Category: ‘Art reviews’

Improvisation Across Abilities: Adaptive Use

December 2, 2010 Posted by Milena D

Just a quick note to promote this initiative, set up by the Deep Listening Institute, a software that helps severely handicapped people, even ALS patients, create and improvise with music. The intiative needs to raise 15,000 dollars for training music therapists, teachers and other practitioners.

Improvisation Across Abilities: Adaptive Use.

This is one of the best initiatives I’ve seen for bringing arts to communities of disability.

Rant – More RjDj

November 20, 2010 Posted by Milena D

I am sharing one of the latest recordings I made with also my first attempts at my own scene – The Everyday Listener. It has four pages/stages going from a more heavily processed, musical environment to a more “natural” one. I guess I was intrigued by the idea of introducing natural sounds (water, birds chirping) into an application that also samples and transforms one’s surrounding environment (which for me is often transit, traffic, street noise, etc.). I am yet to do more purposeful trips to record and preview different surroundings, not necessarily just with my scene, others too. I particularly like everything made by Kids on DSP – great stuff! And it is too bad I was never able to use “A Tool through which to experience the city” – when it actually managed to load, which was one of out ten times, it sounded terrible, and inevitably resulted in static noise. I realize the slowness may have to do with the fact that my phone is just a 3G, so a bit slower, but I think somehow it should work better.

Anyways, I am already thinking of a new scene that perhaps doesn’t use music per se, but synthetic drones and again moves towards a natural soundscape. Or, just a one-pager with some bird sounds and processed mic input. Simple but it might be fun. And then I can go out and compare a whole bunch of environments with their typical sounds. Hmm.

RjDj Universe!

November 17, 2010 Posted by Milena D

Ok, I have discovered a whole new way of experiencing everyday listening….still through my iPhone. Will the possibilities never end????? (Steve Jobs, pay me now, for free promo, or gimme cheezburgr, ktnx). After downloading this app called RjDj a while back, and wondering what the heck it does, something made me go back to it again and discover a whole new world of experiences. Initially, I only tried out the few simple interactive modules like Can of Beats and Scrambler. I have to admit, one thing that stopped me, or rather, made me lose interest at the time was, these were super quiet. Like suuuuuuper quiet. And there were only a few. I know I’ve updated it several times but I never checked back to see what was updated. And then recently I went back to discover a ton of new content, with the “scenes” separated by themes and modes of interactivity. Albeit still glitchy, probably due to the fact that most of this is user-generated content (using their great Pd-based software!!!) it contains a number of quite sophisticated, cool sound modules. The ability to record these scenes has been amazing for me. It’s like new style composition! One type of scenes called Soundtrips is especially interesting, relative to my research (I am thinkging of including it as an activity in the next two user sessions) – it contains modules specifically designed to interact with, sample and re-mix the environment around. Once again, I remember thinking about this a long time ago, trying these out at home, without headphones – “but it’s quiet here??!? I want to create music not wait for a sound to trigger something!!!”. So I thought, if I have to put on headphones at home, forget it, and if it’s so quiet, how would I hear it outside in all the noise of the city.

But now, I take this baby on the road and just listen to it go. Amazing! It was a big mental shift for me to put on the earbuds and go out. I often opt not to listen to music on the go becuase everthing is too loud and i just don’t want to ruin my hearing by turning it up too high. So the shift was precisely that – listening to a Soundtrip scene IS both like listening to music and listening to the outside environment at the same time, so the fact that they blend only adds to the experience. The whole point is ambient listening and the integration of the outside environment into that ambient listening experience. In other words, I am no longer trying to separate my inner and outer worlds, but combine them. Michael Bull could have a field day with this, but I found it first yesss!

I’ll likely blog about this a few more times, and for now here’s a little taste from my RjDj universe, a series I think I’m going to call “Commuter Music”. And since RJDJ have now closed their website, here is a bit of an oldie I saved on Soundcloud:

Review – The Wilderness Downtown

August 31, 2010 Posted by Milena D

This new interactive film by Arcade Fire’s new album has been hitting the webz all day today. Just a brief mention, it is really really amazing. I tried it on Safari, but I might try it again on Google Chrome. Enjoyed it a lot!

Suffering for Art II – Signal and Noise

May 29, 2010 Posted by Milena D

Disclaimer: This is going to be a rant to if your arty-heart can’t bear it, judge me with abundance.

Well it is night 3 – for me – night 2 of Signal and Noise and it is the night of performances – sound experimental and laptop mostly. One thing some have in common – ungodly loud, and emphatically mediocre. Suffering for art again. I better go to art heaven after all I’ve ever tolerated. As a small illustration – the one performance (worst I’ve seen in a while) went from this loud to that loud (pictures no1 and no2). I don’t know what miffed me more about it – the lack of sonic complexity, the poor source material, the lack of transparency of what was going on computationally behind that jungle of wires, or the complete lack of any eye contact or connection with the audience on the part of the “performer”. NEXT!

The last picture in the row represents a piece which wasn’t “sound” per se, more I guess performance art. I mean, you gotta love walking in (as I did, halfway – snuck in whenever my volunteer shift allowed) to a room with a fake labyrinth on the floor watching a human being-like figure pick up layers and layers of clothes and put them on piling over top of each other. The sound accompaniment however – canned I suppose – was refreshingly pleasant, even though a tad loud and not really very dynamic. Sorta stayed where it was the entire time. But good.

One other performance was good too, and too bad I don’t have a picture or dB reading from it. It was comparably loud, but I’d argue at least warranted, or rather – it made up for the loudness with engaging material and a decent compositional arc. What??? A compositional arc – in a process piece??? You know what people, I am sick of process sound crap. Just because you demonstrate some sort of process live does not entitle you to have no beginning and no end! It’s like jamming. It’s only fun with your friends and with beer. If you are going to present anything to an audience, you OWE us something more. Also – I happen to hold the unpopular opinion that a sound piece doesn’t need to be loud in order to be effective. Why don’t you blow me away with your creativity and imagination, not with decibels!?

Which brings me to the last but not least important reason for this rant. The second to last picture. The last piece of Saturday night’s program. 30 minutes of two guys playing the same ONE chord on two electric guitars, sound cranked up super loud on distorting amps. Now there’s something you don’t hear every day. It’s hard to explain what happened for me. I was physically angry to be trapped in this place with my senses affronted by noise pollution. It was like sound violence. What made me more angry was what I can only term “the culture of experimental arts” where somehow it is not ok to say “That was a piece of crap” because, by deuces, there must be something you’re missing if you didn’t get it! The notion that every piece of experimental art is “good” and/or “meaningful” and if one doesn’t like it it just means they didn’t get it, is maddening to me. This is what happened – as soon as the NOISE piece started, the room cleared. I saw people holding their ears. Yet NO ONE would say it. Everyone pretended they just felt like stepping out for air, or to the front lounge for drinks at exactly that time. When I suggested to anyone that it was too loud I was met with awkward, almost pitying glances.

Some years ago I had a student in my sound class at SFU who was into punk music, and admitted to me that she had lost quite a bit of her hearing at that point because of going to several concerts a week. When I jumped in with advice, she smiled and said “I’m sure by the time I lose my hearing completely they would have come up with something in medicine, to cure it.”


Aural Postcard: Video Games Live

May 25, 2010 Posted by Milena D

This was my first Video Games Live. Even though I went to a Final Fantasy – themed concert, I hadn’t been to VGL. Wow! What a great, fun, interesting event. Where do I begin – the demographic of 80% pimply teenagers filling the Queen E Theatre, the guitar hero competition in the lobby, the whistling and cheering the orchestra, even while it is playing, the Mulroney-esque smarmy host, riling up the audience, the appearance of a Fender Stratocaster and an amplified acoustic guitar. Best of all – the audience collectively chanting the Mario theme song: “Bap, bap bap….ba-ba-ba-ba….bababa-baba-ba-bababa.” Nothing like a full house of gamers roaring a Mario tune, screaming at the beginning of each song.

Annotation: the usual – i Phone recording, dB reading on (bad quality) iPhone picture.

Narrative: One of the really amazing moments was a live segment where two players from the audience were called on stage to play a game live – and get sonified by the orchestra, in real time! In other words, they played Frogger (my *fave* game of all time) and the orchestra played a symphonically-mastered version of the game soundtrack, trying to stay true to the actions on the screen. The audience was wild – screaming encouragements, booing loudly when a player lost a frog, cheering ecstatically when they scored a point. The culmination was when the girl gamer scored her last frog on the split second, winning the game level with standing roaring ovation. Historic….in so many ways!

The other amazing moment was another live segment where the winner of the lobby GH competition came on stage and performed a song live with the guitar controller, accompanied by the symphony orchestra, while the host of the show played the solo on an electric overdrive. It is obvious but I’ll still say it – the mixing of acoustic music and amplified music and canned game music was a delicious simulacric experience ūüôā Nomnom.

Sound Symposium (via Deep Listening Institute)

April 27, 2010 Posted by Milena D

Just sharing a clip that was posted on FB from the Sound Symposium event in St. John, NF in Canada ( a biannual event celebrating sound, performing art and music)

Just a little Sonar treat

March 30, 2010 Posted by Milena D

This is completely gratuitous, but I can’t resist. Such a simple annimation, beautiful sound. Found it via a FB friend who said, “Here’s something to settle your mind before bed.” It did just that. I am eternally grateful for simple, beautiful things…

Sonar from Renaud Hallée on Vimeo.

Aural Postcard – Suffering for art?

March 24, 2010 Posted by Milena D

During the last FUSE I went to (monthly event at the Vancouver Art Gallery), which by the way sucked anyway, with low attendance and third grade art/performances, I decided to once again employ my new fervid passion for sound level measurements. I didn’t take any recordings or get too caught up in measuring out of courtesy to my company, but here’s what I do have…

These guys here were making some serious noise behind this Hawaii-esque curtain. I guess they are a hard rock band or punk band (who even knows, I never had much appreciation for either) so I don’t know how to interpret the hula action there – ironic? In any case, the band not only sucked, but as it struck me – horribly over-amplified. For the size of space it was in, the atmosphere that was implied by the space – one of intimacy and acoustic-style recital, these guys really pulled out the big amps. It was quite unbearable and thus, I believe dB measurements were fairly accurate (see my notes in earlier posts on the iPhone app “dB” being unweighted and thus unreliable in certain situations).

Fuse-3 Fuse-1Now the second screenshot – Edge of a Wood, was a curious installation, and the reason why I want to juxtapose it to the first one is to illustrate when noise is actually appropriate and effective. (profoundly subjectively evaluated, of course) This installation consisted of a large-ish black room exhibition space with only a bench across from a full-size wall double video screen. Curiously I ended up walking right at the beginning of the art installation loop footage so what I found was relative silence and darkness. I made my way over to the bench and sat poised in expectation when a rumbling sound of an aircraft started to fade in, and the video started. The video was basically of a couple of helicopter lights being shone on what looked like a forest or mountain hill – the idea of the video presumably was to never know, and forever guess, exactly what was concealed by the darkness gauging by what was revealed by the lights. Meanwhile, the rumbling sound of the helicopter became progressively louder signalling the proximity of the craft to “us” the audience’s imaginary location. It became really loud. Way louder than the snapshot measurement I used above. It filled the space completely, there was simply nowhere to go, nothing to say, the space was so full of sound. Pink noise. But more periodic. Wide frequency rumble just pulsing through each one of us, resonating in every possible cavity. Like an invisible beast, who got angry and then it calmed down.

The reason why I titled this post “suffering for art” was just to trouble the notion of how art – particularly installation and performance art – challenges not simply our expectations, notions and beliefs, but quite practically – our senses. And sometimes – I would argue – it’s justified, but sometimes it’s really not, especially when it has the potential to harm or destroy our senses. Yes, I will admit that I am oh-so sick of shock-value art, but a further point is that while I can deal with emotional disturbance for some time I really don’t want to pay dearly for art in terms of my hearing. Or the affronts would at least have to be worth it!…

Aural Postcard: Nixon in China

March 14, 2010 Posted by Milena D

I have seen many operas but I LOVED this one. Apparently, in the media it’s getting a bit of a controversial reputation…it is a “modern” opera. Snore! I can’t believe people are such dinosaurs. The opera too, though, it full of contradictions. On one hand, their dedicated crowd is very conservative in what it wants, but on another hand – they are trying to expand their fan be se to younger populations, so they have these ridiculous quasi-hip campaigns on social media and web – a FB page, a blog, an online Flash manga comic. I must admit, I am all for modernizing the¬†genre but the rest of the “youth outreach” is really putting me off. But none of that matters now because I LOVED this production. It had everything – a great music (not the best I ever heard but so moving…), great libretto, current, political topic, amazing set – use of projections and lighting effects and beautiful transitions between projection and physical set, spotlight image projection later on, amazing stage ambience lighting; giant poster props; a fantastic dance performance choreographed by Wen Wei Wang with some amazing dancers; a bunch of grotesque insinuations, some profane language; lots of satirical political humour, Chairman Mao’s wife in drag (well…in a stiff pant suit) fake-shooting the resistance in the theatre play; communist memorabilia galore; historical footage; and even real bicycles on stage. Amazing!!!

IMG_0304 IMG_0305

And yes, I did my usual Aural Postcard here again…details below. Annotation: Recorded with my iPhone, in high-quality mono, pictures taken with the iPhone and I used a bit less the sound level meters. I cross-checked “dB”‘s readings with SPL’s readings and dB was about 10 dB off (higher) So – keep that in mind. Otherwise, I focused more on recording different sections of the ambience in between acts. As well, I managed to capture a moment before and after the orchestra started Act 3, and even some moments of singing. Narrative: It was *such* a thrill for me to be in that environment again….there is something about the Queen Elizabeth Theatre that just feels more like a proper concert hall then Performance Works, the Orpheum and even the Chan Centre (which supposedly features the best acoustics in town). I always cherish the special time when I go to concerts or operas (rare treat) ¬†and the sounds of the ambience inside an Opera house or concert hall is a big part of that special treat. Because I am alone, I like to savour those sounds of people quietly talking among themselves, ushers checking tickets, the spatial acoustics and visual splendour of the¬†foyer…Because it’s all meant to be “high class” everything that is done, every sound that is made (especially by the staff) is very soft, slow, careful, not to disrupt that suspension of disbelief that Opera patrons have paid more than a good price for. IMG_0300Inside the concert hall, the space feels large and majestic yet very warm because of the natural materials and fabric used to dampen some of the unwanted reverberations of the orchestra. Even the reflective plates position along both sides of the ceiling/wall junctures were made of wood I noticed. As soon as the orchestra started the warmth of their acoustic soundmaking felt as a caress to my soul, and my ears – tired of forever being affronted with [overly] amplified sound , masking environments, where people have to use their voices to compete over other sonic invasions, even if they don’t wish to. The orchestral sounds were warm, full-bodied, and again, what I noticed about them was the ways in which they are different from what I *am* used to these days – media and amplified experiences. Most media maintain a constant and fairly shrill dynamic range (poised in the most acute range of our hearing – 1 to 4 kHz) that is compressed, so as to allow constant sound pressure levels that keep our attention (with the exception of advertisements which use limiters in order to fit a much higher quality, wider dynamic range soundscapes into the allowable sound level measure slots for TV). In contrast, the orchestra at this performance reminded me what acoustic sound is like – it breathes and moves with the effort of humans, to be heard by the naked ears of humans; and also, that the classical aesthetic where music goes from very very quiet to very very loud stands out in the narrowband soundscape that we are usually immersed in. I really noticed how I had to strain my ears at times to catch the soft, gentle passages, and remembered the joy of doing that – the reward that comes with acute listening! With loud, booming passages too, I enjoyed letting them vibrate through my body, knowing that no acoustic sound is typically going to be harmful to my hearing (something I worry about often in other situations). A noteworthy feature of this particular performance (being “modern”) was the use of soundscape elements – “sound effects” that, along with the musical composition style, made the opera seem at times like film sound. Used sparingly and contextually (airplane roar, rain fall, etc.) I found these sound effects to add so much to the experience, and had to remind myself incredulously that this is definitely NOT a typical part of opera sound. Oh…the times. The other thing I noticed right away as a contrast to what has become “default” in at least my life is the non-amplified singing. These days, people amplify speech, warm acoustic singing even in small venues, so being in a huge hall with a full orchestra and opera singers who are still using only the power of their voice for soundmaking, for emoting and articulation, is fascinating and amazing! Below I’ve recorded a little sample, showing indeed how difficult and different it is for singers to try and compete with the orchestra, and with the vast space they are expected to fill with their voices. Not just that – their parts involve a lot of dynamic range shifts as well, so often they *have* to sing quietly – a feat harder to achieve than actually belting out the notes. In those moments us – the audience – have to once again strain to hear, to feel, to connect – and are rewarded for doing so (in my opinion at least). Delightfully different:


The other issue I recorded so that I can address it, is the *acoustic community* so to speak, of an opera experience. Those mundane sounds during, and in between sections of the actual performance that are quite strongly a characteristic of and define “opera culture.” They are full of meaning. The coughing and shifting during those strained, dramatic, emotive silences in the score are highly looked down upon, yet happen; the whispering between friends intended to be private, but oh-so intrusive in the magic circle of ¬†the opera performance; the inevitable whining of children whose parents have visions of grandeur for their offspring, enculturating them from a young age at the expense of the rest of us; the clapping – never to be done between sections, only between acts and ideally – only at the end of the performance, communicates one’s level of experience with “opera culture”; the role of applause used to communicate the untenable gratitude and enjoyment that we, the audience, have received from the performance, increasing in intensity for each performer we liked best; the role of silences, necessary in order for the performance to begin and progress; the soundmark of ¬†orchestral tuning – that signal the act is about to begin, pleasant in its discordance and its predictability, familiarity – definitely a big nostalgic cornerstone for me. Finally, there are those mundane sounds during the breaks between acts, when silence gives way to quiet chattering, then louder commenting, shifting of chairs, shuffling of feat, downing of cocktails, smarting conversations in the lobby, clamouring for the use of the lavatory, rushing back at the call-and-chime, beaconing us back to the hall. The sound sequence below is a combination of three different moments of ambience that I recorded before Act 3 of the show – as the time drew near to the beginning, more people came back in and the ambience gradually increased, as noted in the 3 segments, building up to a complete silence at the cue of the conductor poised to start the orchestra; followed by applause and then the warm music fills the space again. I find it both fascinating and unfortunate that a few coughs and sneezes are still louder than the orchestra (partially because of proximity of course – and I was on the balcony – a bit farther from the “sweet spot” in the hall). Still, perhaps if I wasn’t recording and paying attention to them, in all likelihood they wouldn’t have ripped me out of the luscious embrace of the orchestral music…