I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to add a sense of steady forward motion to free improv and noise music. So this composition challenge made me rethink my normal approach (always a good thing!).
I took a sound with a clear beginning and end: a teapot boiling. When I was doing a lot of free improvisation and noise music I liked experimenting with limiting time constraints based on the durations of mundane processes–including a boiling teapot. The recording was much longer than 2:40, so I use Ableton’s Warp feature to shrink the duration.
Then, I wanted to change this linear process so it appeared unordered and unpredictable. I sliced the recording up into about 64 audio clips, then mapped each one to a different pad on a MIDI controller (I started with a Push, but it was fairly inflexible about each button launching a clip, not a “scene.” So then I dusted off my old Launchpad, which worked perfectly. Sometimes simple tech is better!) I improvised; I tried to highlight the different “tones” of the hiss in the boiling teapot.
It worked…but the track was a bit static and felt very “mono.” To rectify that, I used an audio effects rack in Ableton and set it up so that the appearance of different frequencies would trigger different effects chains. I listened to and watched the track on a spectrometer and took note of sudden appearances or disappearances of frequencies, then gave them their own effects (low sounds were transformed into a grumble, high sounds became shimmering echoes). I panned them left and right to make use of the stereo field.
I also added the Beat Repeat plug-in, with very mild settings and a bit of pitch decay, because I knew that would create a sound opposite to the increasing hiss of the boiling water. It was set to trigger randomly, but it decided to rework the first few seconds of this track, which I think is an artful choice.
The end result is interesting, in my opinion. I’m not sure it stands alone as a piece, but it gave me more tools in my toolbox.