Enough, Enough! (Stock Market Report)

Some weeks ago, Bellows found an electronic toy which makes car and talk noises in a charity shop. He hacked and bent the circuitry, and I recorded the sounds of it and produced some glitchy audio files – originally in the spirit of creative fun without any agenda.

As leftovers from composing and producing A Prophet Looking For A Wall To Write On I have some recordings of voices on the radio, sped up to the point where the words just about stop making sense. One of them is a stock market report.

Early this morning, in the wake of some election results, the value of our currency dropped by almost two cents against the US Dollar in the space of about an hour.

This piece of music is a collage of the stock market report and the toy sounds, put together with a glitchy drum track which I made from sounds I recorded around Cork City, hitting a litter bin, a rainwater pipe and a barred iron gate with a stick of bamboo and with my fist. It is my response to those so-called investors whom I can only see as idle-minded rich children who engage in tax free gambling with the fortunes of countries and the common people at stake. Shame on them!

Enough, Enough! (3:50 of ugly music in the iTunes AAC/MPEG4 format, 3.6 MB to download, opens in a new window)

Careful with the volume control: this piece has the dynamics compressed – something I usually don’t do with my music- hence it sounds much louder than most of my recordings… and it is meant to sound ugly!

Enjoy… and feel free to cut it up, deconstruct it, remix it… the terms are in the Disclaimer page.

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A Quiet Little Improvisation Featuring My New Waterphone

I have a new Waterphone, a “Whaler” – much smaller than my original “Megabass”, and a lot easier for me to play live.

the Whaler and the Megabass Waterphones, side by side (note to self: I must tidy up and fix the rope on the “exhaust” of the big one…)

Thank you, Richard!

It arrived for my birthday, but I was out of the country. A neighbor took care of it, and handed it over to me on Tuesday – just in time for our almost regular Wednesday jam. We played for about an hour. Here are the last 11 minutes and a quarter – a bit of slightly oriental sounding abstract ambiance, very quiet, mainly Bass and Guitar: Reprise (12.5 MB, in the iTunes/iPod MPEG4/AAC format, opens in a new window).

Bellows: Allsorts, including the Wok and Pebbles which I have already used on several Cork City Gamelan pieces
Metalizer: Electric Guitar
Sonikjahz: Bass Guitar
Yours Truly: my new “Whaler” Waterphone

Most of the time my Waterphone is just barely there in the mix, but I like it a lot. I don’t always need to be loud and obvious, eh? Actually, I am using a new extended technique about three quarters into the piece which is loud and obvious – but it doesn’t sound like a Waterphone: I placed a metal protector for a saxophone reed on the top of one of the rods. Striking the rod produces a very subtle complex rattle.

Enjoy and feel free to share, but don’t remix, please – see, it is a group improvisation and not entirely my own composition. I’ll be posting music for remixing again, promise…

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Warming Up And Starting To Boil – And Some Thoughts On Improvisation

A free improvisation with Metalizer on Electric Guitar, Sonikjahz on Bass, and Self on Waterphone. I remixed the live recording: adjusted the volume and sound for each individual player and added a track of Cork City Gamelan percussion – while trying not to destroy the free improvised feeling. I am trying to learn the technique and get good at it. Much of my favorite music for listening to seems to be recorded and produced this way: use an improvisation as a starting point, and then remix it… and anyway: I cannot do this particular kind of Cork City Gamelan percussion arrangement live YET, it has to be in a remix for now – I hope to be able to do it soon some time, though, eventually. I am treating it as research and development. This means that it can stay on the long finger for a long time, as long as there are more exciting tasks to tackle.

Warming Up And Starting To Boil (about 5 1/2 minutes of something resembling music in a new window, 5.6 MB to download, in the iTunes and iPod AAC/MPEG4 format)

Please note: I cannot make this available under a Creative Commons license for cutting up and remixing, because only about half of it is my own creative work. Unlike most of the music I post here, this is “all rights reserved”. Also: This is entirely my own edit decision, without consulting with the others.

I absolutely love improvised music – both, listening to it as well as playing. I call this our “Just Play” sessions. We are not a band, and we have no repertoire – we don’t even talk about what we are going to play before we start. We literally just play, and we are open for others to join in, any time. Contact me if you would like to give it a try.

To promote making improvised music (while allowing anything that can make sounds to become a musical instrument) is a very special pursuit to me. I believe that it is a good way for people with disabilities to get into making their own music. Last December, I met with Dame Evelyn Glennie in Dublin, and she very much confirmed these feelings for me. I am planning to write an article about improvisation, based largely on what she had to say. Dame Evelyn is one of the foremost percussionists in the World. She became the first ever full time solo percussionist… and she is profoundly deaf! She reads lips when she talks to people. Watching Touch The Sound, a documentary movie about her, motivated me to get a Waterphone and to play live again after over 15 years of complete withdrawal due to my own disability.

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With A Nod At John Cage: Leave No Traces

Leave No Traces (4.7 MB to download, in the iTunes/iPod MPEG format, opens in a new window)

All I needed to make the sounds for composing this music were the two pieces of common Cork City Street Litter which I rescued recently to become musical instruments, a few pebbles, and a Superball mallet. The Altoids Tin supplies the “Timpani” rolls – everything else is played on the Wok.

There is currently (Janury 28th/29th 2o12) a series of events on in Cork City to celebrate the work of John Cage. 2012 is the John Cage Centenary Year. I disagree strongly with some of his ideas, especially about the role of the performer and the composer. However, I respect him and his work highly and I regard him as one of the greatest composers of the 20th century, a true revolutionary. I have  been privileged to be asked to perform his music while I was still at college.

To determine the spacing and pacing of the beats on the wok, I used a random procedure, removing my own preferences and prejudices from the process of composing the music. This is something which Cage proposes and with which I disagree as a general approach to composing pieces of music. I work a lot with abstract atonal and arythmic textures, though, and here I often find that my own preferences get in the way and impose limits on what I can do. Removing them in such cases sometimes seems to result in more exciting and “organic” sounding music, sometimes with an element of suspense which would take me a long time and much trial and error to create with deliberation.

Another piece of music I composed recently for this combination of instruments is Scythian Chit-Chat.

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Scythian Chit-Chat

Warning: Children, please don’t try this at home with your Mom’s good Wok – use beans instead of pebbles!

It seems that some of the most interesting percussion sounds around the city are available from things which people throw out carelessly. Some weeks ago, I picked up an old Wok and an empty Altoid mints tin… and that’s all I needed to make this little five minute soundscape – using a superball mallet and a few small pebbles as beaters.

What is the World coming to? People are throwing out perfectly good musical instruments…

Scythian Chit-Chat (5:00, 5.1 MB to download, opens in a New Window)

For the main sounds of the first movement I swirled a single pebble around in the Wok – a further development of an idea I picked up of Sean O h’Uigin over two decades ago and implemented recently in Discover Your Formulas And Abandon Them. For the shorter second movement, I recorded the sound of dropping pebbles into the Wok. I derived all sounds other than the “drum” beats from these two recordings via filtering and spectrum manipulation. Can you hear little voices in the mix? That’s the single pebble and Wok sound with sophisticated resonant filtering and harmonic spectrum manipulation. People find it hard to believe, so I must do it live, some time, but I’ll need a few other electroacoustic improvisors to drone along and bridge a few gaps. Any volunteers? I am hanging on to the Wok for a while, anyway…

The “drum” beats are hits with a superball mallet on the Altoids tin, very much “enlarged” in my studio.

The title is a reference to one of the first music projects I was involved in. There is one person following this site who might possibly get it, if he remembers (Hint: it was originally in Latin, and abbreviated the way Pharmacists abbreviate the names of substances…).

As always: download it, slice and dice it and jumble it up, remix it… or, perhaps, just put it on your iPod and enjoy.

Have a great New Year!

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Seasonal Offer: 2 For The Price Of 1

Absolutely free actually, as always – Hand Made in Cork.

Discover Your Formulas And Abandon Them (5:38, 5.7 MB to download) starts of with a lengthy movement of a metal ball swirling around in a stainless steel mixing bowl, with electronic effects. The sound of jingling bells (feel free to interpret it as seasonal) introduces a short movement based on Cork City Gamelan Drones. An even shorter drone movement including a reprise of the ball swirling sound concludes this composition.
I saw and heard the basic swirling ball in a bowl sound first being made by Sean O hUigin at a Soundworks performance at the Triskel Arts Centre in the mid-1980s. I was wondering what it could sound like if a few minutes of it were recorded with a close microphone, with various effects faded in and out. It took me about 25 years to find out, and I quite like it. I shall continue experimenting with similar gestures. Thanks for the inspiration, Sean.

Just Carry On (6:56, 7.5 MB to download) is a single free form and rambling movement, meandering, without any particular direction. I defined the structure with a composed Waterphone part. Over this background, I improvised two more Waterphone tracks, the Vienna Symphonic Library’s Soprano Saxophone, Upright Bass and Cello, and some of my Cork City Gamelan Sounds.

In case you wonder: I took both titles from Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno’s Oblique Strategies.

Enjoy, and have a cool Yule!

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Anticipating My Meeting With Evelyn Glennie

Before I go any further: many thanks to Dame Evelyn for indulging me.

Artists and celebrities grant interviews to promote themselves, and they get paid for endorsing products and activities… but there was nothing to be gained for her through this meeting. It was entirely for my own benefit, furthering the credibility of my project and encouraging me to carry on. It confirmed my commitment: quitting now in favour of doing something easier and perhaps more exciting and glamorous is not an option any more – I’d be losing face.

I contacted her business management team in advance of her solo recital at the CIT School of Music in Cork a few weeks ago. Assuming that there would be a press conference, I inquired about accreditation. The schedule was hectic, though, and there was no press conference and no time for an interview. I got more than I bargained for, though: she would meet me backstage after her concert with the National Symphony Orchestra in Dublin on December 9th.

I prepared myself well – not wanting to take up too much of her time. Surely, there would be many others trying to get word in. I sort of rehearsed the questions inside my head on the train up to Dublin – alas, everything I tried seemed either way too long-winded, or else, it sounded silly. In the end, I simply jotted down a one minute outline of what I would like her to talk about, with me not saying much at all after presenting my outline. So far, so good…

Arrival at Heuston Station… find a cab and drop my bag at the B&B… grab a quick bite to eat… then a quick shower, careful not to get my hair wet… ready!!!

It is only a short walk from my B&B to the National Concert Hall. I arrive at about 6:00 in the evening – plenty of time to find my bearings and to relax over a mug of coffee.

I am supposed to make myself known to the staff at the NCH. Somebody tells me that I need to go to the RTE desk. There won’t be anybody there until 7:00 – ah, well, that’s o.k. There is a public conversation between her and Richard O’Donnell, the orchestra’s Percussion Section Leader – it will be over at 7:30, leaving me with plenty of time for the technicalities before the concert starts.

The talk is upstairs – no problem, my walker folds up nicely, and I can carry it in one hand while holding on to the bannister… but there is no need for any of that. A very helpful NCH staff member introduces himself to me as Ralph and takes me through the kitchen to a “secret” elevator. I find a seat in the Carolan Room. Ralph goes away and returns a few moments later with Erica, a member of the RTE team. She is going to make all the necessary arrangements. I won’t need to check in with the RTE desk downstairs at all now – very convenient, because I have the best seat in the house: front row, middle, upstairs.

The half hour conversation is over after what feels like 10 minutes to me. What an articulate, very lively and expressive speaker!

The concert starts with excerpts from Wagner’s Götterdämmerung, the last installment of the Ring Cycle, played nicely by our National Symphony Orchestra, covering the whole dynamic rage from barely a whisper to a roaring thunder.

Next: Der gerettete Alberich by Christopher Rouse – with Evelyn Glennie playing a huge array of percussion instruments. He actually composed it especially for her, following commissioning by four major orchestras: the London Symphony Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. I see it as a sort of a tongue-in-cheek “sequel” to the Ring Cycle, with musical motifs associated with the wicked Alberich character recurring throughout. Wagner himself left the plot open for a sequel: Alberich is a main antagonist in the story, yet, what happens to him in the end remains a mystery. He simply is not there when they all perish…

The piece is sometimes billed as a Percussion Concerto, but Evelyn Glennie and Christopher Rouse prefer to call it a “Fantasy for Orchestra and Percussion”. I reckon it sits somewhere between a Concerto and a Symphonic Poem – less strictly formal than the one and less programmatic than the other. It comes across as three movements: fast-slow-fast, with a very quiet intro and reprise.

True to the spirit of Wagner, Dame Evelyn’s performance was theatrical as well as musical. She started crouched on the ground, leaning over two Güiros, scraping them gently. Then she rose to the sound of the orchestra rising, and worked her way across the stage from one set of instruments to the next, from the left to the right as seen from the audience, and back again, lowering herself to the ground, gently scraping the Güiros again. What happened in between was pure musical fireworks: always changing, never dwelling on any mood for any length of time… a case of “no rest for the wicked”, perhaps? If I was asked for an interpretation, I would say that I saw Alberich rising from his grave, moving among humans once again, doing what he does best – creating havoc and chaos – before returning to where he came from. The highlight, for me, was Dame Evelyn getting behind a drum kit. I suggest “The Art Of Violence” as a subtitle for the performance.

And then: The Interval. I have an appointment I must keep, backstage… it’s all a blur of anticipation and excitement… and then I am there, backstage, in a lofty corridor. There is a lot of activity. I sit down on a sofa and keep my mouth shut. Dame Evelyn is exchanging greetings with some people, autographing something… and then I am the only one left, apart from her own crew.

What, all on my own?
What was I going to say… all right, my note book, my reading glasses… let me find my reading glasses… where on Earth are my READING GLASSES???

Dear Goodness, I can “see” them now: In my room, on the dressing table……………


Ah, well, my arm simply didn’t stretch long enough for me to read all my small scribbles. I had to “wing it” much of the time, hoping it wouldn’t show, but somehow I did end up with a recording of about twenty minutes of almost entirely herself talking. That’s a lot of very interesting material for a couple of articles about home made music and music making for everybody. Do check back every once in a while over the next few weeks for the real information which came out of this meeting. But before I write more, I must get properly grounded again…

I gave her one of my personalized Cork City Gamelan Souvenir CDs – not without cautioning her that I am just an enthusiast and by no means a professional music composer. I also snapped a few pictures. I have a Leica with a really fast lens, so I generally don’t need to use a flash – unfortunately, the light turned out to be too dim. Here is the one just barely presentable shot I got… after reducing it to not much larger than a postage stamp to hide the blur and grain.

Please, check back occasionally to find out what we spoke about during this meeting. You can subscribe to the RSS feed, or you can follow the Cork City Gamelan on Facebook.

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Not Exactly “Light Entertainment”: Solar Sailing

This is an older composition of mine, probably one of my least “easy listening” pieces of music. I originally scored it for massed string sections, up to about 50 ensembles of about 40 players each, each of them doing more or less their own thing, playing chromatic scale runs up and down (like those few bars in A Day In A Life by the Beatles with Sir George Martin, only more so, and all the way throughout…) – made possible thanks to the Vienna Symphonic Library and Eric Wenger’s Metasynth. I also added some orchestral percussion and some electronic percussion, using the timbre of the string sections for beats.

For this new version, I replaced Cymbals, Tambourine, Timpani and Triangle with some of my Cork City Gamelan sounds. It has not made it any easier to listen to it, though: Solar Sailing (12.5 MB, 13 minutes, in the iPod / iTunes MPEG 4 format, opens in a new window) -  a complex and highly structured single piece of music in five short movements:

1: Acceleration (2:32)
2: Solar Wind (2:46)
3: Northern Lights (3:04)
4: The Heliopause (2:02)
5: The Oort Cloud (2:36)

Massed String Sections, 2 Tamtams, Snare Drum, Electronic Percussion and the Cork City Gamelan – enjoy it… if that isn’t asking too much…

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Evelyn Glennie: Recital at CIT School Of Music

Evelyn Glennie playing a WaterphoneDame Evelyn Glennie, the highly respected profoundly deaf percussionist, is playing a solo recital on Thursday November 24th at the CIT School Of Music – brought to you by the Cork Orchestral Society.

COS members can buy tickets now (as of November 4th) at Pro Musica in Oliver Plunkett Street, Cork (I’ve got mine already). Ticket sales to the general public will open on November 14th. Please take note: The Curtis Auditorium at the School Of Music only has about 450 seats!

It is an all late 20th and up-to-the-minute 21st century music show, with, as far as I am aware, only two of the composers older than Yours Truly – that’s sort of unusual for a “classical” recital:

  • Ilijas by Nebošja Jovan Živković, a Serbian percussionist and composer based in Germany
  • a Waterphone improvisation by Dame Evelyn herself
  • Orlogeria Aureola by herself and Cellist, Conductor and Composer Philip Shepard
  • Tamazcal by the Mexican “World Music” Composer Javier Alvarez
  • Barracuda Solo by Jacob TV
  • her own arrangement of Liber Tango by Astor Piazzolla
  • Prim by Askell Masson from Iceland
  • her own arrangement of Clapping Music by Steve Reich
  • Rhythmic Caprice by the Marimba pioneer Leigh Howard Stevens

A solo percussion recital? Yes, Dame Evelyn can do it! She is the first Solo Percussionist in the World – a career she actually created herself.
Profoundly deaf? That’s true – that’s why I nominated her the Patron Saint of The Cork City Gamelan. The Cork City Gamelan promotes music making as an activity for people with disabilities.

(image credit: Jim Callaghan Studio)

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New Cork City Gamelan Music: Fluid Mechanics

It is sort of lengthy and complex – but it develops, has an obvious structure, and is probably quite easy to listen to.

Fluid Mechanics in the iPod and iTunes MPEG 4 Format (AAC / .m4a), 9:20, 7 MB to download, opens in a new window…

It is “100% pure Cork City Gamelan”: I extracted all the sounds I needed to compose and produce this music from recordings of me tapping various objects and structures around Cork City with a variety of different beaters.

Hard to believe, especially those industrial sounding drones in the beginning, starting with just one, ending up with ten of them layered on top of each other three minutes into the piece…? Here is a quick abstract of how I did it, for DIY music makers, produces and sound artists:

Each of the Drones in the first part is made from a slice of sound taken from the “musical gestures” in this page, just large enough to capture the harmonic complexity of the sound, and looped for up to three minutes. There is software available now to speed up the task – but when I had my first computer, about 15 years ago, I did this kind of work by copying and pasting. It is actually a simple Granular Synthesis technique, and I can do it live in Metasynth – and that’s exactly what I am doing in this picture, taken at Sonic Vigil 6:

performing music on my coputerpicture by Eoghain Mac Carthaigh – I needed to post this for my Mom and Dad as a proof that I actually performed live

The second part is just a build-up of a clutter of different hits and bangs on various Cork City Gamelan Instruments: a plastic wheel bin struck with a stick of bamboo, the same steel gate which supplied the drones, a standard metal street litter bin, and that amazing heavy sheet metal door in Grafton Street.

The final part is performed entirely on a galvanized rainwater pipe. I stretched and shaped the recorded sound and filtered the uneven “metallic” harmonics just enough to be able to shift the pitch to create the tonality – which is based on a scale/chord consisting only of minor thirds… anyway: Enjoy the music – if you can. I certainly enjoyed putting this piece together.

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