Category Archives: Music Concrete

Exhibition Day

Last night we held the exhibition for our Stories and Spaces in the Fusion Building. It was pretty tense in the build-up to the 6:40 deadline, as we changed how we were going to project the piece the night before and only finished the final edit and export an hour before. However, I was really happy with the end result. The sound and visuals really came together with the space to create something quite emotive. I was glad I’d taken the time to create a solid soundscape, as it really helped create the atmosphere needed.

I’ve had a lot of fun with this project and being able to explore the world of audio. Although not a discipline I’d want to work in long-term, it has taught me the value of experimentation, something I feel is very important in a creative industry such as ours. I think sometimes the pressure of trying to ‘get the grades’ inhibits university students from trying new things, or even making the mistakes needed to grow as a creative producer. As such, I’m glad I had to opportunity to do just that and with so much artistic freedom.

Cecilia 101

My biggest challenge has been figuring out how to transform these raw sounds I’ve been collecting into the rich soundscapes of music concrete, because let’s be honest, no-one wants a 7-minute track of me swallowing and rubbing my bits of polystyrene together. My first port-of-call was Adobe Audition, but I quickly found it was very limited in its ability to transform the sounds. Sure it could stretch the length and pitch, even apply a collection of bizarre filters which sounded better suited to a Dr Suess book (such as the ominous Flanger), but playing around with these I struggled to create the vast echoing soundscapes of Wishart or Derbyshire. What I needed was something which really broke down the sounds into their base forms, so that I could create something new.

It turns it out there was a piece of software which did exactly that – Cecilia. Whilst not your stereotypical ‘digital audio workstation’ (DAW), Cecilia is unique in that it focuses on transforming sounds rather than assembling them. So, whilst you couldn’t piece together an interview like DAWs such as Audition can, it certainly makes my polystyrene sound a bit more interesting. The way it works is that you load in a sound, open that sound in one of Cecilia’s many ‘Modules’ and then play around with it. This is the main aspect I have found in which audio differs from video. Generally with video you have a set idea of what you want to put together, whilst with audio you tend to fiddle around with it and see what works, taking a more ‘poke it with a stick and see what happens’ approach. Although potentially more time-consuming than video, there are a lot more surprises in terms of content creation. Something as simple as a door creak can suddenly become a cavernous roar more suited to a certain giant, flame-whip wielding monster in Lord Of The Rings.

But I’ve sidetracked. Cecilia has a wide range of modules, all of which do very different things. As someone somewhat inexperieced with audio, I don’t actually know what 80% of the words in the program mean, but you tend to pick it up as you go along so don’t be intimidated if you don’t understand the terminology. At the moment a couple of my favourites are the Pelletizer, which stretches the pitch and length of  a sound (amongst other things), and StochGrains, which uses algorithms to randomly generate synth notes – really good for creating a base layer of your soundscapes. Another cool feature of Cecilia is that it allows you to draw the waveforms of the different filters, further adding to your ability to control the sound.

To be honest, going back to my stick-poking analogy, the best way to find what works is load in a sound and Shift+Ctrl+O which opens up a random module and just play around with them until something clicks. Just have fun with it!