Thomas Lord (Berkeley, CA)

This recording is my entry for a current round of the a very serious, silly competition: the Libre Music Challenge.

The prompt for this episode of the challenge was to make a piece of music using only free (as in libre) software but using no instruments, no synthesizers, and (“so it won’t be a who’s got the best microphone contest”) nothing but recordings made with lousy cell phone or laptop microphones.

Sequencers are explicitly allowed under the rules but for personal reasons I decided to put those on the ban list as well. See, when I was a teenage nerd I had an interest in early 20th century “Music Concrete” – some of the earliest electronica there was. It was very “tape centric” in that the main moves for a composer where to cut-up, splice, reverse, and vary speed on fragments of physical audio tape recordings. I wanted to explore that idea in the digital domain where you can zoom right in on the actual wave forms of a recording and cut and splice with exceeding good precision.

Source recording. I used my cell phone to record:

Everything else you hear is the result of abusing various digital filters and doing strange edits to the “tape”.

I don’t know if it counts as cheating or not but in the final section of the piece you’ll hear a distinct chord of fairly clean tones. How did this come to be? I edited wave forms at very high resolution.

The off hook klangston, it turns out, contains something like a somewhat dirty sine wave. I zoomed way in, snipped that, and got a tiny audio segment that sounded like a “click”. I almost-doubled its length by splicing two copies together, lining up the waves. Then I doubled that, doubled that, doubled that, and so on for a few folds and soon had a few minutes of “almost a tone”.

Various pitch altering techniques were abused to beat that almost-tone into what you hear. Throughout the piece, selective editing and stretching-and-shrinking without pitch preservation are heavily used.

Fragments of sound are layed out with reference to a 120bpm gride divided into 16th notes and triplets — but much of it is deliberately not exactly “on grid”. Hence the name:

Imprecession #1 (bird and snake)

Imprecession #1 (bird and snake)

Technique notes….

Track: “pot lid ride”:

A very large diameter pot lid struck with the palm of my heal. This is the “gunshot-like” sound in the first half of the piece. I think I shrunk the clip to raise the pitch. It uses a “Calf Filter” set up as a 12dB high pass filter, an unfancy generic reverb (“Zita reverb ambient”) and the Calf Tape Simulator to smudge out some glitches.

Tracks: “bass [one,two,three]”

These are the plodding almost-a-triad bass line in the first half of the recording. They are all the “off hook” noise edited into “almost a tone” and then tortured through “Audio Driver (suboctive divider)”, a 5 band “Calf Equalizer” with resonance points, configured awkwardly, a ring modulator, and to mix it down – a pair of filters, one Calf low-pass, another Calf high-pass.

Track: “dryer drone”

This is a recording of the noise my clothes dryer makes, strangely turned into a kind of chaotic drum-kit track using "C*Scape Stereo delay with chromatic resonances (by Tim Goetze)" – that gives it the weird emergent rythm enhancement, the gorgeous 5 band "Calf equalizer that I love very much now, and again low and hi pass filters to give it some place w/in the mix.

Tracks: “screaming off hook” and “Voicemail…”

This is little more than the off hook signal but shrunk (and so pitch-raised) – sounds like a funky ringtone. Some scrap of audio for the imaingary “pick up” of the phone. And some tinkery with the “this call is now being recorded” message and some random stuff I left on voicemail.

Tracks: “wave tone 1-6 (and bus)”

I again deployed the Calf EQ, a comb filter, etc. along with my hand-made almost-a-tone from the off hook signal and built… a chord. Those chime-like noises and chord in the last part of the piece. The bus has a ring modulator automated to reach a mild frenzy at the end there. All the final “clinks” which, if you are old enough, might remind you of those old time flip-top butane lighters are literal copies of the gun-shot-like pot lid sound but passed through the filter stacks of the wave tones and the echo-y voicemail.

Track: “this call”

Unaltered source material from my voip service. “This call is now being recorded.” Oh, in the second part of the song, you can hear the “now” part of that recording all stretched out (hence low-pitch) and treated and deployed with some echo and on-grid-then-off-grid assault.

Tracks: “lucky snake”

We made these nonsense calls about birds with grenades vs an unarmed snake in the neighbors garden. I tripled the recording and applied a variety of distortions differently to two of the copies to get some glitch-smudging and some fake triple-tracking going.