56K- A sound design challenge.

At Mills College I help run a bi-weekly concert event called Thursday Night Special (TNS), which is a forum for graduate students (and a few brave undergrads) to share their art with the Mills community. This past TNS, my friend Moni decided to include a ‘sample of the week’ (which can be found HERE), and challenge any performer that was brave enough to include it as part of their piece. Well, I took this challenge seriously, and decided to make an entire track in 6 hours using just a 25 second sample of the dial up internet sound. Although I did cheat a little, using drum samples, and Operator to make the bass line. My friend Sean Price also took on the challenge, and did his a track live with his Octatrack sampling instrument, and it was DOPE.

I have been in the habit lately of documenting my musical work and thought I’d just spout for awhile about how I approached this.  I use Ableton Live, and Max/MSP for all of my sound creation, and these two tools are absolutely perfect for this kind of endeavor. As with any sample based composition, I always start by listening to the sound itself for a few minutes, and finding sections that I think would take well to some mangling. Then the fun begins. Time stretching with the idea of producing artifacts always works well for me and I find the aesthetic that it creates provides a good starting point for more ‘real’ sounding things. Live’s different warp modes are great for stretching convincingly, but can also be abused to produce some VERY nice effects.

So, after mucking about with some of the ‘tones’ from the sample I had a decent intro created, and it was time to move on to the actual tune.  I wanted to really reference the source material blatantly, so I got a phrase of the actual dialing sound the I lined up on eighth notes. I also wanted to get some convincing melodies, and Live’s Sampler instrument is an absolute beast for taking any source material and making something usable out of it.  It’s all about setting the proper loop points (at least for me) and finding interesting modulation routings to really bring the material to life, finally, making sure it is tuned properly. You can do this by ear, with a sine tone, or use a digital tuning plugin, if the sound is pretty weird. I have  few instances of some sample based synths running throughout, as well as some one-shot glitched out phrases made completely in Live’s arrange view.

I’ve decided to include the Live Pack, if anyone wants to have some fun with this.

Here’s the performance: 

56K- A sound design challenge.