Sound Design Thoughts On The Use Of External Signals Outside User Control As Oscillators
I've been really big on the use of external signals that are outside of my control as oscillators and also as the basis for oscillator waveform creation (graintables as well as purely traditional wavetables/samples that are not treated in granular fashion). Generally, I keep the system limited to things coming from other musicians that I know are playing with the intent of creating something musically appealing as a means of making sure things don't get completely out of control. The approaches to how to play with such patches has been endlessly interesting to me. You're perpetually in this state of "Known unknown", you have no idea of what exactly your oscillators are going to be doing outside of that they will likely be musically sensible in some way. I've found relational formulas to be of particular use here. Ala if you play a 5th above your fundamental, you know you're going to create a power chord like relation. I say power chord like as the full on timbre may appear as something much more complex than that.....ala if someone being taken in had played a Cm chord (C, D Sharp, G) and the osc generated from that is then played a 5th above it's fundamental origin, then the ending 5th will have the appearance of being G, A Sharp, D (an entire array as opposed to a single 3:2 case relation). This often gets even more interesting in cases where multiple timbre sources are pulled from.....perhaps one of them was doing a chord of some kind, while another was not, and so on and so forth. Resulting timbre play back from the osc can be deeply complex, notably when placed into the context of the original audible sources it's working in relation to being included within the overall mix but can be trusted to remain harmonious in relation to the bodies it pulled from.
Interesting cases can also evolve out of resculpting of the original signal and then layering it back on to itself.....so for example taking an original signal, applying modulated band pass filtering on it, over driving the filter and/or amp, and then layering the final result back on to the original signal but at a lower volume. In this fashion, it is almost like one is acting as a send effect creator/designer on the other signals around them. But the line between what one might typically consider an "effect" and a full on self playable patch unto itself can quickly become blurred......ala, resculpting the signal and layering it back on to itself, but then playing various octave derivatives of the fundamental simultaneously as well. In order not to get lost or overly conflict with the timbres going on around them (and being used for osc wave sources and generation), sticking to relations known to be harmonic I've found can become crucial. So octaves up or down from the fundamental are always harmonically safe for example, so are fifths, and so on and so forth. These relational correspondences remain constant irregardless of the timbres coming in, which can be anything from a vocal to snare drum, or any mix there of. Beyond being able to utilize formulas of harmonic correspondence, other relational systems can also be used. For example, one may presume that to create a bass drum timbre they want some sort of signal exhibiting low frequency content (so pitching the generated signal down from the original fundamental may act a means of forcing this) , an initial quick punch in pitch that moves the pitch first up from the fundamental and then quickly back down, a volume decay suitable to a bass drum, and perhaps some sort of filter roll off working in accordance to the volume and/or pitch decays. In essence, the bass drum can be constructed to rather large degrees even prior to a tonal source being existent in the architecture. Such constructions can then be used as other means of relational correspondence to apply to incoming signal for interesting new timbre creations. One can't exactly predict the final timbre outcome as they are not in control of the signal generating the osc waveform, however, they can know that whatever comes down the pipe is going to basically exhibit numerous behaviors of some sort of kickish timbre, and quite possibly like a bass drum. There are nearly endless other correspondence based architectures that can be assembled in such fashions to convert the original signals into what appear as entirely different and/or new timbres.
In cases where the external sources are A-tonal in nature, it's also possible to create interesting counter points to the original signal, counter points that may even begin to exhibit tonal qualities. So for example, a crash cymbal may be hit, which in and of itself appears to the human ear as rather atonal despite the fact that there actually is some tonal character there. A graintable or wavetable (speaking in the traditional Mathews sense and not Palm) created from the cymbal in realtime then might be time stretched and/or looped at proper points in order to create sustained timbres that can be played chromatically and subsequently bringing a tonal character to light that the original signal itself did not "appear" to exhibit. Part of what I find so interesting about using external signals is how it changes the musical perspective. So for example, when on a piano I know I'm going to have the sound of a piano.....there's no need for me to "actively" listen to what the piano is doing to know it's going to sound like a piano. While I still need to listen to what others are playing around me as to not fall discordant with them, I need not worry about what others are playing around me effecting the timbre of the piano itself. I can basically concentrate on just playing piano and trusting it will sound like a piano. Conversely, when using external signals, the player/musician is forced to be attentive to what the others are playing around them particularly as it relates to the timbre(s) they are emitting and less so in regard to what they are doing notationaly (as playing harmoniously with them breaks down into relational correspondence to orignal fundamental signal), at what points in time the people around them played a particular thing, how strongly they are pulling signals from others around them (what are they creating in sum mix), and finally, also being aware of how exactly they have treated those signals so that they can identify their resulting end timbre creation(s). It pulls the musical perspective out of a "your instrument sounds like this, so listen to the notes around you and play your instrument accordingly" and places it more into a "the people around you sounded like this, create your correspondences accordingly" or more specifically "the people around you sounded like this, you've created correspondence to their signals of A
, which means you are now playing result D
in correspondence to them". The player is no longer worried about "playing" their instrument as much as they're worried about creating correspondences, as it is through such means that their own musical timbre creation possibilities and play are derived.....it requires a very active listening on the players outside the self and otherwise sort of turns into music through formula writing. One is basically playing through algebra as where notes exist on the instrument no longer hold any static meaning, everything is to be done through relational correspondence to ever evolving signals. It's a very intimate perspective that I'd very much liken to having sex. The sound of the other players is in your instrument, but you're working back with them as well. You're all very united and intertwined in an ebb and flow, they are you and you are them, but you're also still independent. At current, percussive duties, vocals, and such means of sound design and play make up much of my primary roll in the band DAC and to a lesser extent the same sound design practices are utilized in my bands E-Lament and Sirhc Neila. I'm sure I'll be exploring the means on occasion with others for some time in the future and one thing I very much look forward to is having an opportunity to work with a collection of musicians that are working in similar means. A case where truly original signal is rather limited and everything else becomes a collection of the group simply bouncing their own correspondences off each other.https://hearthis.at/dac/dacdemoi/