sweet acceleration

click here to listen to the uncompressed aiff file (or play in embedded widget).

this composition was made from field recordings of the 7 train in long island city, and a few of the water treatment plant on the brooklyn side of the creek. i did the plant recordings in the fall, documenting the work in this post. the plant was recorded using a pair of coresound binaural mics, mounted to my head as i practiced my daily meditation on the roof. i recorded the 7 train this past week, late at night so there would be less wind and traffic noise. i used a pair of akg c1000's (cardioids) in an ortf configuration (17cm tip-to-tip, 110° apart). a big thankyou to my housemate jake for loaning me the mics and for freezing with me while we stuck those suckers on a pole and chased some trains. after a few hours of utterly frigid conditions, we retired to the court square diner for milkshakes with whiskey in them.

the composition was done mostly in supercollider and sequenced / mixed in logic. it had been a long time (two years maybe?) since i had worked in any kind of daw, and it was interesting to revisit that style of working. i understand that tools like logic are good at doing very specific kinds of things, and the spirit of the piece called for a few of those things. i also used soundhack to perform strict convolutions between streams of particles and the field recordings to derive spectral granulation. this was more efficient (although non-realtime) than performing a partitioned convolution in supercollider, a technique i also used in places. many of the phrases in the piece were derived from pictures of maps of the surrounding area, although i certainly don't expect people to be able to hear this. i also used other formal systems like fractals and irrational sets. when i was looking for inspiration for gestural phrases, i took all of these formal techniques and tweaked them until they said something like what i wanted to say with the material. when this turned out to be insufficient, i drew the rest in by hand.

with this piece, i tried to accomplish a very different set of goals from what i'm used to and comfortable with. for one, i wanted to actually get down to telling a story. so much of my work only implies a narrative, typically an abstract or formal one, instead of telling a concrete story about concrete things. i was inspired by the work of trevor wishart and robert normandeau specifically. actually, if you're familiar with normandeau's work, you might hear some threads of his beautiful composition "tangram" in my piece. i haven't lifted them, obviously, but i had been listening to that piece on repeat during the production and planning of my own piece. i have also been reading wishart's book "on sonic art," which is simultaneously challenging and uplifting to read.

a narrative piece requires very different treatment than other forms. in order to successfully tell a story, the storyteller must play to the audience's willingness to suspend disbelief. this sort of charisma is ineffable and difficult to achieve. this is where audio fidelity weighs in for me. i don't necessarily want to reproduce the exact sound of a train passing the listener at a distance of 3 feet, but i want that option available to me. i want to be able to make it sound like a flock of trains, or a broken train struggling with each inch of track. if everything sounds like washed out whitenoise with little dynamic clarity, then there won't be much disbelief to suspend. i believe this happened at the debut, where the sound system was fairly unsatisfactory and the room inappropriate for the kind of listening required to actually hear the piece. again, this is not a universal need. much of my music (and the music of my friends) loves to be compressed. to this particular piece, however, the effect was detrimental (see my previous post for details).

so with that, i leave you with the original recording as i mixed it. you may listen to it in any number of sub-ideal situations, if you like. or, if you want to determine if i'm trying to blame the sound system for my own dissatisfaction, you may listen to it on closer-to-ideal setups, if they're available to you. for a frugal alternative to monitors, i recommend decent headphones in a dark quiet room. enjoy!

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