Category Archives: Sonology

Music composed at Sonology (the Hague), or in their facilities, especially BEA 5

Shorts #32: Stochastic Tendencies (2014)

[play]Shorts #32: Stochastic Tendencies (2014)

Commissioned in honour of Paul Berg, who was my teacher at the Institute of Sonology in Den Haag, when I was there for the course in 2006-7.

Paul Berg is the inventor of the AC Toolbox, which allows composers with Macs to do algorithmic sound generation. The class he taught spends the first several weeks covering a very thurough history fo electronic music, before switching to cover how to use several different tools, including AC Toolbox. Paul has decided to retire, so future students, alas, will not get the benefit of this amazing course, which was definitely a highlight of my time in the Hague.

This piece is made on my MOTM Analogue synthesiser, but applies several ideas I would more normally use in digital synthesis. It has random attack times, generated by using a random signal (filtered noise) triggering a switch with a variable threshold. When the random signal exceeds the threshold, the switch sent a bias as a gate to an envelope generator.

This piece also uses a very rough approximation of tendency masks, using a varying lag time for CV voltages that were increasing or decreasing.

It is mixed in Ardour, with some reverb added to the final mix in Audacity.

Because Paul is retiring this year, one of his former students contacted several of Sonologists and asked us to write short pieces to be put into a device called the ‘AC Juke Box’. The only constraint was that the pieces had to be mono!

Paul Berg’s scepticism about multichannel audio is legendary and also makes a valuable point. A musical gesture does not become interesting because it is moving in space. It’s too easy to use spatialisation as a substitute for generating interesting material. Paul’s tools and teaching all were aimed at generating interesting material. I hope this short piece contains some.

This piece is in mono. It also contains low frequencies that may not be audible though the internal speakers on some laptops, so you may wish to use headphones or external speakers to listen.


Shorts: #22 For Benjamin Britten

[play] Shorts: #22 For Benjamin Britten (2007)

Commissioned and titled by Michael Strickland (aka sfmike)

Mike gave me the title before I wrote the piece. I spent a lot of time thinking about what to do with this. This last year, I learned that the Phillips Corporation had intended to get Britten to do the music for their pavilion in the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair.. They first went to their preferred architect, Le Corbusier, and he insisted that they use the music of Edgard Varèse. instead and Philips agreed. Their reason for initially wanting Britten was due to the popular success of his orchestral piece, The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. It’s a piece with an optional vocal part which explains what instruments are playing as the musical themes pass through the different sections. They thought he could do something with a Young Person’s Guide to Electronic Music.

This came up in my classes because the studio that Philips built for Varèse eventually become the Sonology course, in which I am now enrolled. We have a large portrait of Varèse working on his composition on one wall. But what if they had not given into Corbusier’s demands and had just picked a different architect? I purchased a copy of the Young Person’s Guide and listened to it a few times, trying to imagine what Britten might have done with the Phillips Pavilion. It was boring! So I listened a few times to his much preferable War Requiem. Testcase suggested that I do something with the poetry of Wilfred Owen, since Britten used his work. I decided to combine both approaches.

After Varèse, Koenig started a course in electronic music, which also helped form Sonology. I got a copy of the instructions on how to realize Koenig’s Terminus. His instructions were more or less state-of-the art at the time, and thus would be related to what Britten would have done. I focussed on attacks and synchronization, synchronizing to the middle of every note except for the last few notes. I used some voltage control to change attack shapes – something that couldn’t be done at that time, but is labor-saving. The attack shapes are two different kinds of triangles, sines, sawtooth going up, sawtooth going down and square. Most of the sounds are tuned sines, but I added some variation later by using triangle waves and FM modulation, the later of which was definitely not available, but there were way more complicated techniques at the time that lead to similar sonic results.

The poem is Anthem for Doomed Youth, read by me. It’s stereoized by putting the right and left slightly out of synch, and is quiet. However, this doesn’t make it sound far away, because it sounds so close miced. This is the only non-mono part. The Philips Pavilion was all about spatialization, but this is an alternate universe where Philips refused Corbusier’s demands and got a different architect. Xenakis never wrote Metastasis. Curtis Roads never wrote his book on microsounds. River Runs was never written. Computer music takes a drastically different direction. And we all wear silver clothes and have flying cars.


Shorts: #20 Poodleface Birthday

[play]Shorts: #20 Poodleface Birthday (2007)

Commissioned by Graham Coleman in honor of Rob’s birthday. Happy Birthday Rob!

I made this piece in BEA 5 in Sonology in the Royal Conservatory of The Hague. I was hung over (after playing tuba the night before) and up at an extremely early hour because my dog had an early dress rehearsal for a concert that evening. I walked by BEA 5 and it was empty! I had one of those rare moments of clarity where a patch is entirely clear. I knew exactly how to tune the oscillators and where to route them. I love chaos patches, but their over-use can be cheesy. But Rob just recorded an album with a casio keyboard. So no worries there. I used all 16 oscillators, cascading them into chaos and then sent the output of them to the control inputs of the VOSIM. I sent the output of that to the third octave filter, which I used to damp the highs and also because it adds a nice character to everything it touches. It was too early to be awake, I’d slept too few hours and I was hung over, so despite my clarity, I misplugged a bunch of wires, accidentally sending the sine output and the square output of the same oscillator to two different inputs of the VOSIM, when I’d meant to take sine outputs of two different oscillators. It didn’t matter. It sounded great. Maybe better. I recorded everything in less than half an hour and then came home and mixed it quickly, like a romantic poet inspired by a tree.


Shorts: #15 Space Corridor

[play] Shorts: #15 Space Corridor (2007)

Commissioned and titled by Graham Coleman.

I made this pieace in the BEA 5 lab at Sonology at the Royal Conservaory in The Hague, Netherlands. This uses MIDI-controlled analog oscillators and the primary sound source. My friend Nick Fox-Gieg set up the MIDI control from his laptop and helped me with a MAX patch. The oscillators went out to the plate reverb – which is an actual 200 kilo plate hanging in the attic someplace. The output of that was ring modulated and sent back to the plate. A lot of the signal also went through the lovely third octave filter in the lab.

The one drawback of the plate is that there’s a lot of hiss in the connection to it. I used the TAP de-Esser and some EQ to lessen the hiss. It also took some of the ‘pop’ out of some of the notes, which makes the whole piece smoother.

Graham is planning on remixing this piece.


Shorts: #13 Contact

[play] Shorts: #13 Contact (2007)

Commissioned and titled by Sean Johnson.

It was created in the BEA 5 lab in Sonology at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague. That lab is a room full of a giant voltage controlled synthesizer. The basis for all the sounds in this piece came from a comparitor. Two triangle waves, one frequency modulated, were fed into a comparitor. This comparitor generated a pulse whenever the traingle waves crossed each other. These pulses form part of the piece, as does some clicking generated by a VOSIM module which was controlled also by the comparitor and the triangle waves themselves. I also mixed in a bit of mixer-generated noise.

This piece was commissioned via eBay.


Shorts: #8 svp

[play] Shorts: #8 svp (2007)

Titled and commissioned by Gino Robair

This was made in the BEA 5 lab of Sonology at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague, the Netherlands. It’s made with VOSIM controlled by a sequencer and being run through a third octave filter, which is some crazy custom, antique european thing. Man, that filter sounds good. They’re on ebay once in a great while. I want one, but I’m too lazy to do the custom modding myself. It’s Danish, made by Brüel & Kjaer in Copenhagen, Band Pass Filter Set Type 1612. The interface is really modded at school.


Short Attention Span: #4 Radioactive

[play] Short Attention Span: #4 Radioactive (2007)

This short piece was made with sounds generated in the BEA 5 lab in Sonology at the Royal Conservatory of the Netherlands in The Hague. There were mixed with a remote-controlled macmini running Ardour and Audacity. My lab partners Dave and Tomer most likely contributed to the source sounds.

My Odeo Channel (odeo/27a00b78afe378f5)


Short Attention Span: #2 Glitch

[play] Short Attention Span: #2 Glitch (2007)

Continuing to embrace rather than fight my short attention span, here is the second one in the series.

The sounds were generated in the BEA 5 lab in Sonology at the Royal Conservatory of the Netherlands in The Hague. There were mixed with a remote-controlled macmini running Ardour and Audacity. My lab partners Dave and Tomer most likely contributed to the source sounds.


Short Attention Span: #1 Buildup

[play] Short Attention Span: #1 Buildup (2007)

Rather than fight my short attention span, I’ve decided to embrace it and do a series of really short works. This is the first in the series.

The sounds were recorded in the massive analog synthesizer in BEA 5 in Sonology, in the Royal Conservatory, in The Hague, the Netherlands. The mixing was done with Ardour running on a macmini, but displaying remotely on my laptop with X windows. I can’t recall the patches used for the sounds, except that they involved a 200 kilo plate reverb. Tomer may have contributed to this.