is valid.

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us, Madison! We’re looking forward to having more discussions with you about life, empathy, experimental music, Kyma, and banana slugs at KISS2018: Altered States (6-9 September 2018 in Santa Cruz, California).

Extreme sound design, radical electronic music & the coming hardware revolution

 Blog, Broadcast / Webcast, Interview, Sound Design  Comments Off on Extreme sound design, radical electronic music & the coming hardware revolution
Jun 272016
 

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.

Kyma gives voice to Tarantino’s “Hateful Eight” Blizzard

 Film, Film Score, Interview, Release, Sound Design, Sound for picture  Comments Off on Kyma gives voice to Tarantino’s “Hateful Eight” Blizzard
Feb 132016
 


Audio engineer Jennifer Walden provides a fascinating analysis of the sound design in Quentin Tarantino’s Hateful Eight in a recent issue of Randi Altman’s postPerspective.

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…

Wylie Stateman, Supervising Sound Editor on Hateful Eight

 

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.

Sylvain Lasseur created & performed the voice of the blizzard

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’

Anne La Berge, sound hero

 Concert, Event, Festival, Interview, Magazine  Comments Off on Anne La Berge, sound hero
Jun 252015
 

Screen Shot 2015-06-25 at 11.37.58 AMFlutist/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.

Portrait of Anne La Berge

 Interview  Comments Off on Portrait of Anne La Berge
Sep 142014
 

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

[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!

Links

Oct 112013
 

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!

When not composing for film, television, games & advertising, Tobias Enhus enjoys a bit of cave diving.

When not composing for film, television, games & advertising, Tobias Enhus enjoys a bit of cave diving & sleep walking.

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.

New Year’s Day with JPJ

 Broadcast / Webcast, Concert, Interview  Comments Off on New Year’s Day with JPJ
Dec 302012
 

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!

 

Independent, complex, collaborative, and fun

 Interview  Comments Off on Independent, complex, collaborative, and fun
Jun 132012
 

Composer Dick Robinson in his studio with Kyma, Pacarana, & Capybara

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.

John Paul Jones Interview

 Interview  Comments Off on John Paul Jones Interview
Nov 122011
 

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!

Photo by Yogesh Khubchandani

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

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