Improv Friday

Yesterday, I made my first contribution to ImprovFriday, an online live-improvisation event that happens every weekend. It’s a harmonitronica piece called “Never Enough Time,” which doesn’t actually feature any harmonica until about a minute into the piece. It began completely by accident; I started a loop, and half dropped my harmonica mic. The looped noise of me catching the microphone was interesting, so I kept it going, building it into a percussion track over which I played the harmonica parts. The piece I posted is six minutes excerpted from about 25 minutes of source recording.

I’ve spent the last couple of months upgrading the equipment I use to create my harmonitronica pieces — I’ll write more about the new rig soon — and I’m posting a few more pieces that came out of various experiments with the new setup:

  • Bits Of Brass No. 1 and No. 2 are crude experiments inspired by my reading about granular synthesis and experimenting with a granular synthesizer for the iPad called Curtis (for Curtis Roads). Granular synthesis involves breaking sound down into very tiny pieces (“grains”) and then rearranging them. These two pieces were built up by looping very small slices of harmonica, less than a second’s worth, and layering them over each other. (No. 1 uses a lot of lo-fi delay, eight bits or even fewer, while No 2. uses quite a bit of harmonica-as-percussion, ie, tapping the harp on the mic.) Doesn’t quite qualify as true granular synthesis but I like the resulting sounds. None of what you hear on these two pieces is created by a synthesizer, or treated with filters or any effects other than delay. All the sounds are bits of harmonica, looped, fed back, and layered.
  • Derangement (Blues in 1/e) is just basic loops, fed through a tape-echo style delay. I played with the rolloff and decay level, allowing some of the loops to get extremely distorted, and also adjusted the delay length on the fly to match the phrases I was playing. (You can hear this in process, since it takes a little while to settle in properly; I’m increasing or decreasing the delay time as I sync my live playing with the delayed phrase being played back). This may or may not have some unintentional resemblance to the mathematical problem of derangement, which is the question of how to permute objects so that none of them have their original positions. (As the number of objects gets larger, the probability tends to 1/e, e being Euler’s number.)
  • The loops in Discreet Harmonica VI (Shimmering Filters) are run through a delay with a band-pass filter applied. I manipulated the filter cutoff to get the phased/shimmery effect you hear. Then I mostly just let the loops run against each other.
  • Harmonica Staccato is long loops with short bits of harmonica, breathing, microphone percussion, and risky tapping of water glass with microphone.

I’m doing a lot of experimenting right now, so I’ll probably have more to post in the next few days.

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