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Before, At, and After the Port: A new piece using Process Pack software. OR, The Beauty of Flying Blind.

I'm one of the beta testers for a new piece of software, Process Pack from Wellspring Music. (http://www.wellspringmusic.net/ ) It's designed to apply algorithmic processes to the processing of sounds. It's got a number of tools (so far 9 plus 2 utilities) and can be used for anything from single modifications to sound to constructing full compositions. I've written an article about it recently for the June 2011 issue of Wusik Sound Magazine.  You can find the whole issue on line at www.wusik.com.  If you want to read just my review, you can find that here.

In the course of testing the software, I've been making small studies with it, basing each study on either a single sample, or at most two contrasting samples. I've also been acquiring various small instruments, each of which I've been sampling and using in my testing. I've now finished a 10 minute piece, “Before, At and After the Port,” which consists of three of these studies, spliced end to end.

The first section, (0:00 – 1:46) uses a sample of a tiny gamelan instrument Catherine found at a local craft market.

I mainly explored the modulation possibilities in Process Pack's “Dispersal” process – you can hand draw a shape which will change the pitch of each sample or fragment of sample that Dispersal produces. That little riff on the tiny gamelan became a whole series of warbling, gliding sounds.

The second section (1:46 – 6:45) was made with a single sample taken from a cellphone recording of the sound environment of Station Pier at Port Melbourne. Station Pier is where The Empress of Tasmania, the ferry to Tasmania departs from, and it's a fairly busy place. Port Melbourne has become much more stylish and developed in the past couple of decades, but it still retains the sound environment of an industrial area. Back in the early 80s, I recorded sounds for “Yarra for Annea” there (part of Annea Lockwood's World Rivers Project), and the industrial clankings and train and crane whistles are still heard there today, to some degree. In my recording, I was lucky enough to get some of those same sounds that I heard almost 30 years ago.

For those unfamiliar with the area, or who remember it as a very low rise industrial area, here are some shots of the view from Station Pier today.


On the morning of Thursday 2 June, I went down to Port Melbourne pier, to enjoy the view of the Bay and the early morning sunlight. While on the pier, using a sound recording app on my phone, I recorded a bit of the ambient sound, which included some rhythmic hammering and a distant train whistle, those sounds which I remember hearing all those decades ago. Going to a lovely cafe, as well as enjoying some hot chocolate and a flourless orange and almond muffin, I also transferred the sound from my phone to my netbook, which I happened to have with me.

I then got onto the tram for the 70 minute ride across the city from Port Melbourne to Box Hill Institute, my place of employment. I decided that, working on headphones, I would modify that 10 second segment of the Port recording with Process Pack, using the results to make a piece. Once I’d reached work, I would stop modifying sounds, and use only the sounds I made on the tram in the resulting study.

Unfortunately, my headphones were pretty acoustically transparent, and the tram sounds were rather loud, so I found myself composing sounds with the sounds of the tram as a barrier between me what I wanted to hear. Undeterred, I decided to take this as a challenge, or an opportunity to “compose blind” or “almost blind,” and proceeded. After all, my teacher Kenneth Gaburo had experimented with a number of sensory deprivation processes as a part of his compositions, so my working with acoustically transparent headphones in a noisy environment was just one more kind of sensory deprivation exercise.

I took my original pier recording and made 3 different versions of it using the process called Hover. I then processed these Hover sounds through Dispersal, a very sophisticated granulator, and made four sounds with that. Then the four Dispersal sounds were each processed with a different set of frequencies and loudnesses set in the FilterBank process. The resulting FilterBank sounds were processed through Pyramid, a sample duplication and stacking process. The Pyramid sounds were then processed through Wraith, another kind of filter, which thinned them out and inverted them.

I then arrived at Box Hill. I had a set of 20 sounds to play with, including my original sample, each sound representing some stage in a multi-generational transform of the original sound. The final sounds sounded nothing like the original, but all stages of transformation, from slight to extreme, were represented in my final sound set. On the train home (not quite as noisy as the tram, but still pretty dominating), I decided to make some mixes using the PlayMix function, which allows you to combine samples in real-time, and save the results of your improvisations. I made three short mixes varying in length from 3 – 5 minutes. When I got home, and I could hear what I was doing (for the first time!), I decided I liked both the samples and the mixes, and I simply mixed together the three mixes to get the final result, which forms the middle section of this piece.


The final section of the piece (6:45-10:00) was made with samples of a tiny woodblock, with an unexpectedly lovely sound, which I found for $2 at the Box Hill branch of Po Hong, the venerable Chinese newsagency, and a small gong which Catherine bought for me in New York in 2008. (Pictures above, sounds below.)

woodblock sample

small gong sample

For this, I decided to mostly eschew modulating samples (except in the very middle of the study), but to work with the sounds of small clicks and gongs on their own. This was mostly a study in the transposition and sound movement possibilities of the program. I recommend listening to this section with the volume up and with your eyes closed, so you can really hear the panning and spinning of the sounds.

Once I finished that, I simply spliced the three sections together, creating the piece you can here by clicking on the player below, or download in either mp3 or ogg format (for higher fidelity) below that. In the course of making the piece, I put the software through its paces, identifying some issues that are now being worked on. I was delighted to find that the tools in Process Pack provided the means to make a complete piece, just on their own. However, I hope you like the piece not as an example of technological possibilities, but as a bit of sonic fun, providing some nicely intricate sound-shapes to wrap your ears around.

Click here to download the piece in mp3 format.

Click here to download the piece in ogg format (higher fidelity). 

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