Apr 17, 2012

A Machine – New fixed media composition

Finished a new piece a couple of days ago. This one was quite difficult as it required me to work in a very different way than I normally compose.

First, here is the piece:

I highly recommend downloading and listening to the uncompressed .wav file as this type of noisy audio doesn’t compress well. (click here to download the .wav file)

It was a ‘commission’ style assignment for one of my modules in my MA and it had certain stipulations. The main ones were that it needed to be for fixed media, it needed to include field recordings, and finally, it needed to be ‘about Manchester’. Those last two were the doozies.

After some conceptual wrestling I decided to go with Alan Turing as my point of departure and using a process similar to how I generated source material for my last piece (It’s Made From Pieces Of From Pieces Of My Skin – for string quartet and computer hard drives) I generated raw ‘data file’ sounding source material. Whereas in my string quartet I then orchestrated that material for string quartet, this time I used the actual audio.

I’ve also been wanting to mess around with mp3 compression, as a compositional resource, for some time now. With some help from Alex Harker and Dominic Thibault I created a tool for dynamically and variably mp3-ifying audio. We hear this sound all the time, but usually very subtly. I wanted to hear it not so subtly. It’s a very interesting and unique sound in that it becomes very gritty and lo-fi sounding, but in a very ‘smashed’ kind of way, different from the clear/clanginess you get from standard lo-fi effects (via bit crushing and sample rate reduction). I’ve incorporated this mp3-ification algorithm into the (as of yet unreleased) next update to The Party Van Max/MSP patch.

I’m currently thinking of putting together an EP of fixed media pieces when I finish my MA as I now have 3 of these pieces, which don’t really fit in with much of my oeuvre. (You can hear & read about the other pieces here).

Finally here are the program notes which explain more about the piece and process:

A Machine (2012) 4:58
by Rodrigo Constanzo

Alan Turing, and his work as a cryptanalyst and pioneering computer scientist, was the thematic inspiration for A Machine. Using the idea of encryption and decryption as a starting point, I collected files relating to Alan Turing that ranged from academic papers and personal letters, to photographs and biographical texts. The files were processed in a number of ways, including optical character recognition and en-masse concatenation. This was done in order to make them suitable for sonification–the process by which the data within the files was converted in to audio.

Additionally, some software tools were developed to dynamically and variably compress audio, using psychoacoustic analysis in much the same way mp3 compression works. The compression was used as a processing/sculpting effect as well as a structural and form bearing mechanism.

The use of field recordings is minimal, with the field recordings being used primarily to frame the electronic sounds. They provide a reference point from our reality for the rest of the work to juxtapose against.


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Rodrigo Constanzo
-makes music and art
-lives in Porto/Manchester
-is a crazy person

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