Of late, I’ve been seeing patterns in the world around me which I’ve thought would make good scores for graphics to sound conversion. A number of those pieces are documented in this blog, most recently “Berries”, Mike Cooper’s Shirt, and a graphics and sound piece for Kenneth Gaburo. Well, this is clearly getting out of hand. I mean, I'm now seeing good music patterns just about everywhere. About two weeks ago, I was walking from the train to Bendigo TAFE, my other employer, and just across the street from the campus, there were some gravel patches next to the sidewalk. In the morning light they looked quite appealing, so out came the cell phone, and I took a couple of shots. About a week passed before I could finally begin to find out if the pictures of gravel had any potential to make a sound score.
As you can see, the picture is fairly uniform, but the variety of shapes is quite attractive. I thought that perhaps this might make a texture of little grains of noise – perhaps a noise-scape, to contrast with the sine-wave pseudo-additive-synthesis sounds of “Berries.” The first step, as always, was to get some black in the background. Three different treatments were made, and I tried converting all of them to sound.
Visually, I liked the first treatment best. To do the conversion, I was using Coagula, which uses colours from Red-Green to determine position in stereo space for each sound, and Blue for the amount of band-limited noise to have in each sound. No Blue = Sine Wave; All Blue = All Noise. But when I converted the first picture to sound, it made a fairly unrelenting, undifferentiated noiseband. The third treatment was more promising, and is also fairly visually appealing, but it too seemed to make sound that, while more differentiated than the first picture, was also very heavily weighted to being “just” a noiseband. The second treatment, although not as visually appealing as the other two, produced a much wider variety of sound-type – starting with a mix of tones, burbles, and small noises at the start, through to rushing noises dominating the middle, and settling down to a mix of sound types near the end.
Settling on a duration for the realization was an interesting quest. When the picture was realized as a 30 second burst of sound, it was mostly a burbling texture:
Stretching the duration to 5 minutes produced a more differentiated texture, but the progression of sound types seemed too rapid and the rhythm too rigid:
With the duration set to 10 minutes, the speed of reading the individual pixels became almost a pulse oriented beat. My dance-music colleagues might find this one useful, but I didn’t.
A duration of 30 minutes seemed to slow things down to the point where individual textures and noises could be appreciated and even savoured. But over the course of 30 minutes, the rhythm, for obvious reasons, began to appear a bit “samey.”
I then made a 25 minute version, which was just a little bit faster (6/5ths faster, if you want to be technical). Mixing the two versions together made a texture that was too busy, but cross fading from one version to the other produced a very pleasing sense of the texture getting faster and slower in the long time-scale, while still giving the variety of sound-types I found appealing, and it also preserved the dramatic sweep of the piece from a mix of small sounds and noises to a roaring noise-band, and then back again.
The problem with doing this was that what at first seemed like a whim – “That looks neat – let’s photograph that and see what it sounds like!” - turned into a many hours long task of listening to sound after sound, again and again, until finally arriving at what I think is a good sound-structure. Most of this listening took place late at night, under headphones. I think I slept through a lot of it. Sub-conscious perception, anyone?
In any case, here’s the result – a companion piece for “Berries.” This one is called “Gravel.” The two of them together fill an hour – they might make a good concert, or an installation, if I can ever find the time to organize an event like that. Meanwhile, in the world of streaming audio and downloads, you can download both, or listen to both on line, and make your own situation for listening to them.
As usual, you can stream the piece below, or download it in mp3 or ogg (higher fidelity) formats.