Monday, October 25, 2010

what is a microphone?

What would the results for recording and 'sound art' be if there were as many different kinds of microphones in the world as there are pairs of ears? If, indeed, it was possible to use a pair of ears as microphones, and to feed whatever resonated in those inner cavities and nerves directly through the inputs of a recording device?

The thought was prompted by a friend talking about the experience of hearing the world with inner ears full of fluid - the result of a respiratory virus. Apparently certain frequencies are blocked, making all pianos sound honky-tonk and out of tune, and causing some women's voices to sound high and squeaky/'little-girly'. My voice is apparently unchanged.

Speaking of filtering, I'm loving the effects of my Korg MS20 synth on the vocal signal from my Beyer Dynamic mic. Every time I change the settings it's like I'm working with a new and 'differently-abled' microphone.

I think I'm attracted to sonic experiences of mild disorientation. Such as the slightly hallucinogenic interaction of my treated voice with the 'clean' signal in among the cycas, my chant-like interpretation of Jen Craig's micro-story Perspective.

As in my piece Over the River the audio and text converge on a shared experience of the Shoahaven river  during our Bundanon residency, but unlike the other piece, among the cycas has no field recordings in it. It relies instead on the inflections in my vocal and synthesizer improvisation in the acoustic of the Dorothy Porter Studio at Bundanon. The text captures a shared experience of looking at the river through trees from a rock high above the water. Something about the perspective subtly undermined our sense of which way was up.

My performance of Jen's text at the time was completely in the moment. But reflecting on it now it seems to me that the play with tuning, overtones and shifting pulses aims to suggest a similar disorientation of aural reference points around a very simple, almost montonal chant. Perhaps while you're listening to among the cycas you may feel like you've got fluid in your ears...

Saturday, October 2, 2010

the raw and the cooked

My collaborative residency with writer Jen Craig is coming to an end, and while we've both done lots of work over the past 12 days, there's not much that's ready for anyone else to hear.

Part of my process over the past week has been simply to take Jen's texts and put myself in front of a microphone or two (with one of the mics feeding through an old analog synthesizer) and improvise take after take of interpretations of these texts. As the week has gone on I've found myself homing in on certain texts that seem to gel more with the vocal performances I've come up with. Most of these are still in various stages of editing and elaboration with other recorded material from the residency and elsewhere. But I decided to take a risk tonight and let one fairly raw offering out of the bag. Listen.

The text is one of Jen's briefer micro-stories - a 32-word utterance called Only three removes - that leaves lots of raw edges hanging. Unlike the previous two audio pieces, I've done nothing to directly address the contexts the text refers to (Kafka, holocaust, Prague...). I've just set two quite different 'readings' (vocalisings) of the text side by side. While I wanted to make the text comprehensible, neither of my readings aims to emphasise the narrative or emotive details of the text. Rather, they take a relatively emotionally flat approach, but with lots of grain in both the vocal performances and the interference (noise?) provided by the synth and some abrasive treatment of one of the mics.

My sense is that the resulting musical texture is analogous (homologous in Shepherd and Wicke's sense?) to the unresolved edges - almost the emotional prickles - that I read (feel?) in the text. It's a text which is full of ambivalence and tension. My desire in making the music was to inhabit (and perhaps take pleasure in) that space of masochistic discomfort. The masochism extends to the rough and unresolved edges of the recording and mix itself.

Does the strategy succeed in embodying such an experience? Or does the very 'under-produced' nature of the work get in the way, and stop the listener from really listening? Is it too literally uncomfortable to resonate and be appreciated as a musical experience?