Final Project Proposal

I am fascinated by the way the band Alpine implements vocals in their work. While their songs do have lyrics, this does not lend a central focus to the vocal lines; they are not the featured melody that is foregrounded against instruments. Instead, voices are layered over one another and weave into the broader tapestry of synth sounds. Repetition of short lyric bursts shifts the listeners’ focus from the textual information of the lyrics to the shape of the sounds in the repeated phrases.

In one larger Ableton project, I hope to emulate and experiment with this effect of vocal sounds intermingling with synths.

Project Timeline:

December 4 — have text picked out, experiment with synths, recording vocals, and chords

December 8 — establish synths to use, shape the chords of the piece

December 11 — integrate synths and vocals

December 14 — finishing touches, make final adjustments

Max Assignment 3

For this assignment, I looked at the synths AtmoEPiano and Fatness.


– There is a single voice. It is using FM synthesis; the FM button is highlighted. Amplitude envelope has 9 points that ease the sound’s volume down. The sound is shorter than I expect because the volume decreases fairly rapidly.

– Voice One uses a Resonant Lo Pass filter. The envelope on this section keeps the sound high, dips it, and then rapidly decreases it. The high frequency slider is all the way up, so the envelope affects the high frequencies.

– On the modulation page, the first LFO is swinging rapidly from 0.0 to 1.0, creating the wobbly sound of the synth. The second LFO is swinging more slowly from 0.1 to somewhere approaching 1.0– the top part of the slider is greyed out, and the purple node doesn’t quite reach that part of the slider. I’m not sure what this means for the sound.

– The mixer page is telling me the LFO is delayed for some period of time. I’m not sure I know what the “split” sliders mean.


– Fatness uses three voices that loop. The first voice is a WarmSaw set to an octave of -2. Its amplitude envelope has 9 points. The sound amps up fairly quickly, then declines, comes back up, falls again, and swells a little before fading out. Its using a “XResLoPass” filter (cross resonance lo pass?) with the high frequency slider all the way up.

– The second voice follows a similar amplitude shape to Voice 1, but with a smoother swell and a less abrupt decline. The octave is set to -1 and -5 semitones. It’s also using a XResLoPass filter with the high frequency slider set high. In the oscillator section, the PulseWidth slider is set high, which seems to make the sound feel more spacious. When I slide it down, the sound feels less deep, and more flat-buzzy.

– The third voice is typed as “offset” and it is a buzzy background noise. It’s set to -1 octave and +7 semitones. It’s amplitude has 9 points which ramp up quickly, stay high, and then taper off. Again, a XResLoPas filter is used, with a high setting for the high frequency slider.

– The modulation page describes three matrices: 2 LFO’s, and a mod wheel. The first LFO targets the pitch of voice one, sliding rapidly between 0.4 and 0.6. The second LFO targets the voice two pulse width, and moves smoothly between 0.0 and 1.0. Other than this, I’m not entirely sure how to read what’s going on with this page.

– On the mixer page, I can see how the three voices are delayed. Voice one has a “delay 2 send”, voice two has a “delay 1 send”, and voice three has a “delay 4 send”. These sounds don’t all play directly at note-on; you can hear the swell in the sound as the other voices are added in.

Hydrogen song 1

Here is what I’ve done in Hydrogen, tastefully titled “plop” because that’s how I feel about it. I am very unfamiliar with drums, so I was just messing with sounds here. The kits I downloaded from Sourceforge were cool, though!


A6 (attempt)

This is what I ended up with for A6. I can’t seem to come up with the programming steps on my own. I’ve had this problem a lot with arithmetic and math, and it seems to carry over here, too. I understand what’s happening when I see it, but I can’t reproduce it at all. It’s very frustrating.

I have a step sequencer and the thingy where you can input notes over that via keyboard. I’ve had a lot of fun playing around with these sounds, at least!


Listening Assignment

Williams Mix:

Something about is seems soundtrack-like to me. I feel like I’m experiencing a broad range of life experiences in this piece, less about melody and more about soundscape and emotion. Clearly, it defies the expectation for music to have a recognizable and reproducible melody. It does, however, have lulls and peaks in sound, like any other “song” might. Some of the sounds reappear later on in the track and become kind of motifs. I wasn’t entirely sure whether the applause was a part of the piece, or a reaction to it. A comment on the video tells me that the recording came from a live performance, and so the applause came from the audience. I saw on the Wiki page that this piece is the first octophonic piece, and I can only imagine how it would feel to have the sound flow around me from eight speakers instead of two headphones. I imagine it would immerse me more in the sense of soundscape I mentioned earlier.

Gesang der Junglinge:

This piece is more “musical” in that there are sounds with pitches in sequence. Still, there is no easily recognized melody, even though sounds and phrases repeat. I feel like there is a definite parallel being drawn between the boy soprano’s vocal sounds (including what seem to be German words, or at least some phonemes familiar to that language) and the sine waves/clicks/white noise. I have a sense of the electronic noises working together as a voice as much as I do the soprano’s sound belonging to a voice. Knowing the story behind this electronic mass greatly enhanced my listening experience. I really enjoyed this piece!

Ommagio a Joyce:

I am greatly intrigued by the story and ideas behind this piece, being an English major and somewhat familiar with Ulysses. I don’t know what I expected from the description of the piece, but my expectations were way off base. There’s a lot fewer recognizable vowel sounds in it, and much more lulls in sound than I thought there would be. Perhaps it’s because my experience of Ulysses is so focused on the sounds of the language that I felt this homage lacking in language-sounds. My background as a singer might also have influenced this expectation. The Wiki description employs the term “resonance” a number of times to describe the theory behind the piece’s composition, and I associate vowel sounds with resonance. Berio, I think, took a wider approach to resonance, as the Wiki describes the categorization of “resonance colors” as related to how all sounds (and not just vowels) are produced in the mouth. Despite these defied expectations, I do think that this piece does a wonderful job of rendering audibly the mishmash of words, almost-words, and onomatopoeia in Joyce’s text, and the experience of not-quite understanding the rush of sounds that make it up.

Ensembles for Synthesizer:

I like how there is a sense of chance to this composition, but it still kind of follows an ebb and flow of tinkling notes and then discordant chords. I appreciate the number of different synth sounds going on at the same time. This piece employs more “traditional” musical aspect than the previous pieces (e.g. chords) but does so in ways that subvert how they are traditionally used. I really like the layeredness of the sound. The layers of each “voice” don’t necessarily have to align with one another, each kind of doing their own thing except when “communicating” with another “voice” to produce chords, or melody/harmony of sorts, or a kind of beat. I also appreciate how suddenly the tone can shift by adding/removing sounds or elements of recognizable “musicality”, e.g. at 8:55.

I Am Sitting In A Room:

Resonance is an interesting theme in these pieces, and it’s being used in ways that expand how I usually think about it in music, combining it with linguistic ideas and with the acoustics of environment (which is something I don’t often think about as a solitary headphones-listener of music). This piece reminds me of sending a phrase through Google translate several times. It’s also a cool kind of meditation on how technology interacts with its acoustic environment, what it “hears”, and what it feeds back into the environment, how that environment projects that sound, etc. It’s interesting how the performance of this piece almost doesn’t involve Alvin Lucier; the performers are the room and the devices recording and playing back his initial speech. These two performers eventually eclipse Lucier’s recognizable language, evolving and creating a sound of their own together. This sound ends up being closer to what I think most people consider as music, e.g resonant pitches. This speech —> music journey/lineage prompts me as a listener to re-remember the musical qualities of speech, as well as the speech-like qualities of music. I think it would be much more impactful as a listener to be present in the environment that helps to perform a work like this. Still, I get a sense of space and sound coproducing this work, even listening through headphones, apart from the room-performer and the device-performers.

A Rainbow in Curved Air:

The musicality of this work is a lot more familiar to me. Some of the sounds still seem to pull from the sense of playfulness and openness about what synths can do that is so present in the previous works that it pushes the envelope of what music can be. This piece, however, integrates this joyful experimentation within more familiar expectations of music, having a repeating musical pattern underneath the higher pitches that dance over this pulse. The title informs my perception of the synth notes rapid skipping around; I get a sense of refraction that calls back to the image of the rainbow. The repeated up-and-down pattern behind the more energetic synth notes give me a sense of the curvedness, and the arc of the rainbow. The whole tone is on the whimsical side.

Come Out:

The use of voice clips in this piece is a little more familiar to me, reminding me of sampling I’ve heard in other works. Clearly, it diverges from this use in that it repeats a phrase without bridging into “the musical part” or whatever other instruments are a part of that work. This piece is reminiscent of I Am Sitting In A Room in that recorded voice is used to create the shape of the music. The repetitiousness of the phrase “Come out to show them” is arresting, morphing from a description of the blood coming out from the bruise to an entreaty directed at me the listener to act in some way. The communicativeness and the way the rhythms and tonality of the voice builds is definitely musical to me, but the lyrics, if they can be called that, are aimed at me in ways that are much more direct than they might be in any other form of music.


Finally a name I am familiar with! Similar to the Riley piece, this has a kind of steady background on/with which other sounds play and interact. Motifs replay in different combinations across the steady background. There is no easily picked-out melody per se, but this does not take away from its musicality for me. I feel like I experience ambient music more globally than I do other kinds of music, in that the whole of it works together toward an experience rather than different musical parts making kind of a spotlight of their own talents and their interactions with one another.

Tomorrow Never Knows:

Lyrics and the melody that accompanies it immediately catch my attention, and ground it in the familiar category of “song”. The instrumental parts, however, still have that sense of playing with a variety of sounds over a ground-layer of sound, like Ringo’s drums. The integration of pop music “catchiness” (parts of this song got stuck in my head immediately after listening) and experimentation make for a fertile ground of associations that pulls both from pop music’s availability of consumption and the sense that new things/anything can happen in pop music and still be fresh and successful. Surprise and jouissance (to be an literature theory nerd for a second) abound in this song in equal measures for me.

Looking for the Perfect Beat:

I appreciate that I can hear strains of some of the earlier avant-garde works in this, under the really familiar techno beats. On some level, that makes it less accessible to me, since I never really cared for this specific kind of electronic music.


I had some difficulty with Pure Data, e.g. the edit mode cursor wouldn’t select things and would draw boxes off to the right instead, and PD wouldn’t to switch into edit mode. I didn’t start the assignment soon enough to address these issues, and I take responsibility for that.

I also feel I understand how to make the polyphonic synth, but wasn’t able to actually code it due to the aforementioned problems. Here is what I have regardless: A3 polymorphic synth lindsay friday