Joe (jfm3) is a sound designer and sysadmin in NYC working with Linux, pd and other equipment to create listening experiences at loft parties. Here we talk to him... related links: M Station: > I guess first up, we should ask about mortmain - What it is that you're up to? jfm3: Like everyone, my day job, classes, and my family are by far most of what I'm up to. I'm busy. There is a curious synergy between UNIX system administration and sound design. Over half of the sysadmins I meet are involved in music or sound related endeavors outside of work. I'm involved in a project called mortmain() ( with Len9. He's a busy guy too (, We just finished a four month break. We're presently working on a CD for Text Records, as well as trying to set up shows for the fall. Everything mortmain() records is on the web site in mp3 format, under our best approximation of a BSD license for sound. Text Records balked a little at first at releasing material anyone could get for free online, but now they recommend it to all their artists. The four month break has given me some time to make sound outside of the context of mortmain(). I'm fascinated by the idea of "Deep Listening" ( I have a pile of material and a web site ( that I'm hacking together as fast as possible. > I had a look for but got a connection failure.
> Whats's it about? They must be having technical problems. You could direct the reader to Here is a quote from Pauline Oliveros
that describes Deep Listening quite well.
"As a musician, I am interested in the sensual nature of sound, its
power of synchronization, coordination, release and change. Hearing
represents the primary sense organ -- hearing happens involuntarily.
Listening is a voluntary process that through training and experience
produces culture. All cultures develop through ways of listening. Deep
Listening(TM) is listening in every possible way to everything possible
to hear no matterwhat you are doing. Such intense listening includes
the sounds of daily life, of nature, or one's own thoughts as well as
musical sounds. Deep Listening represents a heightened state of
awareness and connects to all that there is. As a composer I make my
music through Deep Listening."
I learned about Deep Listening after experiencing SeeHearNow a few times
( I'm playing with John Wieczorek, Christine Umberti (, and Anastasia Miklojcik at a loft pary in NYC. Here's to hoping that happens more often. I perform whenever possible. It is very hard to find venues for ambient and experimental music. Most of it seems to happen in people's living rooms or loft apartments. To perform and record, I use mostly Open Source software. The tools I have found that work best for me so far are Pd, Csound, ecasound, ALSA, and Linux with low latency patches. Pd has had such a fundamental effect on how I work I started a web site about it ( Right now it's just a Pd FAQ with a clever domain name. I wish I could say that I used 100% Open Source software, but there are still things I can only do reliably with my commercial sampler (which runs it's own proprietary firmware). I eagerly await the release of ALSA 1.0, a fully LAAGA based Ardour and Quasimodo, and a SpiralLoops with LADSPA support. > Have you got any public gigs coming up that people can go to? We are still hammering out schedules. Check and for up-to-date answers to this question.
> What sort of setup would you typically take out with you? If I am going far away, I take a laptop, a MIDI interface, and a little
knob box. It all has to fit in one reasonably easy to carry briefcase.
I am thankful that I never had to learn the hard way not to tote big
gear into NYC.
At more local performances, I also bring a bigger control surface, a
mixer, and a larger case holding the commercial sampler. That's pretty
much my whole studio. It has almost gotten to the point where
everything happens in the laptop though. That's the obvious winning
situation. > Could you say a little about the creation process with pd - what sort
> of idea you might start with and how you put it together? Good question! Sound design is a huge topic. Most of my design is 'top
down' these days. I start with the goal of the sound in mind. Do I
want to make a creepy atmosphere? Do I want to make dance music for
robots? Do I want to clear the mind of the listener? I consider the
listener and the context in which the sound will probably be heard.
These decisions lead to choices of samples and synthesis rigging.
Sometimes the design is 'bottom up'. I just fool around with sounds
until I stumble on something that sounds interesting. Sometimes a few
of these interesting results will coalesce into a larger piece.
For example, in something I'm working on now, there is a point where a
character loses himself in a dream, and not necessarily a happy dream.
To establish the mood, I made portable-DAT recordings of the noisy
machine room where I work. ecasound got the bits off the DAT tape and
onto my hard drive. I cut two 10 second loops of that (with Snd) and
made Pd patches that play them back continuously at a variable rate. I
use Pd with LADSPA plugins to put a low pass filter and reverb on those
loops. These came out so well I decided to record the whole process of
me walking out of my office, down the stairwell, and into the machine
room. I cut out a few of the little transitional and percussive sounds
in those recordings, and make Pd play them back without looping, but
with the 'decimator' LADSPA plugin.
Once the basic sound design is there, I tie it to the control surface.
I find that if I get into a real trance during performance, that the
sound that comes out is somehow more true. This is hard to explain. It
probably sounds at first like I am trying to justify drug use, but I
honestly don't use any drugs during performance other than a little
caffeine. As a result of this spacey quality to my state of mind during
performance, I prefer simple control surfaces. A handful of knobs and
perhaps a few piezos to tap on is more than sufficient.
In the previous example, knobs were assigned to varying the volume,
pitch, filter cutoff, and reverb amount to the loops. Some
piezoelectric sensors are assigned to trigger the more percussive
sounds. After fooling with the control surface for a while, I decided
to go back and put a frippertronic-like eight second delay on the
percussive sounds, in addition to the decimator. I haven't tried the
tape delay from the swh-plugins for this yet, but I might tonight. It
is embarassingly easy to make changes like this in Pd. I assign the
ranges for control carefully so that it is next to impossible for me to
get into a situation where the sound goes away and I can't quickly
figure out how to get it back. That's about the only trick to it. Make
everything so that analytical thought does not occur during performance
-- do that all beforehand. >
> so you're choosing samples on the laptop, or looping them and using the
> control surface to play with them in realtime? Ah, OK, there's a bit
> more on this below.

Not just samples, some simple computed synthesis stuff too, but you have
the basic idea.

> How exactly do you use the piezos?

I actually went out and bought a zendrum ( with some
severance pay I received a few years ago. I figured it would have cost
me about as much in time and labor to build one myself. Those with less
money and more hack time should consider getting a bunch of piezos from
radio shack, a 2x4, and either a used Alesis D-4 or a kit from PAiA
( Converting piezoelectric transducer taps to MIDI should
not be hard. There's a lot of web sites with DIY projects for it.

> I'm interested in people's ideas on accessibility - do you try to
> engage people
> using traditional hooks (melody, rythm - even in a subtle way) or do
> you like the
> sounds to speak for themselves and the audience to make the effort?

I try to engage people in the same way they are engaged by their dreams.
Most dreams I forget. Some make me wake up screaming. Some I wish
never ended. We never consider if a dream is accessible or not. Dreams
just happen.

I find that the whole thing goes much more smoothly for myself and
everyone involved if the performance begins with hypnotic or
trance-inducing sounds. Past that, whatever happens is what happens.
I'm not really concerned with whether or not the audience is even paying
attention to me or the sound I'm making. It's not like they can turn
off their ears. Something in there is listening, even if they're doing
something else. I believe we should carefully regulate our connections
from "art" and "music" to the processes of "hero worship" and "mating
ritual". Everybody makes sound, some of us just think about what that
means more than others. "Acessability" only comes into play under
certain circumstances I'm not concerned with.
With specific regard to rhythm, melody, and harmony? I gave up on
tonality a long time ago. I understand it, but it is just too
complicated of a language. I want to communicate something far less
sophisticated, and I want to get away from accepted and documented
cultural patterns. Do some deep listening. You might discover, like I
did, that the "music" you hear on commercial radio doesn't have anything
to do with the world you live in. It is all fantasy. That's great, and
I like to listen to it from time to time, but I really live out my
fantasy life in other ways. The sounds I am interested in producing are
much closer to what I and those around me experience directly. I am
interested in rhythm, but not so much in body rhythm, at least not these
days. By body rhythm I mean tempos and patterns that make you tap your
foot or want to dance. mortmain() has a strict "no body rhythm" policy.
The rhythmic stuff in the mortmain() work is all very precise "machine
rhythm", and even so it's my least favorite stuff.

>Thanks Joe.

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