Tuesday, 25 September 2012

AudioChem: The Sound of Chemistry

AudioChem is a software instrument that lets you play the sound of the different chemical elements.

I wrote the software back in 2008 as part of my undergraduation dissertation. It takes the emission spectrum (see below) of each element and turns it into a harmony, creating a unique sound. The software was written for Apple Mac and runs on OS X, up to OS 10.6. The download link is below. I'd really appreciate any feedback on the software, as it's still really in beta.



AudioChem is a software composition. I call it a composition since it did not assemble itself: it required construction on the basis of aesthetic principles. It is an example of data sonification, taking information about the elements of the Periodic Table as its starting point. In this respect, it is a totally systematic work, and yet both aesthetic choice and aleatory form are intrinsic elements of its construction and final form. It is an example of a Gesamtkunstwerk: a synthesis of different artforms that links general and specific, aesthetic and intellectual, forms of expression to create ‘super-complete thoughts’, denoting actions, things and qualities all at once. It also uses continuous change within the form-rhythm-pitch spectrum, while separating itself into discrete, perceivable objects. In this way, it brought together many of the different areas of thought that preoccupied me at the time.

At the time I wrote AudioChem, I was searching for ways to organise microtonal harmony into cohesive 'tonalities'. There seemed four main approaches possible:
  • The first approach is to use some sort of system, a set of formulae or algorithms. This was the approach used by the Serialists, for example, when tackling the issue of how to create cohesive 12-tone tonalities;
  • The second is more akin to musique concrète. If we view the world as the result of a set of processes or algorithms, the end product will have a certain kind of unity that we then simply record in the field and play back at home;
  • The third could be viewed as either an abstraction from, or an extension of, the second, collecting data from the real world to then turn into audible sound. This data sonification approach is the one I took here;
  • The final one is to use the creative imagination to provide a cohesive unity, for example in improvised performance.
I later somewhat rejected data sonification as a really fruitful avenue of aesthetic investigation, for reasons it would take too long to go into here. However, the results in this piece were intriguing and certainly worthy of note.

In terms of the sound, the data displayed is the emission spectra of the elements: the wavelengths of light emitted by the electrons of each element as they drop to a lower orbit round the nucleus of the atom; these wavelengths are then transposed into audible wavelengths of sound.

Here is an example of the kinds of sounds the programme generates:

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Amphibolous release on EM Records

The latest Amphibolous track is out now on EM Records' OuTpUt SeVeN compilation. Helping Blind People is the culmination of several recordings we made at a garage in Everton. It's a prelude to where our music is moving, and we're planning on working on a new album soon, as well as a track for the BBC, so plenty in store for all you avid listeners.

In the meantime, here is the release:

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Uaxuctum | The Final Reckoning

Well, my residency and installation in Second Life has come to an end. It was a fascinating experience, and I got a lot of good feedback. I'd like to thank the Linden Endowment for the Arts for the opportunity, and Jayjay Zifanwe for all his help during the residency.

You can read my previous post about the ideas behind the installation. There are also a few blogs that covered it. Here are the links:

Honour McMillan
Victoria Lenoirre
Apmel Goosson
Apmel - Amphibolous gig
Apmel - AOM gig
LEA blog
Virtual Outworlding
Briarmelle Quintessa
University of Western Australia

Here's a video of one of the pieces from the Avatar Orchestra Metaverse concert I put on during the residency:

And here's a recording of the Amphibolous set I did there too:

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Hot Hail in Istanbul

Here's a bit of a montage from my trip to Istanbul in May (yes, it's taken me a little while to post the video).

I played at Arka Oda, a venue on the Asian side of the city, in a gig put on by Batur Sonmez. It was a great night of musical collaborations. The event started out with a set by another Turkish musican, Korhan Erel, who played a fantastic set that was quite acousmatically oriented. Next I played a solo Hot Hail set. After that, we went into a collaborative set, starting off with a duo between Korhan and me, then evolving into a duo between me and Batur. Batur's music is more from a noise background, with continuous generation of sounds, so I acted as the bridge between the two styles. A fantastic collaboration, and a great night!

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Uaxuctum | Residency & Exhibition

Uaxuctum web flyer by Hot Hail
Monday sees the opening of my new exhibition, Uaxuctum. The project is part of a month-long residency in the virtual world of Second Life, running from 1st - 31st August. The residency is sponsored by the Linden Endowment for the Arts. The work was created under my Second Life name, Cajska Carlsson. To visit the exhibition, you will need a Second Life account, which is free to set up.

Opening Event
Monday 6th August | 3pm Second Life Time
Tuesday 7th August | 12am British Summer Time
Venue link: http://tinyurl.com/uaxuctum

Uaxuctum is a visual re-imagining of a piece by the 20th Century Italian composer, Giacinto Scelsi.

Scelsi was a highly eccentric composer, living mostly in isolation, apart from an assistant who would write his music down. In 1966 he wrote Uaxuctum, a piece about "the legend of the Maya city, destroyed by themselves for religious reasons".

The re-imagining is an exploration of structure and form, light and dark... a mythical structure that will be torn down to make way for something new. With the death of each civilisation, a new one is born. The world progresses through these revolutionary upheavals, but rarely does a society chose its own destruction. Uaxuctum is a moment of choice lost in time.

As well as the opening of the exhibition, I'll be running some other events at the site during the residency. I'll post more details as they arrive.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Of Sound and Silence

Last week I organised a concert featuring John Cage's 4'33" and Yves Klein's Monotone-Silence Symphony, as well as works by local composers, including myself. The concert was the fourth in Frakture's series of acoustic music nights, Acoute, and took place on 7th June 2012.

In programming the event, I wanted to explore the relationship between Klein and Cage, between sound and silence. Both pieces were written within 3 years of each other. The composers were both interested in Zen Buddhism. Cage's piece was influenced by Rauschenberg's monochrome paintings and Yves Klein is most famous for his blue monochromes.

Klein's original version of the piece had 20 minutes of one continuous sound, followed by 20 minutes of silence. On the night, we presented a 'medley': 4'33" of all one sound, followed by John Cage's silence (apart from a rogue note in the third movement ;) You can watch a video of the performance below.

My piece, Of Sound and Silence, was written in response to Cage and Klein's. In it, I explored the idea of a  single note containing tension, tension that is only released in an explosion of harmony. I also explore 'silence' as a means to create highly textural, or timbral, music. One of the goals I set myself in this piece was a continuation of much of my work for orchestral forces of recent years, the democratisation of musical performance. Using a text score with a conductor, I set out to create highly complex textures and forms that would be impossibly virtuosic for the vast majority of performers.

A few years ago, I started using more aleatory techniques, alongside guided improvisation, in my pieces with this goal in mind. I wanted to create music with complex textures that could be played by musicians from a wide range of playing abilities. After discovering Stockhausen's text scores, I decided to try out the idea. Now musicians didn't even need to be able to read conventional notation, opening up performances to an even wider public.

One of the strengths of aleatory form is also its weakness. It's very easy to create textures that expand, diffuse, grow more complex and polyphonic over time, however the reverse is much more difficult to achieve. One of my aims in Of Sound and Silence was to find mechanisms that could coalesce the music, bring it together in moments of unity. This is something I will explore further in my next piece.

Here is a video of the performance:

The night also featured works by local composers, Richard Harding, Lucia Dunbar, Alex Raimi-Scott. If you go to the Klein & Cage video below, their pieces are also part of the same playlist.

Yves Klein - John Cage medley
Performed by the Novo Ensemble
Conducted by Simon Jones

Thursday, 14 June 2012

The a.P.A.t.T. Orchestra | Musical Settings Part III

Earlier this year I played in the a.P.A.t.T. Orchestra's Musical Setting's Part III in the Crypt of the Metropolitan Cathedral in Liverpool. The concert featured works by Howard Skempton, one of the founders of the Scratch Orchestra along with Cornelius Cardew, on which the a.P.A.t.T. Orchestra is based, including a newly commissioned piece written by him for the event.

Here is Howard Skempton's new work, Hope St Melodies:

Other pieces included Air Melody, based on techniques from mediaeval music:

And Lament. This was the one piece of Skempton's I really liked, having turned his back on the avant-garde after leaving the Scratch Orchestra. It was interesting, however, that Skemtpon did not conduct the most interesting version of the piece. During rehearsals, the orchestra's director, Jon Herring, had conducted, taking it much slower, with much less rigid timing between chord changes. This created a highly textural piece, where the chord progression became just part of the timbral evolution. Skempton's version, however, was rigid and compacted, not allowing the music to breath. Judge for yourself:

Jon Herring also had a piece of his own in the concert, which he had written specially. It was inspired by the spiral staircase in the Crypt, and features a section that uses the 'Shephard tone' aural illusion to create a sense of continuous downward motion.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

The Geometry of Flux | UWA Centenary


Yesterday I entered the University of Western Australia's Centenary 3D Open Art Challenge, a prize for 3D art created in the virtual world of Second Life. A few years ago I was one of the winners of the UWA's Imagine art prize under my previous Second Life name of Snubnose Genopeak. Since then, the UWA has worked tirelessly to promote the Arts in Second Life, and I was pleased to be able to support their centenary celebrations.

For my entry, I wanted to celebrate not the UWA's past, but their future, and the work they have done to support cutting edge developments in art. My submission is a kinetic sculpture called The Geometry of Flux, and was entered under my Second Life name, Cajska Carlsson. It is an exploration of the future of form and content, a geometry that constantly evolves into ever new forms. The sound component of the installation similarly generates evolving forms in a continuous evolution. It was composed using only feedback, though this is disguised by the ethereal nature of the sound.

The exhibition will be open throughout June and July 2012. You can visit it by following this link. You will need a Second Life account, which is free.

Here is the description that accompanies the piece.
Form and content are linked together through a dialectical process in shining unity.
Constant evolution...
a movement towards, but never reaching...
never repeating...
Discard the old semiotic forms of meaning, that endlessly recycle the experience of the ages.
Create a new form of sensory-motor meaning.
Meaning through direct experience : of the senses : of movement : construct a new world.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

New Amphibolous release

We've just released the first Amphibolous single, He Leans to the Left. Well, I call it a single, but it's just over 20 minutes long, and with no B side, but then that's often the score with experimental music. It's available for free download, or you can by the mini-CD for £4.

The single was recorded in the run up to a gig we played in Manchester last month. It's one continuous take with very minimal editing, so is quite reflective of our live sound. The theme for the track was a record that Ash found in a charity show, The New Maths. Fantastic! There's some really interesting manipulation of a sine wave record that Ash used as well. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

The a.P.A.t.T. Orchestra: Gavin Bryars, The Sinking of the Titanic

At the weekend we had a very special a.P.A.t.T. Orchestra concert to mark the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic. To mark the occasion we played Gavin Bryars' piece, The Sinking of the Titanic in the Maritime Museum in Liverpool, where there is an exhibition about the Titanic currently on display.

Bryars' piece has at its core a string quartet, in which I performed. The quartet plays a very slowed down, and somewhat altered, version of the music purportedly played by the ship's orchestra as the ship went down. Around this core, fragments of that music are thrown between the rest of the ensemble, along with accompanying sound effects and noises, mimicking the effect of the music's submergence as the ship sinks.

The performance went very well, and there were even tears in the eyes of some audience members. For my part, I find the piece somewhat one dimensional. However, it is an extremely moving and effective work, and seemed a fitting tribute to those who lost their lives in the disaster 100 years ago.

You can listen to a recording of our performance by following this link.

You can also read a review of the show in the Double Negative here.

Amphibolous at the Noise Upstairs

Amphibolous is a new group I formed last year with Ash Steel and Adam Webster. Last week we had our second live outing, at the Noise Upstairs in Manchester. It was a packed audience at the Manchester improv night, where part of the evening, people put their names in the hat to play in random groupings. Then it came to us.

The instrumentation in the group is:

Adam Webster: amplified cello
Ash Steel: turntables
Si Jones: objects and effects

The great thing about the group for me is that it's been a while since I've been in a noise group that practises regularly, and it's really paid off in our live performances.

You can listen to a recording of our set by following this link. We also have an album to be released shortly, and a few more gigs lined up, so stay tuned for more developments...

Thursday, 23 February 2012

If Only...! There and Back Again

Last month I organised If Only...! with Roger Hill. If Only...! is a night of varied performance run at the Bluecoat in Liverpool. Two of my projects were included in the night, both interactive installations in which the audience would become the performers.

The first project was Inari Dive, a collaborative project with Japanese artist, Inari Nishiki, exploring the experience of diving. The project was Inari's brainchild. My part of the collaboration focused on the soundtrack. Participants would be blindfold and given wireless headphones, cutting off their senses from the outside world. They would then navigate through a labyrinth of ropes while the soundtrack played through their headphones. The track explores ideas of depth in different ways, and uses a new way of transforming sounds into each other I have been developing using Pure Data. Here is a link to the track:

The second project was The Sensorium of Sensational Scents, an olfactory-visual installation that used a range of perfumes I made from a wide variety of unusual ingredients. While smelling the scents, the participants' reactions would be videoed and projected onto the wall of the room, turning the audience into performers. I'll be releasing my range of perfumes soon, and they'll be accompanied by a free download code for my album, Oh Oca O. You can see some pictures from both installations below. The pictures are by Dan Williams.

Inari Dive 2Sensorium of Sensational Scents 4Sensorium of Sensational Scents 3Sensorium of Sensational Scents 2Sensorium of Sensational Scents 1Inari Dive 8
Inari Dive 7Inari Dive 6Inari Dive 5Inari Dive 4Inari Dive 3Inari Dive 1

In creating the night, Roger and myself wanted to explore the notion of performance. What is it? And who are the performers? We wanted pieces in which there would not just be audience members watching performers on a stage, we wanted to include work where the audience themselves would become performers, such as the blindfold participants of Inari Dive, navigating their way through the labyrinth. We also wanted to explore the idea of art as experience, so included projects that worked on a wide variety of senses. Sight, sound, touch, smell, equilibrium were all explored, and we finished the night with taste, as provided by Squash Nutrition. Here's a short video with highlights of the night's events:


Monday, 16 January 2012

Circuits Music Night

In October, I played at a new alternative music night at Mello Mello in Liverpool called Circuits. It was a really amazing mix of acts, covering a range from noise to electronica to hip hop. I'm looking forward to seeing more of these nights this year, but, in the meantime, there's a short YouTube clip from my set below.

The a.P.A.t.T. Orchestra: Musical Settings Part II

Well, it's 2012, and what a busy time I've had since my last post. Things have happened too quickly to let you all know about them. But here I am, finally, with a bit of a catch up.

First up is the second of the a.P.A.t.T. Orchestra's Music Settings series, entitled Into the Deep. The concert contained a number of premieres by local musicians, including Ex-Easter Island Head and Ben Fair, as well as a performance of Philip Glass' Music in Similar Motion, which we played in the Planetarium along to one of their shows. Now, as many of you will know, I detest the ground on which Philip Glass walks, however, the music is interesting to play. And I always say know your enemy!

The rest of the music was much more interesting. Here is a YouTube video of Ex-Easter Island Head's piece, which was performed around an Easter Island head, just for good measure.

And here is Ben Fair's piece, which made use of a video score to allow complex polyrhythms to be conducted without the need for superhuman feats of coordination.