IKLECTIK Tuesday 13th June 2017: Extra Nights #2: Nicolas Collins + Oscillatorial Binnage

Oscillatorial Binnage will be performing at IKLECTIK tomorrow (13th June)! More details can be found on the Iklectik website: here.  There’s a Facebook event page here.  It forms the second in the series of Resonance Extra’s ‘Extra Nights’.

A posting over at the main Miraculous Agitations blog gives an idea of what to expect.

Here’s an impromptu behind-the-scenes photograph of us setting up for our rehearsal at the weekend:

Toby Clarkson, Fari Bradley and Chris Weaver

Nasca Octavian Paul’s Paulstretch

Oscillatorial Binnage play room tones

I’ve recently been editing a 2010 Oscillatorial Binnage performance of a piece titled ‘Variations for Rooms and a Tone’.  It features multiple strands of acoustic microphone feedback steered by injections of carefully pitched oscillator tones, and destabilised by various other subtle treatments.  The pitch of the feedback relates to the resonant frequency of the space(s).  Conceptually, it may not sound entirely original (it certainly owes some debt to Alvin Lucier who explored this terrain), but its originality lies principally in the choice of venue – every space having its own unique cluster of tones: a ‘sonic fingerprint’.  This particular 2010 recording was performed at a soon-to-be-demolished former bus depot in Neckinger, known as the Woodmill.  It has unusual resonant cubbyholes allowing for many shifts of resonance.

The editing has been slow owing to an obligation to ‘do justice’ to the old space.  Further complications involve the removal of countless footsteps, which would have to be removed via individual crossfades.

The most fascinating microphone/speaker feedback tones occur when the feedback has not yet stabilised, i.e. when the feedback tone is still ‘finding itself’ after the soundsystem is turned on.  Transitions between conflicted resonances are also very musical.  Yet these moments do not last long, and a way to cleanly extend these moments without affecting quality and pitch is sought.

One notable program comes to the rescue in such situations – a wonderful high-powered timestretcher by Nasca Octavian Paul.  It is called PaulStretch, and most people may have already stumbled upon its fruits in the “800% slower” music stretches on Youtube.  Those who aren’t yet acquainted with it are in for a treat – it allows for lusciously smooth timestretching (along with other treatments) and is specifically designed for long-duration stretches.  PaulStretch can extend a 15-second sound to one lasting over 475 billion years.


It has been used extensively on many unlikely sonics, such as Rick Astley and Justin Bieber hits, the late ‪Eduard Khil‬’s lyricless epic ‘Я очень рад, ведь я, наконец, возвращаюсь домой’ (aka Trololo), the Eastenders theme, and my own favourite, Jerry Goldsmith’s theme to the 1990 film Total Recall.  What initially seem like exercises in trollsome ridiculousness play out as astonishing ethereal meditations.  The beauty of Paulstretch is in its sophisticated algorithm where percussion and drum noise – which would usually become discordant metallic barking in bog-standard timestretchers – are rendered as luscious crashing waves, in keeping with a percussive nature.

It is a curious experience to play old chiptunes, MOD music and Amiga game themes through Paulstretch.  8-bit tones retain their familiarity, yet become uncharacteristically epic in proportion.   Other interesting experiences may be had by playing pure intonation music in Paulstretch.  For example, some of the more complex moments of La Monte Young’s ‘Well Tuned Piano’ – which itself is a long-duration piece of over six hours – become even more fascinating.  Some of the beat-frequency forming ‘cloud’ effects such as those heard on CD 4 of the 1992 Gramavision release benefit from Paulstretch treatment.  I won’t post any examples here, but the software is free and there seems to be a world of potential.  One commentator asks “could this be the start of a new age of music?”   It certainly offers a new viewpoint which can be at times awing to the point of unnerving.

Such clean timestretching is extremely useful for elongating hyperinteresting short sounds, such as the elusive miraculous agitations, and various bookophone flourishes.

Nasca Octavian Paul has also programmed such excellences as the ZynAddSubFX soft-synth and the HyperMammut Fourier transform tool among other things…

Bookophone Outing

I comprise one quarter of the improv quartet Oscillatorial Binnage.  Last Thursday we played a short set at the AMM book launch.  Due to an alleged paucity of electricity sockets at the venue, it seemed an appropriate occasion to test drive an acoustic oddity I devised which I call a bookophone.

A bookophone consists of a paperback book and a rod/pipe ‘activator bow’ of some description.  The rod can be metal, plastic or lacquered wood, and it is drawn perpendicularly across the book’s textblock in a bowing action.  It produces acoustic pseudo-shepard tones and, with some practice, a variety of barks and yelps can be produced.

Bookophone technique: A metal ‘activator bow’ is rubbed across the book

The AMM event was one of the more off-the-wall performances of recent memory.  The two new books being discussed that night were Ben Watson‘s Blake in Cambridge, and 1839: The Chartist Insurrection by David Black and Chris Ford, both books published by Unkant.   (Tangentially, whilst setting up the space, Ben Watson found convenience in my bookophone’s ‘activator bow’ in liberating from the ceiling the Union Jack bunting left over from a Queen’s Jubilee celebration some days earlier).

Interestingly, Watson chose to launch his own book by giving a platform to its critics who proceeded to denounce various aspects of its content, creating much debate (which also encompassed ventings on AMM’s anti-academic stance).   Watson – an expert in language-defying tone poetry and mega-freeform vocalistics – then encouraged Oscillatorial Binnage to acoustically ornament/mimic the ensuing debate, which was already agitated by Watson’s occasional divergences into his hyperconfusing wordjazz.  Electronics, crackleboxes, bean slicer, clarinet, squeaky toilet paper holder combo, harmonica and bookophone (among other things – mostly stuff found in bins) culminated in a noisome uproar.  Regretfully, some of the younger people present did not at all enjoy the ultra-high pitched amplified blasts.  (All recordings can be heard here).

To change the subject slightly…. My shoes are always broken.  Earlier that rainy, rainy day, I had been in the second-hand book basement of a King’s Cross bookshop, trying to identify a louder £1 book for bookophone implementation (without actually compromising the shop’s stock by bowing the book edges).  Owing to a hole in my shoe, rainwater had made ingress to my sock, making an unpleasantly wet foot; an irritating feeling which distracted me and so impaired bookophonic sonic book judgement.  Abandoning the search, inspiration made me hop to the British Library where strong plastic bags can be obtained – most convenient!   There, I made myself a plastic sock to place inside my shoe thereby offering protection against the rainwater.  This provided comfort, not just for the rest of the day, but for the next week too.

[Such a feet/feat of necessity is perhaps worthy of Vladimir Arkhipov’s attention: specifically his Home Made series of books cataloging folk artefacts borne of such necessity].

However, by the time the AMM book launch began, the plastic sock had started to smell really bad.  There’s an esoteric quirk of hygiene that sees unventilated feet turn odorous.  Yet by the unpremeditated combining of the bookophone sounds with the ‘British Library bag-sock’ footsmell generator, I had fused both scent and sound into a new emission-sensation.  However, the other members of Oscillatorial Binnage were undecided and mildly dismissive of it.  I did wonder what the academics and anti-academics would make of this multi-faceted concept-fusion of bookophonics, British Library bag-socks, bad odour twinned with questionable bookwhine sonics…  It is probably too irrelevant or ‘lumpenproletarianesque’ to even contemplate.