Recently I’ve had the privilege and pleasure of working with our visiting composition professor Yuan Chen-Li and her MUS 314 composition class. Over the last six weeks I have conducted workshops with them at the PARC covering topics ranging from live audio capture (using the PARC’s mobile recording hardware and software) to electronic music composition using software synths (soft synths).
The class is using our set of special project iPads for their works this term, which I configured with the requested apps. As per professor Chen-Li’s assignment, the students are capturing live sounds. The students have leaned towards what she calls undifferentiated sounds — such as running water, microwaves, and chalk on a board — which the students then process and manipulate with the iPad using iOS GarageBand or on a computer using Audacity or Logic Pro.
The students are creating electronic compositions on the iPads with the captured sounds, while using the soft synth apps Stria and Impaktor. Stria is a synthesizer app based upon the composition “Stria” by the FM synthesis pioneer and composer John Chowning. (Here is an interesting analysis and the theory behind the creation of the piece Stria by Mr. Chowning, from which the app got its name and conceptual focus, and here is John Chowning speaking about his discovery of FM synthesis.) You can hear a reduced version of the work Stria here.
The Stria app is a robust synthesizer which uses multiple overlapping virtual oscillators (which is how Mr. Chowning discovered and created FM synthesis). Through applying FM, subtractive, additive and granular synthesis to the oscillating sounds, and changing parameters such as the sound’s rate, spread of its frequencies and applying envelopes, new sounds are created.
Impaktor takes a sonic impulse (percussive sounds played on tables, or any object, even the voice) and applies its powerful synthesizer models. New sounds are created by changing the synth parameters and the different synth types: membrane (simulates a vibrating membrane suspended on a hollow body), Resonator (simulates metal plates), Sine, Vocoder and FM by applying them to the impulse. While Impaktor is a percussive app by definition, longer and more sustained sounds are also able to be generated by manipulating the initial impulse sound within the app.
The soft synths are all routed into a DAW (digital audio workstation). For these projects, I had the students use iOSGarageBand, since the newest version (2.2) is very robust and includes 32-track multi-tracking, the ability to share projects back and forth and back again via iCloud with Logic Pro, and the ability to record multiple takes onto a single track. (Previously the ability to record multiple takes onto a single track only existed in Logic.) As the iPads are highly mobile they were well suited for this assignment. Additionally, we used AudioBus , an internal signal flow routing app, which links together various third party apps so the apps can connect and “speak” to each other. For example, through AudioBus a sound from one app can be recorded into another.
The presentation of these works will be on Wednesday March 8th, from 7:30-8:30pm in the student union. Come and see the premier of this collective, which is hopefully the beginning of an ongoing effort — the Reedies’ Experimental Music Project!