This way of working was a conscious attempt at "formalizing" a disorientation of memory... In this regularity, there is a suggestion that what we hear is functional and directional, but we soon realize that this is an illusion; a bit like walking the streets of Berlin — where all the buildings look alike, even if they're not.
— Morton Feldman, "Crippled Symmetry"
The Sound of Failure
The set of pieces that make up Callington began with the vision of an image I couldn't make real. For some years now I've been interested in using means of visual processing to make music, with limited success. In this case, I'd been imagining the music of a spectrogram, itself made up of a montage of spectrograms of different musics, laid over each other with continuously varying degrees of transparency.
Not too surprisingly, my attempts to make music from such an image have so far all been unsuccessful. The few image-to-sound converters I have worked with interpret spectrographic information (intensity of frequency over time) in ways that make an actual spectrogram sound clumsy and dull.
That particular project is now on hold. As an alternative, I patched together a simple set of audio signal processors in AudioMulch, which mixes together various sound sources with independently randomised amounts of filtering. Four separate sound elements are combined, but at any given moment the frequency spectrum of each source will be partially or completely filtered out of the final mix. In this way I imitated the sort of effect I thought my spectrogram idea would have on the music.
The entirety of Callington is based upon five source sounds, each of a similar nature and roughly similar length. These are heard most clearly in their original form in the 'A' sections of each piece, which were made using the montage technique described above.
Only four of these source elements are used in any one piece. For each subsequent piece (Callington 2A, Callington 3A, etc) one of the sources is substituted, until all five possible combinations of four sources are used. Each piece is thus designed to differ as little as possible from its neighbours.
Following the raison d'être of the 'A' section, each subsequent iteration (Callington 1B, Callington 1C, etc) is an imitation of its predecessor, using a different technological approach to mimic the previous section as best it can. Each section is thus a failed attempt to maintain a uniform identity throughout the entire piece.
'B' section: the 'A' section is transcribed into MIDI notation by the music recognition program AKoff Music Composer, and played back on a sampler loaded with an acoustic guitar soundfont.
'C' section: the MIDI notation of the 'B' section is displayed in "piano roll" format (see Fig. 1) and converted into an image suitable for interpretation as a spectrogram by Coagula Light (see Fig. 2).
'D' section: a repeat of the 'B' section, only this time it is the 'C' section which is transcribed into MIDI notation (see Fig. 3).
'E' section: a repeat of the 'A' section, only this time using the preceding four sections instead of the original source material.
These five sections maintain a strong consistency and similarity in their harmonic and melodic content. The many small differences can be said to be caused by 'mishearings' as the music is translated from one format to another. This consistency is carried over into all the pieces, each sharing three of its four source materials with the others.
The main noticeable difference between sections is in timbre. The outer sections have complex timbres and dynamics, whereas the inner sections reduce this material to a uniform timbral simplicity.
Listening to these pieces, I began to think of each section as a panel in an array, or a mobile, which could be juxtaposed in a variety of ways to produce different effects. Two ways in particular present themselves as obvious arrangements. In Callington x, each successive iteration of the same source material is played (e.g. Callington 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D, 1E). The other, Callington n, groups common treatments of the different sets of material (e.g. Callington 1A, 2A, 3A, 4A, 5A).
Other permutations, of course, are possible. The diagram shows the complete set of pieces and what, if any, sequences may be chosen.
At the moment, the CD of Callington is being circulated privately only, as CD-Rs. A small run of CDs may be printed later in 2009. However, good quality mp3 files of the complete set of pieces can be downloaded below, or streamed over at The Listening Room.
The multi-movement versions can be played from these m3u playlists:
Or, individual sections can be downloaded or played as separate mp3s:
Callington, © Ben.Harper 2009. Recorded in Your Dad’s Den, Clapton. A Cooky La Moo production, edition number 29.