Surface Resonance…

Phase 1.1: Research Detail - abstraction of riddim

Phase 1 research on abstraction of riddim centred on controlled recordings of partly blurred/ abstracted basslines, and further work in the studio, to understand and address issues with using such a music-based source.


Exploring Riddim

Tests with large soundsystem

To blur riddim and record the effect of sound on a building, I developed music-based bass material, and reproduced this through a large (2 x 15” drivers) subwoofer, situated in a house.

The material started with looped basslines from tracks that I had experienced as creating powerful vibrations before. I focused on one track in particular, Rwanda from Smith and Mighty/More Rockers. I chose this early drum and bass/dub crossover track because of its low fundamental frequency, smooth transitions between notes, and rich tonal/upper harmonic content.

I used a range of basic effects on this track, selected because of their parallel to the natural processes that low frequency sound goes through in its passage through a space.

I used a low pass filter that started out very low (20Hz) and worked up to 180Hz. This enabled a focus on the lowest aspects of the music, and how the different frequencies would affect a space.

This filtering also paralleled the way that a building acts as a natural attenuator of higher frequencies, so that the lowest sounds (and the effects of them on the building fabric) are all that is heard outside the space.

I combined this approach with reverberation, which I employed thinking about the experience of hearing music in warehouse parties in industrial complexes, where the bass sound becomes ‘fudged’ from reflecting against building walls across a large space.

The use of these effects meant that, aside from the core rhythmic repetition, the musical elements were obscured. This enabled my aims of finding a point where musical sound merged into something that is registered as more environmental.

Processed riddim - Play above or click to open in new window

Listening to the processed sound in the space was deep, atmospheric and very submersive. The overall sound, being based on music, captured well the in-between musical/ environmental sense aimed for.

However, listening back to the recordings on headphones and smaller loudspeakers emphasised that this experience does not translate without the powerful audio system. For example, the rhythmic elements, while smoothed/stretched by the interaction of loud low frequency soundwaves in the space/body, were more distinct and obvious when listening back in an ‘ordinary’ context.

Despite this, both the actual and recorded vibrations elucidated the sense of ‘building response’ I was interested in, where particular building elements responded to different bass frequencies, and respondent vibrations ‘tailed’ the bass sound. The focused process of contriving and recording a sound/vibration relationship helped me better understand the way spaces respond to vibration and the transformation of riddim within a building.

Recording of soundsystem within space - Play above or click to open in new window

Processing recordings to disassociate the bassline + environment

I made a composition with the materials gathered. I wanted to disassociate from the obvious rhythmic elements of the PA recordings, and make an acoustic piece that evoked the sense of being in a bass/respondent vibration space, without reliance on large equipment to achieve this.

I started with three recordings taken from the engineered soundsystem/vibration setup. The phrasing of all of these was matched, being taken from parallel/repeat processes of playing back the low frequency sound track and recording it in the space.

Once layered together, I processed the sound to disassociate the recording from sounding like a site recording, and being overtly rhythmic. This included distortions, tone emphasis, and changing levels and frequency filtering to create interactions and progressions between the tracks, bringing out and focusing on particular tones and elements within a constant piece.

I found that there was a remaining challenge in that despite these changes, there was an underlying semi-constant rhythmic element, even if quite removed from the original source. This appeared to be a potential distraction, or too strong a focal point.

In response, I copied and time stretched tracks to change their patterning, and further experimented with volume interactions between different timed tracks.

This had moderate success but questions remained about the tension point created by rhythm in the exploration of music/ environmental crossover.

While use of riddim posed this challenge, the testing and composition process drew my focus to the opportunities and areas of interest that riddim offered. For example:

  • how tone changes activate different materials
  • how pulsed sound triggers a response from vibrating materials in ways that drones do not
  • how my composition might evoke a musical experience (and whether I wanted this).

Adding atmospheric low frequency material

At this point my thinking moved into how a composition might evoke the ‘atmospheric’ as opposed to the ‘musical’, and how to draw on the natural/environmental instances of powerful low frequency sound to achieve this.

I took recordings around the Merri Creek area. The area was chosen as urban activity and technology presented sources of distinct low frequency sound, against a relatively quiet natural backdrop.

Locations where low frequency sound was a dominant characteristic included an electrical substation, under bridges that resonated from the energy of vehicles, and under a train station, capturing the arrival and departure of trains.

Spectral convolution - from basslines

Spectral convolution - from trains

These elements were incorporated within the riddim-based composition.

I used a process of spectral convolution, which is the multiplying of tone and amplitude information between two tracks (with the ambient recordings being the source, multiplied with the vibration recordings from the riddim experiments).

This resulted in a ghostly, tonal and resonant effect, with spectral familiarity to the riddim recordings.

This process enabled me to explore the idea that all low frequency sound has a resonance and vibration potential, and that subject to the right respondent physical environment, that any low frequency sound could create a vibration response.

Testing composition - "Vibration Project" - Play above or click to open in new window

Page Top

Next research detail subpage:   1.2 - Low frequency sound activating spaces - the articulation of building materials through vibration

Reference Material

  • Heartical Hi-Fi

  • Reggae Soundsystem
    Heartical Hi-Fi