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Join accomplished sound artist and ‘Unwell’ audio drama creator Jeffrey Nils Gardner to explore a disorienting ambisonic violin recording sound installation which toured both Burning Man and the streets of Chicago. Five Twenty-Three AM was adopted as an unsettling and arty exploration of sound and used as the soundtrack for fiction podcast The Museum At Tomorrow. In writing the piece, Gardner’s influences ranged from Pauline Oliveros to John Cage. Immersive listening. Headphones required.
IN THIS EPISODE
The piece of music we’re listening to in the background is called Five Twenty-Three AM. It’s an instrumental track used in The Museum At Tomorrow, an abstract audio fiction collage miniseries. Today we’ll break it down and experience why and how it was made. If you’re listening to How I Make Music, where behind the scenes, musicians get to tell their own stories. My name is Jeffrey Nils Gardner. I’m a sound artist, director and designer from Chicago, Illinois. And this is How I Make Music.
01:50 Beat script
For each episode, I write out what I call a beat script laying out each moment of the show. And then I conduct interviews with friends or colleagues or interesting people I run into, along with music and other audio elements to fill in that beat script. We create this collage that tells the story in a very different way.
02:45 Great grandmother’s violin
I’ve been playing violin since I was six years old. This instrument was actually my great grandmother’s. I have a very sharp memory of as a very small child, finding this instrument in my grandparents’ attic. And that was how I went down the path of becoming a violin player.
Disorientation is what I would say one of the main goals of the piece. Kind of like with a magic eye puzzle. If you unfocus your ears and kind of let them follow where they want to go in the overlapping sounds, I find that the listener often creates a fascinating story alongside the narrative that I’m telling. Adds a certain element of chaos. So Five Twenty-Three AM was originally a part of an eight channel sound installation. This installation toured both to Burning Man and also around Chicago. So the experience is you walk into this octagon and close it behind you and lay in the space and are surrounded by this huge number of speakers and the walls block out the city around you. And so you’re hearing this fascinating array of experimental music in multi channel sound. And you just see the sky airplanes crossing your sphere of vision. Laying in the octagon it really effectively blocks out the city, which is not something that we get to do very often. Here in Chicago. It’s a cool installation.
Pauline Oliveros is is a big influence for me, and you can hear some of her work with the Deep Listening Band. One of the other really interesting things that Oliveros has done is create these text scores that are that would stand in for a musically notated score. A text score is a set of instructions for creating a piece of music, something like find an object in the room. Begin manipulating it to find a sound that interests you. Make that noise for five minutes. The piece ends. John cage also works extensively in text scores. Pretty fascinating. He calls them (without prevarication) music. I think he would be deeply offended to hear them not described as music. So I will try not to what you’re hearing now is one interpretation of John Cage’s a dip in the lake. And I want to be really explicit, this is challenging, strange art. And that is totally okay. It doesn’t have to be for everyone.
07:37 Recording process
I recorded the material for Five Twenty-Three AM while I was in grad school at Northwestern University. I woke up very early in the morning, went down to the studio. I set up an array of these eight mics scattered throughout this large open studio facing different ways. I began to improvise. I wandered around the space playing often long, slow tones. I spent a little bit of time dancing to the music I was playing in a way that I think is only possible when you’re the only person in the studio and in the building at six AM! And just really letting myself be unselfconscious about the sounds I was creating. And I also spent some time trying to make really ugly or strange sounds with the instrument.
09:17 Binaural mixing process
And the result was eight tracks of randomly spatialized and slightly off timed violin and proposition. My first step was to open up Reaper and drop these tracks in and just really kind of randomly rearranged them, offset them, you know by 123 to five seconds. And then just play that and listen for moments of synchronicity that emerged from the experience of this kind of random creation. I mixed this piece ambisonically, which is a way of fully capturing the 3D space. Now of course, you’re not playing it back on a multi speaker ambisonics setup. So it was mixed down to binaural, which is a stereo format 3D experience. The human body generally has two ears, our brains are able to interpret so much more information than that, we’re able to tell if something’s in front of us, if it’s above us or below us, if it’s behind us. Your brain is constantly doing this immensely complicated math based on how sound is reflecting off the folds of your years, how it’s being shadowed by your head. And that’s telling you if something is below you if it’s above you, binaural and ambisonic are ways of capturing and replaying that information for you when listening to a binaural piece, you always want to wear headphones. That’s how you get the full experience. Here’s a clip of binaural audio called the Virtual Barbershop.
11:20 Contrapuntal soundscape
An idea I work with a lot in The Museum At Tomorrow is the idea of a contrapuntal soundscape. Two people talking about similar subjects or vastly different subjects. But by juxtaposing those two voices and those two subjects, something new is created by the brain trying to absorb both melodies, or both subjects at the same time. Hearing the joy in both of their voices brought out something interesting about both.
12:00 Outro and full track
MUSIC & SFX CREDITS
“City Traffic 2” by inchadney
“Burning Man Sound Collage” by RBT45
“Aeroplane” by Liefdier101
“Gate:” by German1990
“Footsteps, Concrete, A” by InspectorJ (www.jshaw.co.uk)
Deep Listening Band – Cistern Chapel Chance Chants
John Cage – A Dip In The Lake
Jeffrey Nils Gardner – Drowning Wave
ABOUT THIS SHOW
How I Make Music is where behind-the-scenes musicians tell their own stories. Every Wednesday, we release an interview sound collage with a respected composer and break apart their music composition, diving dramatically into how it was made.
How I Make Music is created by John Bartmann johnbartmann.com
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