As we shifted to exploring the internal virtual world of our desktop, it became clear to me that my personal computer space is one of the best forms of communication between myself and others. Communication and quality time, whether in person or over a digital screen, is how we form relationships and as we near the end of our study abroad semester in Singapore, relationships have been on my mind often. Relationships with people back home that have been stunted by distance and relationships that have formed here with people I will be leaving in a few short weeks — even relationships that will grow with transitions that are beginning to happen as I move back to the States but to a new state across the country. All of this is explored through layered video calls and conversations in my Interior Landscape project.
My video-soundscape (a digital landscape of composed video and audio footage) is a realistic narration of my life through chats with friends and family, in particular, my best friends from high school and college and my mother and sister. Selected video snippets are chosen for their audio counterparts and the messages they relayed as well as how they connected and overlapped with conversation content. Repetition of sonic elements such as digital notifications, my distorted voice, and background typing noises create additional texture to the heavily layered video. The most prominent sounds are human voices which I chose not to distort because of the importance of the words. Throughout our study of found sounds this semester and how they can be musical, I think our focus on the human voice in the second half of the semester was most intriguing to me.
The symmetry of the beginning and ending of the video in terms of desktop imagery and sound elements create stability and emphasise how digital communication and relationships cannot exist on a computer without human interaction. My Spotify background music relates to my daily life and the correlation between mood of music and the mood of my day. Ultimately, the video is a composed digital landscape highlighting the humanity that can be found through digital technology as well as my personal sentiments during this time of the semester.
Round 2 of my sound explorations recorded from my digital desktop landscape:
01 Typing Glitch – source: keyboard typing effects: beat repeat, grain delay, chorus, auto pan, Warp alterations: high pitch, high frequency, deconstructed beats, 95% feedback, 100% wet
02 Digital Giggle Loop – source: two girls laughing during a Skype call effects: Beat repeat, Chorus, Loop & Warp alterations: Flounch chorus with zero feedback and 100% wet, Vocal Fun beat repeat with high variation and high chance, Sharing Auto Pan with quick back and forth L to R
03 Defiance – source: voice on Skype saying “I don’t think I will… I don’t agree with this” effects: Loop & Warp, auto Filter, 2x Vocoder alterations: Chromatic Vocoder with all individual bandpass filters at same highest level so its instrumental, octaves mod vocoder with only a few individual bandpass filters open at all; auto filter Only the Good Parts with high envelope attack dropping off sounds after 1K
04 Snapchat Filters? – source: one voice asking a question on Skype effects: Vocoder x2, Auto pan alterations: Noise Drums Vocoder with pitch tracking and high bandpass filters for all (low pitched snapchat filters); even panning between left and right for spacial alterations; Octave Mood vocoder with few bandpass filters in use (high pitched snapchat filters)
Golan Levin, recalls making his sound piece Dialtones as
“deliberately treading the fuzzy boundary between music and noise,”
words I believe could be applied to all of the people we have studied in this class to a degree. Pushing the boundaries of composition and music and stretching the accepted view of what sounds are pleasing to the ear seems to be a recurring theme each week as we discuss sound artists.
In the interview, Levin references John Cage’s influence on the experimental and unpredictable nature of his music multiple times. Many aspects of using digital sounds produced by technology are unpredictable in nature, especially when these sounds are produced by a person’s main communication device. Who knows when someone will next be contacted through their cellular device? Levin recounts numerous instances of unpredictable happenstances but does not seem to view these as mistakes in the performance, but as chance elements that heighten contrast for the composed solo section of Dialtones. This idea of letting whatever sounds happen to occur be a part of a performance piece is quite similar to the mindsets of Bill Fontana, John Cage, Edgard Varese, and even all the way back to Luigi Russolo.
Most intriguing, Levin makes a bold statement that
“the days of purely random music were over”,
defining music composition as the ability to effectively manage this randomness. It seemed Levin moved away from this randomness more than he even realized because of the human control in decision making he utilized during the performance. He purposefully chose people to shine light on during the performance and trigger their phone, instead of using
“an abstract sound-triggering system, [inadvertently making the performance] a communications medium that connects people.”
This may have connected him to individual members of the audience as he triggered their phones as musical instruments, but it erased the thought of complete randomness from the performance entirely. Instead, Dialtones is more composed than most pieces we have looked at in class so far.
As I started to read this interview, I was immediately brought back to one of my first ADM assignments in which we had to pitch a large-scale interactive piece. My group focused on human interaction in controlling sound in an exhibition space which turned into a performance space as sound was thought of as organized and composed. We had decided to pitch the idea of using audience members phones in a circular auditorium that would be programed to play musical sounds controlled by a center computer. The idea was quite extravagant and also proposed controlling the flashlight on phones so that the performance could simultaneously be a light show during which sound and light would emanate from each individual person’s seat. Thus, audience members would ideally feel they are a part of the performance — similar to Dialtones in many aspects I am now realizing. However, in both instances, the level of interaction with the audience can be questioned. People are not touching or interacting with their own phones at all, especially when compared to the level of interaction in Thomson & Craighead’s Telephony. It makes me think how connected are to our phones… so much so, that we feel we are participating in a performance just because our possession is being controlled by a computer or in Dialtones‘s case, Levin and his software.
Listening to Dialtones is a very familiar experience as we hear sounds around us daily, although escalated in the performance. I think most people find these sounds that phones emit to be annoying, not because the sounds are annoying themselves but because it seems somehow offensive to emit a sound every time you get a social media notification, message, call, et cetera. Thus, most people keep their phones on silent or vibration or low volume. But I imagine that if a group of people in a densely populated space all turned their phones on full volume for all notifications, the resulting sound would be very similar to Dialtones. The main difference of course being the compositional techniques used in Dialtones that make it more like a musical performance than ambient digital noise.
“unconventional, unorthodox, or non-traditional methods of singing […] to obtain unusual sounds.”
Her multimedia sound art is embroidered with many layers of vocals, instrumental sounds and digital sounds that she creates, reverbs, repeats, and mixes in real time. Her unique performances combine spoken word, classical vocal elements and visuals such as film and movement through digital means that together make quite futuristic compositions.
Pamela’s strong vocals result from her classical voice studies at University of Colorado Boulder. After earning her degree, she attempted to add digital delay and reverb to her classical voice performance in the early ‘80s, moving into an entirely different realm of vocal performance in experimental sound art. I am quite curious how she decided to move from something so traditional as classical voice, which influenced her opera-like tones, to an experimental and digitally-influenced sound.
She then added live looping to her compositions by looping her voice multiple times to make her performances more layered and textural. In our sound and video compositions, we used looping for both video and sound, but the small fragments that are looped in Pamela Z’s pieces give her performance more consistent texture than a 1.5 minute looping video in my project, for instance. This repetition and consistency is heard clearly in her piece “Geekspeak” and in many of the videos of the compilation we watched in class.
As I listened to “Geekspeak”, the tech language and words were directly connected to the content important to the technology nerds of today, making the title appropriate. I questioned whether this was labeled a song or sound piece, since the conversational theme between multiple speaking (instead of singing) reminded me of a podcast. The repetition of sounds and words in addition to the way in which words were said – sometimes staccato-like or put through a reverb system or even cut off in incomprehensible phrases – made me wonder how this piece would sound if I did not know English. Any language is just a bunch of sounds combined together so that they are comprehensible by someone who knows the language. But if I did not understand the language, would it sound more like music than a podcast?
The background digital sounds and spoken words provide a texture similar to instruments in a song. So, possibly, if the spoken words were strung together more like typical singing or if they were more broken apart and incomprehensible like instrument noises, Geekspeak would be very similar to a typical song or instrumental track — though, this diversion from what is accepted as a song and pushing the interaction between sound and technology through live performance is exactly what Pamela Z is most likely going for. Annabelle Woodward describes her sonic compositions well as
“fuse eerie, futuristic audio with spoken word and film” that creates a “dynamic multimedia experience”.
After watching my desktop recording, I think it is a little too static in representing my desktop interactions. Watching the live screen recording through OBS and using my windows at a small size did not allow me to accurately interact with my desktop how I normally would. I think I would either need to practice using OBS or go back to desktop screen recording as we did last week to most precisely show my digital landscape as it typically exists.
On the other hand, I think this video does explain how my mind multitasks quite poorly. Even though I always have multiple windows, tabs and desktops open, I am always singularly focused to the point where I was not even watching the New Girl video as I was typing or scrolling through youtube, etc. In this sense, maybe the video does capture my desktop life well.
As I read the conversation with jonCates and researched some of the glitch media artists’ pieces, I found most interesting how he talks about the system which he creates in his works. These glitched systems may malfunction or be loud or have mistakes but Cates considers these imperfect aberrations to be the essence of his artworks.
“A poetic embrace of noise and error,”
the glitch media works to show the messy reality of our technologically driven lives, but in a positive and playful manner.
No doubt, communication in our lives heavily takes place on the web or through technology. This gap between the language of our daily interactions and the language we use on our machines is closing in terms of how we handle ourselves on each. As this gap closes, our lives evolve into a techno-social system like that in Cates’s video. In this techno-social system, we communicate both in reading information and sharing it out to others. Cates calls this
“the performance of everyday life that we’re all doing all the time with all of our technologies.”
Can living be measured by our use of technologies? I don’t believe so, at least not entirely. But it can be a valuable source of information and data storage, a platform in which we live out our communication and therefore, our life.
As our lives revolve around these complex tech-social interactions, technology-facilitated communications start to reflect our instinctive verbal communication and language. Yet, jonCates doesn’t seem to reflect life accurately, choosing to break the reality of daily interactions through layering of text, noises and web interactions in his glitch work. It seems that this is what gives the glitch media the name “dirty new media,” speaking to the chaotic reality of our lives which is reflected in how we use technology. However, I would argue that because it deviates from logic and our communication habits (such as pausing, thinking, reflection, silence, etc.) the glitch media example of BOLD3RRR was not very pleasing to watch or listen to. Cates believes glitch aesthetic is growing in popularity to the point where it is not
“exclusively resistant or exclusively political,”
but I think the glitch media art field would need to greatly expand for the aesthetic to be more accepted or logical.
From two months studying at NTU, my perception of design has definitely changed. Projects I have been exposed to in all of my courses have been much more than visuals on a poster or screen. The experience of interacting with media is multi-sensory and through this class, so far, I have learned how sound augments an experience in a particular space, shared with others or alone, or while interacting with an art installation. Emotion, purpose and innovation associated with interactive media is very much a result of sound.
“break at all cost from this restrictive circle of pure sounds and conquer the infinite variety of noise-sounds.”
Of course, every noise has its own unique sound but Russolo blew the door open for the infinite sounds we could CREATE ourselves. As I explored combining recorded noises in Max and utilized various output modules, it become quite obvious how expansive the sound landscape is.
So where does one begin in producing a sound? Is it entirely fabricated from scratch like the sounds produced from Russolo’s noise machines? Or is it experimental use of instruments that already exist, as composer Edgard Varese practiced in his piece Ionisation? For the purpose of my project, I was inspired by contemporary sound artist Bill Fontana’s use of everyday sounds, recgonzing that
“the world at any given moment is a potential musical system.”
Listening and observing are a couple of the most important skills in learning and finding inspiration in our daily lives. As I went about my days here in Singapore, I did not actively search out moments of sound inspiration. Rather, it was in the times when I was just being present in a space that I would pick up on a soundscape around me that I wanted to record. These sounds were then combined to become half of my compositional audio-visual piece, layering each of these moments on top of each other to create a new sound landscape.
Yet, with all I had learned about finding and producing sounds, composing them posed a greater challenge. Harkening back to Russolo’s “Awakening of a City”, it appeared that noises could become a musical composition as we try to organize them in a strategic manner. There may be no recognizable form of composition exactly like that of musical notes; but the freeing of sounds as they collide on a three dimensional plane, explained by Varese, creates new colors, magnitude, and perspectives so that
“the entire work will be a melodic totality. The entire work will flow as a river flows.”
Layered sounds, reverberation, additive filters, and changing volumes moved the individual sounds towards a calculated composition in our projects, abandoning linear movement of sound masses. And while what we were creating in class was an entirely conceived sound composition, there are similar sound mass compositions that we experience around us. Go to a hawker center or cafe, a public concert or sports event and you will be able to pick up this textural mass of sounds. Yet we don’t always do so. We pay attention to what we see more so than what we hear. Our reading from composer John Cage on silence, helped me acknowledge that listening is as powerful as seeing or creating.
That is not to say that video should be disregarded. But because we are constantly focused on the visuals in front of us, video feed can make sounds more recognizable and less imaginative. Thus, used wisely, video can help root a composition in narrative. Visuals add depth to a soundscape just as sounds add dimension to video. Combined together, they form what a digital landscape truly is: an immersive experience in a composed story. Artist Janet Cardiff showcases how sound and video can distort time in a listeners mind, relocate people from place to place and open up alternate worlds,
Whether it’s traditional musical notes or experimental noises, music reflects the world. It reflects the way in which the artist intended a sound piece to be heard. It reflects the thoughtful innovation of unique sounds that have been put into the world. And music reflects the emotion of the listeners and authenticates our experiences. Through our digital landscapes, we are able to take these reflections and our learnings on conceptual sound art to evoke new stories with creative purpose.
Aggregated audio and visuals from our daily lives can convey a new story through composition and technical distortion. The combined video and audio above speaks to the constant bustle of life in Singapore and the extravagant city life it appears to be as a leading Asian tourist and expat city. High color saturation and a variety of video movements figuratively represent the high energy of a sleepless and commercialized country. Noises blur together with bursts of sound from cars, overhead human voices, and a continuous muffled background noise that emanates from public spaces. Throughout the piece, people walking across the frame remains a constant so as to root the composition in how this visual and noise commotion affects the people whose lives it intersects.