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Soundcombing

I’ve always loved beachcombing. Growing up, I’d wander the shores of Jones Beach looking for whatever the ocean happened to yield that day: shells, rocks, driftwood, dried-up hermit crabs and jellyfish and other mysterious aquatic beasts.

Now I’m landlocked, 350 miles from the ocean. So I do my scavenging in the audio arena: soundcombing. I fire up one of my favourite sound generators – Reaktor, Max/MSP, Absynth, you know the drill – and go hunting for sounds. I proceed in pure exploration mode, open for anything, my ears my guide. If a sonic object intrigues me, I file it away; if not, I toss it back in the ocean. Just me and my canvas sack combing the beach for cool sounds.

When you work this way, you end up with a slew of random audio files: beats, pads, melodies, chords, fx, noises, some usable, some not. The next step is to hone these files, extract the excerpts that are musically satisfying and edit them into clean loops, fragments, phrases, sections. This becomes your toolbox, the sonic repository you draw from to make music.

When it comes time to compose a piece from your soundcombings (you’ll know), work bottom up and let your sonic objects guide you. Rather than fitting them into a preconceived compositional template – verse/chorus song, 4/4-ish electronica track, ambient soundscape – let the sounds and shapes of the individual objects give rise to their own form. Think: sculptor enabling a slab of marble to reveal its intrinsic shape.

One of the great things about soundcombing is that it can broaden – sometimes dramatically – your sonic palette. If you think of yourself as an explorer open to whatever may come your way, you’ll end up with material you never would have otherwise chosen to use in your tracks. You’ll surprise yourself, and in the process, make music that will surprise your listeners.

Escherilia is an example of a piece I composed – or perhaps more accurately: montaged – from a set of random soundcombed objects. The form is like an nine-course symmetric meal: I serve up nine objects, then unserve them in reverse order. Enjoy!

Posted on April 23, 2013 at 9:09 am by rachmiel · Permalink