Ice Cream (Electronic)

This piece took several unexpected turns as it became realised, as I was trying to combine a lot of ideas which interested me. Initially the piece aimed to be a fully designed attempt at an insight into a person’s hearing, with in-ear microphones capturing sounds a person heard in an environment when the composition was played in surround sound.

This interested me, as I liked the concept behind the 1969 piece by Alvin Lucier ‘I am sitting in a room’, where a recording was played into a space, and then the playback in the environment was captured. It interested me partly because it is an acoustic process, and I also liked the idea of an intense listening experience from a first-person perspective.

My initial thought using this set-up was to incorporate voices and conversations captured using a field recorder, and then to stack these sounds and create an overwhelming soundscape from things that are fairly mundane or considered pleasant experiences. With this in mind, I borrowed a Roland R-26 field recorder from the university, and recorded a five minute walk with a friend to an ice cream shop on the first day of it opening (with the plan that it would be busy on its first day). This provided all of the material used in this composition, and I liked the idea of twisting sounds found in a very pleasant context into something which was overbearing.

Unfortunately, the quadrophonic idea was too ambitious, but I tried to create a very fluid listening environment with a sense of space through extensive use of panning and volume automation, as well as layering conversational recordings. Part of the reason that the composition took longer than anticipated was due to me producing and animating a graphic score. Initially I had a full storyboard to plan the composition, but this became limiting, and I was afraid of it becoming too literal (car engine sounds being obtained just to fit the storyboard for example), so a graphic score similar to a John Cage piece felt right as a compromise.

The graphic score is split horizontally to represent the stereo spectrum, with sounds above the centre being towards the right, and vice versa. I also wanted a sense of tension with release, so added in coloured lines which became tall, only to sharply drop to the centre of the page. This was initially animated in Adobe Flash by colouring the background gradually, but these lines represented it adequately on paper.

Another inspiration I took was Aphex Twin’s use of rapidly triggering a drum machine (or in this case, drum rack in Ableton) to create sounds which were more of a grain or effluvial1 than separated attacks associated with rhythmic features. I used a combination of ProTools (splitting up field recordings, bouncing left and right mono files back into stereo, some effects), hourglass (stretching granules of sound, as in the pink blocks, which were only half a second, or in the conversation stretched to four minutes), and Ableton (trying sounds, recording/arranging midi, automation, warp tool, mixing).

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