Wet your whistle

April 26, 2012

In thinking about our assignment to notate birdsong, I’ve become increasingly frustrated trying to do so graphically. And so, inspired by Marcus Coates’s Dawn Chorus, I decided to try mimicking the robins who sing outside my window every morning. After taking a recording, I slowed it down to human speed and did my best to imitate what I heard in two different ways and sped up the results back to their original pace.

1. Whistling. This seemed to work best, as the variability of the throat, in combination with lips and tongue, allowed the finest control over the subtle nuances contained therein. In addition, I whistled a second track in order to elicit the simultaneous effects possible only with a bird’s syrinx.

Whistle Robin

2. Soprano saxophone. This was a challenge. Despite the soprano saxophone’s high range, the limitations of my software allowed me neither to slow down the robin’s song nor speed up my recording to a sufficient pitch or speed, and so the results are about an octave lower than they should be. Nevertheless, one can hear the marked difference in timbre and articulation. As a relatively inexperienced saxophonist, I struggled in making smooth transitions between notes. In addition, because the saxophone has a single hollow body that does not constrict like a throat, I had to make due with embouchure adjustments and odd fingerings in order to get the nuances I desired. The results were not quite so satisfactory.

Soprano Saxophone Robin

Although both of these are renderings born of technological manipulation, the whistling version sounds more organic to my ears, while the soprano comes across as an electronic copy. This makes me wonder how the birds hear David Rothenberg’s fascinating attempts to jam with them. Does he come across as a lumbering blob of slow-motion riffs and delayed virtuosity, or is the speed secondary to the quality of the song? Perhaps those birds are singing because they are trying to teach him the proper way to join the conversation. -Tyran

My post on rendering animal sounds, for the sound studies blog, Sounding Out!

In a time of mass extinction, how are we to approach the rendering of animal sounds in our mediated environments? Do these sounds have agency? Does listening to and “capturing” animal sounds bring us closer to them, or only lure us, with an illusion of immersion and unity, away from realizing the dark nature of our ecology, and the urgent reforms needed, if we are actually to help animals (does our rendering and consumption of whale song—pace what Songs of the Humpback Whale has done for whale conservation—end up perpetuating the same extractive process that “renders” whale blubber)?

In coincidence strangely relevant to our class two weeks ago, I just happened to stumble upon a reference to artist Miru Kim’s installation I Like Pigs and Pigs Like Me, undoubtedly related to Joseph Beuys’ I Like America and America Likes Me.  I thought I’d share, although her exhibit doesn’t seem to have received nearly as much attention as Beuys’ did.  Also, this website gives a bit of a different perspective on Kim’s intentions with the installation than the first, but the contrast between these two accounts is interesting in its own right.  Essentially, Kim seems to focus more on finding her humanity by living with these pigs than Beuys did, instead of trying to become or access the animal by living with them.  Her focus on skin and nudity, not just in this piece, also lends a different flavor to her work.  However, it seems that she is still exploring the relationship between human and animal, albeit in a light we haven’t encountered thus far.

I wonder what role our awareness and subconscious plays in our listening to and hearing of specific sounds? I don’t mean listening actively for a sound, but rather bringing it to the forefront of your consciousness and considering it, and then letting it recede back into memory – only to notice it more so than ever before when next exposed to it.  I wonder this, because early yesterday afternoon I had a brief conversation with a friend about the ubiquitous Cornell chimes and their purpose (or frivolity, as she thought).  I mentioned that I do in fact use them to tell the time; for example, I know that if I hear them from our apartment I can be positive that I am running late for class. However this only happens rarely, and not due to my punctuality but rather the difficulty in hearing the chimes from a substantial distance away.  I often simply do not hear the chimes.  But that evening, I heard them strike every quarter-hour interval for several hours, although I had returned home and normally do not notice the chimes so regularly.  Each time, it occurred to me that I was hearing the bell tower, and I noted to myself how odd it was that I had just discussed how infrequently I hear it.  Even more bizarre, the chimes actually woke me up this morning – something that has never happened before.  They are not loud at all, but I have no doubt that they were what brought me out of sleep today. My first thought upon waking up was that I was noticing them yet again.  I have come to the conclusion that since I had been thinking about the sound of the bells prior to hearing them so many times, I was more attuned to them when I first was exposed to them again. This awakened my recent focus on the sound, and I consciously noticed it again.  Then, I allowed it to return to the back of my mind, but 15 minutes later the same cycle repeated, each time impressing upon my subconscious the prevalence of this sound.  Finally, when my sleeping mind heard the chimes this morning, it took notice of what had been a very common sound the day before and I awoke to become conscious of it yet again.   However, of course this is simply anecdotal evidence and my own musings – I would like to learn more about how we consciously and subconsciously filter through the many sounds we may hear at any given moment and select the most relevant or common ones to examine consciously.

Music and Nature

April 14, 2012

Just discovered this terrific website dedicated to music and nature.

Creativity in Birdsong

April 12, 2012

I’m glad I read the most recent blog posts before adding mine, because it was going to be nearly identical to Justin’s.  The songbirds are certainly out in force, and they’ve been waking me as well. However, I didn’t focus so much on the hi-fi vs. lo-fi soundscapes when listening to them; I did return to the interesting opposition birds have to hearing their songs repeated.  As I heard so many birds singing, I first wondered if sometimes there is a conflict if two “write” the same melody and feel antagonized when hearing the other’s song.  This type of event is common in human culture – people are known to argue over who invented something first, or said something originally.  But do birds feel the same way? Are they so creative that they never repeat themselves unintentionally?  Similarly, I wonder if I had begun to play some recordings of birdsong out of my open window how the birds would react.  It is unlikely that the birds would hear or notice, but the same hypothetical issue of ownership of song arises for me.  I suppose I am essentially wondering if birds are as opposed to “copy-cats” as we humans are, showing a type of jealousy, or at least allowing us to project that emotion upon them.  The limits of birds’ creativity and inventiveness has not yet been discovered, but I wonder where (if at all) it lies, and how the avian populations would respond to the necessary repetition of old songs.

Early Morning Bird Song

April 12, 2012

Today I was awakened by bird song around 5:00am.  At first I tried to block it out, but it proved unsuccessful.  So, for about two hours, in my “twilight state” of groggy awakening, I tried to listen and pick out some different birds.  Unfortunately, it was extremely difficult because there were many different bird songs in many different directions.  My only saving grace was that when I finally decided to move about, I looked out my window and could actually see the birds.  The most prominent bird that I saw (around 7:00am) was the American Robin.  There were about four.  But there was certainly other birds making other noises.  All of the noise directed me back to schafer and thinking about a hi-fi soundscape.  It was actually quite pleasing to note that in the two hours that had passed, I hadn’t noticed any mechanical noises (cars, tvs, refrigerator, and so on), and it made me wonder if this was a rare experience that used to be common in the hi-fi soundscape, but is seldom any more.  So, at first I was not so happy to be woke at 5:00, but as I stumbled about and listened to the song, I felt very pleased to awake to something like bird song, as compared to a sharp, low-fi, mechanical buzzer of an alarm.

“Net Noise”

April 5, 2012

My professor from another class recently brought this site to my attention www.cTheorymultimedia.cornell.edu . It’s an on-line journal of sorts with the main focus being “Net Noise” right in the middle of the page. When you click on it the screen expands and you are shown different icons you can click on. There are different noises for each one and there are multiple links that will take you to other pages. 

I personally found this website fascinating especially since it made me think outside of the normal natural sounscape that we discuss and into that of the internet. The internet itself, I’m sure, makes thousands and thousands of tiny sounds inaudible for the human ear. I wonder what it sounds like in cyberspace when we click on a link and that information goes buzzing throughout the World Wide Web in order to bring us to our desired multimedia destination. The computer itself is always making sounds whether it be a constant humming of electronics working internally to satisfy the user or the sounds it makes as we enter a disc or take one out. The internet, however, is what fascinates me. Billions of people use it every day. It has almost become a necessity in every day life for many people. We can use it on an airplane or in a library in the confines of our own personal bubble, without making any audible sounds. But, does the internet make noises that we may just not hear? If so, would we ever be able to hear them?

Nesting of the Cranes

April 5, 2012

Like many traditional instruments, the Japanese shakuhachi, or bamboo flute, has a rich history. Perhaps greater than its evolution as an instrument, however, is the depth of its repertoire, which encompasses melodies passed down through the centuries and pieces written by contemporary composers, the latter often in multi-instrumental and cross-cultural settings. Having attempted for a short period in my life to play one, I can attest to the utter dedication required to attune its character to the undistracted self.

In light of my recent critique regarding the pitfalls of Western classical notation in representing birdsong on the page, I found my mind wandering to the notation practices of shakuhachi music:

The form differs from what the classical musician might expect. Not only is it read from top to bottom, right to left, but also uses scripted note values and diacritical marks with at best implied meters.

One classic piece in the shakuhachi canon is Tsuru no Sugomori 鶴の巣籠 (Nesting of the Cranes). It evokes a full narrative in which the eponymous cranes arrive on wing, find and rejoice in their nesting place, hatch their egg, witness the departure of their offspring, and pay their respects to heaven in having fulfilled their duty. Here is an abbreviated version played by FUJIWARA Dōzan for Japanese television:

Are Western notation practices sufficient to capture these nuances? Perhaps not, though it hasn’t stopped people from trying:

In the end, of course, interpretation wins out over the ways in which a piece might be scored. Any self-respecting shakuhachi player will likely tell you that the best way to learn is by ear, that notation serves only the purpose of guiding the solo performer to a state of total embodiment. Such mastery of mind and body is the lifeblood of this music. Through it one meditates not on what has been written, but on what can be erased. -Tyran