Thursday, 27 November 2014

Using Radionics Radio - Sending in your Frequencies, and Avoiding 'Zero Readings'

The Radionics Radio website began asking for your thought-frequencies in May.  As documented previously, the project is a development of the groundbreaking electronic sound experiments of Delawarr Laboratories in the mid-20th century.  Through the art of radionics (where the mind is said to tune in to unknown energies), it was proposed that any thought can be converted into chords of frequencies.

The idea that concepts can be rendered as clusters of frequencies is an avenue of radionic thought that's still adhered to in some quarters - see The Electroherbalism Frequency Lists, for instance (based on the work of Dr. Rife).  The idea resonates with homeopathic medicine which is based on infinitely subtle 'essences'.  So, when a thing or a concept is intuitively linked to a set of frequencies, it is said by some that the combined waveform possesses this same 'essence' of the original concept.

If you haven't tried Radionics Radio already, I urge you to have a go.  If anything, it's a good crash course for radionics newcomers.   However, care must be taken to avoid 'zero readings'.

Since it's launch, there have now been 100 blank submissions to Radionics Radio.  These are not usable.  These submissions contain the thought - but not the frequencies.  Obviously, without the frequencies there is nothing Radionics Radio can practically do with the thought.

An example of an unusable 'zero reading' submission.  Has the user missed out on $10,000?
The Thought Box
To remedy any confusion, a simplified step-by-step guide to using the website can be found on the Radionics Radio blog.   It's essential that the list is populated with your frequencies.  The most important thing to know about the Radionics Radio app is the use of the '1' and '2' keys on the keyboard to switch between modes.   The cursor must also be rotated close to, or inside, the circle that appears around the Thought Box (to avoid accidentally clicking on other dials and buttons).

So...  what happens to the thought-frequencies?  Well... they are mathematically analysed for patterns, and also thought-coupling harmony experiments are taking place (more reports on this will appear soon).   But basically, the thoughts are broadcast acoustically and electromagnetically: modulated over ~104.4MHz via Resonance FM, London, from the aerial on the roof of Guy's Hospital.

There have only been a limited number of broadcasts so far due to insufficient thought-frequencies to fill half-hour slots.  So, please continue using the website.   Early experiments indicate that when the same thought (e.g. 'compassion', 'win lotto', etc.) with different frequencies from different people are all mixed, there is possibly a strengthened manifesting effect.

Whilst on the subject of non-physical phenomena, I should also explain that Resonance FM's outbound transmission room containing the feed to the aerial is permanently acoustically irradiated with each thought in sequence.  This is a room nobody generally goes in - it contains the active equipment to feed the aerial relay.  See the photo below:

The Radionics Radio 'secret' sonic irradiation in the inner sanctum of Resonance 104.4FM's studios.
This is how it works: a vintage loudspeaker box receives an audio feed from the Radionics Radio computer.  The quiet sound of each thought being played is constantly droning in this secret little room.  Every submitted thought is cycled through in 60-second segments.   What does this actually do?   Nothing physically.  It's not picked up by any microphones.  Nobody can hear it unless they put their ear to the door.  However, this is a form of acoustic homeopathy.  All the live feed equipment is acoustically exposed to the thought-frequencies.  This is in keeping with radionic philosophy (specifically the practical interventions of Delawarr).  The 'essence' of the thoughts are thus supposedly conveyed into the transmission - during every single Resonance show - unheard!

This unusual 'under-the-radar' 24/7 diffusion is another way to maximise any potential radionic effects.  It is merely a supplement to the actual Radionics Radio broadcasts, and the live irradiation events, but this constant 'non-physical' broadcast aims to satisfy anybody more ensconced in radionic philosophy who is considering higher level use Radionics Radio (such as submitting manifestations, wishes, etc. rather than abstract concepts [which are also very welcome of course!])

More thought-frequencies submissions are needed.   More data increases chances of discovering curious patterns or harmonisations.  Please visit and view the help video.

Submitted thought-frequencies are all played in sequence inside Resonance FM's transmission room.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Radionics Radio at the Science Gallery: Thought Diffusion Experiments

This coming Tuesday - 7th October - there will take place a diffusion of 'thought frequencies' at the Science Gallery Pop-Up in Boland House, London Bridge.  It forms part of the Radionics Radio project, which is an extension of the groundbreaking acoustic radionic experiments conducted by George and Marjorie de la Warr at their Delawarr Laboratories beginning in the late 1940s.

Radionics is a fringe science that, through Delawarr Laboratories, led to the first long-durational electronic sound experiments of the 20th century.  Delawarr was particularly concerned with the way electronic tones interact acoustically in the air - at the first International Congress of Radionics in London, May 1950, George de la Warr demonstrated interference patterns produced by multiple loudspeakers, each respectively playing single tones that radionically related to the body (for instance, the larynx mucous membrane: 133Hz, 264Hz and 455Hz).  The lively interaction of these frequencies in the air (as opposed to being mixed together into a single loudspeaker) was said to contribute to the 'acoustic therapy' process.

The classic Delawarr finger-stick rubber detector pad
Delawarr's acoustic frequency diffusion set-up c.1947
The clusters of frequencies were originally identified by concentrating on a thought whilst turning an electronic oscillator and rubbing a 'detector pad'.   Whenever the finger encountered a 'stick' - or some friction - on the pad, the frequency was noted down.  In this way, frequency combinations relating to thoughts were obtained.

Delawarr Laboratories never regarded their radionic research as music, but one of the first people to discern the correspondences between radionics and sound art was the electronic composer Daphne Oram.  Oram had an interest in Delawarr's sonic experiments, but her research in this direction remains unpublished.  However, there is a radionics undercurrent in her 1972 book An Individual Note of Music..., where she muses that objects and concepts possess wavepatterns that, through perception, intermodulate with our own individualised mental wavepatterns (hence the 'individual note' of the title).

"In every human being there will surely be tremendous chords of wavepatterns 'sounding out their notes'"  Daphne Oram, An Individual Note of Music, Sound and Electronics, 1972.

Anybody remotely interested in electronic music and its origins will find interest in these experiments, and the Radionics Radio irradiations at the Science Gallery are quite noteworthy in that such experiments have never been trialled before on this magnitude.   The audience will be privy to combinations of 'thought frequencies' harvested from the Radionics Radio web application (the latest version v2, enhanced by Jonny Stutters, offers more accuracy and wider compatibility).  The irradiations will also be broadcast on Resonance 104.4FM at a later date.  Delawarr applied for a radio broadcasting license in the late 1960s to similarly broadcast audio radionic tones, but were refused permission by the GPO who stated "we are unable to agree to the use of radio in the way you propose."  Only now is this vision becoming reality with the help of Sound and Music.

Please visit to convert your thoughts into frequencies.

Additional thanks to Jonny Stutters, Dr. Ed Baxter, Peter Lanceley for assistance with the diffusion experiments, and John Dignan for the generous donation of audio equipment.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Radionics Radio Application v.1 Goes Live!

A radionic broadcasting instrument at the Science Museum
A small but distinguished audience bore witness to the first ever presentation of the fringe science of radionics at the Science Museum last Friday.  Radionics has long since been at odds with established science, so the convergence is quite significant.  Admittedly, it was unofficially sanctioned: the exhibiting of the Delawarr radionic broadcasting instrument was carried out under the umbrella of Resonance FM, temporarily installed in Aleks Kolkowski's Exponential Horn room at the museum.  The presentation formed part of my Radionics Radio launch show (featuring fringe-science expert Mark O. Pilkington) - an exciting new experimental project that pushes electronic sound to/beyond its limits!  More on that in a moment...  But you may be wondering: what is radionics?

In America, radionics is often termed psionics - the psi prefix emphasising the psychical aspect.  Radionics began as a method of diagnosing and treating illnesses, but gradually expanded its application to agriculture, mineralogy, finding faults in cars (as described in Bruce Copen's Radiesthesia for Home and Garden), making wishes, and finding lost aeroplanes, and is now bewilderingly wide-ranging in its scope.

General radionic theory posits that it is possible to embody a thought or concept as a run of numbers or frequencies.  The most important component in a piece of radionic equipment is the user.  The user thinks of a thought, rubs his/her finger on a detector pad - a smooth or slightly rubberised surface - and at the same time turns a control until a 'stick' or some friction is intuited by the user.  This indicates the control's position now corresponds to the thought, and the other controls are positioned in the same way.

Radionics is characterised by the use of elaborate electronically-styled equipment, resembling radios, or even analogue synthesisers.  The idea that a thought carries with it its own waveform was central to the groundbreaking research of Delawarr Laboratories in Oxford.  They sought a physical basis for radionics, and in the process, built many powered radionics devices that actually did produce electronic waveforms in a similar manner to synthesisers of the time.  The author Duncan Laurie, in The Secret Art, recognised how Delawarr had preempted experimental music: he concludes, "without realising it and with little or no subsequent credit, the De La Warrs had initiated and explored an important venue for artistic discovery".

The Delawarr Multi-Oscillator (with 'detector pad')
In the classic book detailing Delawarr experiments, Matter in the Making (1966), Langston Day and George De La Warr write:
"It appears that thought is a complex vibration in some respect akin to known forms of radiation. (...) With sufficiently delicate instruments it should be possible to analyse a thought, and this in fact is the case. (...) Suppose a thought is held in mind, such as the general concept of some particular disease.  If the frequency dial of an oscillator is slowly turned, a stick will be occur on the detector pad at a series of different frequencies.  When these are listed they are known as a 'frequency run'."

In the mid-1960s, Delawarr planned to broadcast specially devised therapeutic audio frequency clusters into people's homes via a radio broadcast transmitter, but the GPO didn't grant the laboratories a license, and the project was never realised.  But now, in conjunction with Resonance FM and Sound and Music, a homage to these experiments is underway.

Anybody can now attempt to convert their thoughts into frequencies using a specially developed web application: Radionics Radio.  Any conceivable thought can be converted to a 'frequency run', from "green grass" to "light birds hooting in the trees, what will the day bring?" (incidentally, these two thoughts were merged and broadcast at the Science Museum on Friday).  Submitted 'frequency runs' will then be reconstituted into tone clusters and broadcast on Resonance FM. [Thanks to users 'Asterism' and 'Radiomind' for those two thought-frequency submissions!]

Users of Radionics Radio should bear in mind that some patience, concentration and perseverance is needed.  The web application is modelled closely along 'medical' lines in keeping with the original Delawarr instruments.  A help video can be seen on Youtube:

The whys and wherefores of radionics are outside the scope of this blog post, suffice to say that in order to get any results from it whatsoever, it is necessary to tautly suspend your disbelief!  To anybody interested in sound and electronic / experimental music, Delawarr Laboratories' medical / intuitive experiments with soundwaves (starting in the late 1940s) form a fascinating parallel universe of electronic sonics.  Some more information can be found on the Sound and Music blog - which is highly recommended for newcomers to radionics.  More to come....

Radionics Radio can be accessed at  Special thanks to Sound and Music, Diana Di Pinto, Mark Pilkington, Chris Weaver and Ed Baxter.

Friday, 6 June 2014

A Robotic, Artificial Intelligence 'Local Poet'

On Friday I was a guest on William English's Wavelengh on Resonance FM (currently in residence in Aleks Kolkowski's Exponential Horn installation at the Science Museum).  It was a broadly book-based theme, and we both brought with us various books and ephemera.  W. English, being an established book-dealer, presented some absolute gems as predicted.  I'd anticipated that my own selections would be lacklustre in comparison, so I attempted to dig out some 'exclusives' for him.   (The 'exclusives' may not be particularly satisfying, but they're as-yet-unheard exclusives nonetheless!).

In 1996, a cache of poetry pamphlets by a local poet named Bill Cooper were discarded by a bookshop where my dad worked.  The title of the publication was The People's Poet.  Unhappily, it appeared that The People were not so interested in The People's Poet, and all copies were thrown out - however, I rescued a few.  Bill Cooper, through his poetry, appears a down-to-earth romantic who likes chicken, sparking Russett cider, roast pork, prawns, beef, beer, darts, Kirsty Macoll and moments of tenderness.  His publication started me off collecting what I used to call "crap poetry" - but now the term "rustic poetry" seems more respectful.

Some other examples of ultra-middle-of-the-road poetry.
Here are two examples of Bill Cooper's poetry:

Barbed Wire Dreams

I've been dreaming
Barbed Wire Dreams
That cut and shock inside.

I've not been sleeping too well

Irish Coffee

If feels so cold
And damp and chilly
I wish I could be
An Irish Coffee.

Bill Cooper, in his obscurity, represents an archetype of rustic local poetry.  His ultra-middle-of-the-road style was so rustic, in fact, that it appeared to me that it could be easily replicated by statistically analysing the text and generating new "robot Cooper" poems using a computer running a Markov chain, that is, a system of probabilistic text analysis.  In practice, however, it was quite difficult.  A few years ago, I typed out the entire text into a special computer program I had built for this purpose (using the data processing parts of MaxMSP), creating a tweakable Markov chain - the foundations of 'artificial intelligence'.  This program would be a 'robot local poet' modelled on Bill Cooper, and it was hoped that the poetry generated would retain the distinctive deliciously bland style of Cooper himself.

The results were generally too abstract to pass as true 'Cooperisms'.  However, certain iterations of text generation spawned some rustic profundities that seemed passable as Bill Cooper musings.   I added punctuation, inflection, and fed the results into a speech synthesiser.  The results were played on Wavelength, and can now also be heard below:

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Clickety-Click update : Plagiarism in the Music-Hall

H.F. Juleene (aka John Parsons)
Of late I've been delving deeper into the overseas exploits of H. F. Juleene and Dot D'Alcorn with their Mephisto electro-musical entertainment.  As stated previously, their Mephisto act was stolen from that of J. B. Schalkenbach, but they toured overseas in places Schalkenbach hadn't set foot.  To its credit, Mephisto attained some originality from Dot D'Alcorn's role as Mephisto's operator; she was described (by Juleene himself) as "the only lady electrician in terrestrial orbit".

Earlier this month The Wire's website hosted a rendition of Juleene's Clickety-Click, performed by Fari Bradley, featuring an electrical clicker built by myself.  The song was published in score form around 1887, and is highly likely to be scored for Mephisto, with the clicks played on an electrical adjunct.

I've made a recent discovery that adds a new dimension to Clickety-Click and demolishes its claims to (musical) originality...

In 1887, Mephisto was touring around the US, playing in Pittsburg, Philadelphia, Chicago and New York.  Incidentally, some curious things happened on this tour - at the Lyceum Theatre in Chicago, June 10th 1887, Mephisto's bare wires were rigged onto chairs to electrically shock the audience at key points during the act.  An old man suffered an injury and sued both Juleene and the management.  Juleene and D'Alcorn saw the potential for publicity in this, and sought to contrive another incident of this sort, which they did later that year at the Brooklyn Theatre by consorting with the management to publicise another - fake - lawsuit.

Compared to other acts of the time Mephisto was a novelty, but it remained a rip-off to a gobsmacking extent: Juleene piled audacity upon audacity.  The new discovery concerning Clickety-Click reveals yet more audaciousness.  Whilst in Philadelphia, Juleene was evidently exposed to a very similar song called Clickety-Click March (c.1881) by Fred T. Baker.  Baker's version also featured the "clickety-clicks" written beneath the score, but the piece did not emerge from any electro-musical context.  Juleene appears to have retranscribed it, slightly altered some parts, and stamped his name onto it when it was published as Clickety-Click in The Musical Million (a weekly periodical published by Dot D'Alcorn's father, Henri D'Alcorn), presumably safe in the knowledge that no UK readers would recognise the melody.  Evidence still suggests that the so-called "electrofanatic" Juleene intended the clicks to be played electrically, but this episode highlights the smoke-and-mirrors nature of the music hall - where all is not what it seems, and everything is touched by piracy.

Plagiarism and priority disputes are still a concern today.  This is especially so in electroacoustic music where compositions are characterised less by 'songcraft' and more by basic 'active principles': harnessing natural phenomena where compositions are goaded to emerge almost automatically with minimal composerly intervention.  Such 'active principles' are so elemental that today's electroacoustic composers often clash over things as simple as amplified beetles on tin foil.  Recently, Prof. Nic Collins visited London from Chicago, and as we conversed on this topic in the King's Arms pub, he gave his own perspective.  Many of his students, he said, often proffer ideas that appear to hold new promise, only be told that "Alvin Lucier did that thirty years ago".  Lucier was Collins' former teacher and was composing experimental music throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s that rigorously employed natural acoustic principles.  Indeed, Lucier has perhaps explored all the most elemental 'active principles' for principle-driven electroacoustic musical compositions.  But anyways... More on this anon.... There's no need to be defeatist about the paucity of unexplored 'active principles', as the principles are incredibly variable depending on circumstances and environmental factors, and there is much variety still to be had from things as elemental as, say, feedback... and clicking...

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Clickety-Click - The earliest surviving electrical musical score?

The Wire's website now hosts a short recreation of what is believed to be one of the earliest surviving scores for an electrical instrument.  It is called Clickety-Click and is written by H. F. Juleene (aka John Parsons) - one half of the Victorian electro-musical act Mephisto, starring Dot D'Alcorn: "The Only Lady Electrician in the World".  The piece was published circa 1887.

For the recreation, I built a basic electrical-tapper and foot-switch combo, and Fari Bradley played the piece on Resonance FM's upright piano.  But it should be said that there's no explicit indication that the scored 'click-e-ty-clicks' were specifically intended for an electric adjunct.  However, the evidence strongly suggests it was intended for Mephisto.  (The publication in which it appears - The Musical Million - also published Juleene's The Mephisto Gavotte [referred to in a previous post]).

Clickety-Click isn't entirely representative of the electro-musical style.  One imagines that the scoring of its 'electrical' parts suffers from the constraints of traditional notation, and even the melody itself is wrung through the wringer of The Musical Million's popular stylings.  If we examine the score carefully, the actual sound 'click-e-ty-click' savours of an electric button - connected to an electromagnetic percussor - being pushed twice.  The two 'click-...-ty-...' sounds, synchronised with the first and last beats of the beamed three-quaver chords represent the 'on' state: the leading edge of the trigger, whilst the '...-e-...-click' sounds represent the automatic recoil in the 'off' state.

An actual description of the Mephisto entertainment illuminates the extent to which electricity was employed.  (The thematic and technical aspects of Mephisto were based heavily on J.B. Schalkenbach's electro-musical act):

"Bounding about amid flashes of lightning and peals of thunder, she [Dot D'Alcorn] explains how she means to electrify mankind by her magic powers, and how by the mere touch of her fingers on the keys of the organ storms shall rage, cannons roar, birds warble, churches come into view, ships sail, and railway engines their 'daily course of duty' run.  Presently, sitting down at the instrument, the young lady commences a series of operatic airs, sometimes 'pianisimo' and at other times 'organic'.  But the wonder is that as the music proceeds strange effects are produced.  A canary trills forth its accompaniment, a cuckoo calls, drums hidden away somewhere take up the oracle, and dazzling light flashes out for a moment among the audience and is gone before the people can turn round to see 'what's up'.  Castanets suspended in the air keep time to the melody, and an arrangement of cups and saucers half-way down the hall respond to the musical strains.  A cannon suddenly goes off in the gallery, and before the surprise it has evoked disappears the audience notice a miniature church in one corner suddenly lighted up.  Then, with a whistle and a snort, the circular railway sets in motion; a ship above the stage is seen buffeting with the waves, and a lighthouse throws its lurid rays around.  Vivid lights appear in various places, and as suddenly vanish; flashes of lightning cross the hall, a salvo of artillery is given, the rushing sound of a pelting storm can be heard, and, amid a crash, and peal, and flash of fire, 'Mephisto' disappears."
Dot D'Alcorn aka Susette D'Alcorn in pre-Mephisto days (circa 1883) dressed as 'Gentleman John' - a song that cocks a snook at young men-about-town of wealthy parentage.
More on this can be found in the current issue of The Wire #364...  Click to Clickety-Click to hear the recreation.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

The Wire #364 - and Interestingnesses on the Art of Noises

The latest issue of The Wire (#364) contains my surveyal of the forgotten electro-musical entertainments of the Victorian music halls.  (The electric musical tradition is not to be confused with electronic music, which has different origins, as described in a previous posting).  In the article, the centenary of the Italian Futurists' London debut of the Art of Noises is used as a springboard to examine earlier music hall performers who played advanced forms of 'descriptive' music involving electrical inventions, electric shocks upon members of the audience, imitations of locomotives, storms, battles, etc., and bombastic pronouncements in the stage press.

Whereas Victorian descriptive entertainments sought to simulate recognisable real-world sounds within musical themes, the Futurists radically inverted this: they instead sought to simulate music itself using noises derived from 20th century hubbub - forcibly modulating noises into musical frameworks.  The Art of Noises went way beyond simple imitations of real-world sounds, but nevertheless, superficially it retained 'descriptive' stylings despite efforts to transcend all previous traditions: it can be seen in the titles of the movements, the nods to the noises of urban life, and the provision of programme notes.  Russolo's notes reveal an advanced mode of listening: "my noise spirals are not mere impressionist reproductions of the surrounding life, but synthetically-treated noise emotions.  In listening to the combined and harmonized notes of the Exploders, the Whistlers, and the Gurglers, one scarcely thinks of motor cars, engines, or moving waters, but experiences a great Futurist absolutely unforeseen artistic emotion which resembles nothing but itself".

Luigi Russolo at the Coliseum, 1914
To shed more light on the Art of Noises concerts at the London Coliseum, I have transcribed here one of the most interesting articles about the event.  This lengthy text appears to have gone uncited in Futurist discussions.  It appears in the July 1914 issue of Musical Opinion, and is written by the editor of that journal, the organist Harvey Grace (1874-1944) under his pseudonym 'Autolycus'.

Accounts of Luigi Russolo's London Coliseum performances are few and far between, and some information appears almost contradictory.  It is reported that Futurist mouthpiece F.T. Marinetti gave a rambling speech in broken English on the first night, whereas other sources - presumably referring to subsequent performances - say that Marinetti had discoursed in Italian and was apparently cut short (see the 1930 autobiography of the manager of the Coliseum, Arthur Croxton, Crowded Nights and Days [Croxton's account is copied in Felix Barker's 1957 The House that Stoll Built]).  The Guardian appears to refer to the second night, reporting that Marinetti was absent, leaving Russolo in charge.  Elsewhere, C.R.W. Nevinson's Paint and Prejudice (1937) mentions that a gramophone playing Elgar accompanied the later performances to allay the heckling crowd.

To give some background to these UK performances - it should be said that it was first announced in November 1913 that in a matter of weeks the Futurists "threaten to inflict their music upon us" (the tone of the press was already negative before the first instrument had even touched down in the UK).  One single noise intoner (or, as they were termed at the time - "noise tuner") had a low-key exhibition in London, January 1914 and was said to sound "like a lion roaring".  The Art of Noises was finally debuted at the Coliseum on the week commencing 15th June 1914, and the musicians playing the noise intoners were borrowed from the Coliseum's own in-house orchestra.

Intriguingly, on the 24th June, the Futurists' noise intoners were played at the annual Printer's Pie dinner at the Savoy Hotel, with the noise functioning as a punchline for Hugh Spottiswoode's long, rambling dinner speech (alluding to Marinetti's own rambling introduction to the Art of Noises).  The conductor of the Futurist performance was supposed to be Sir Henry Wood (who had conducted Schoenberg performances earlier that year), but he was unable to attend, so Arthur Croxton - manager of the Coliseum - took his role, and was made-up to look like him by the famous master of disguises Willy Clarkson.  It was a raucous evening with practical jokes, a baby elephant's indiscretion, intonarumori punctuating the speeches, and a boxing match between two characters who were revealed to be illustrators John Hassall and Tony Sarg.

In the light of the reception of the Art of Noises (where the audience supplied its own onslaught of noises) it is interesting to peruse Marinetti's own statements on the music hall - his essay "The Meaning of the Music Hall" published in the Daily Mail in November 1913.

The illustrated transcriptions of Autolycus' musings and Marinetti's variety theatre manifesto are here:
Autolycus on The Art of Noises (1914) [transcribed from Musical Opinion July 1914]
F.T. Marinetti - The Meaning of the Music Hall (1913)

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Exact Change #8 - Acoustic Circuit Bending: Hacking the Physical World

The current issue of the e-zine Exact Change (No. 8) features my illustrated article 'A Primer of Post­-Electronic Music and the Alchemical Subharmonic Lottery'.  This gives an outline of what I'm inclined to call 'acoustic circuit-bending' - a technique revolving around electromagnetic feedback fields and the acoustic coupling of found materials - a form of 'post-electronic' soundmaking.

The concept of 'post-electronic music' was first elucidated in my rambling, incoherent 2005 book Dropping Out where attention was drawn to the benefits of electrically sustained vibrations in mechanically drawing out combinations of subharmonics in acoustic apparatuses.  This inversely mirrors somewhat the emphasis on harmonics in traditional electronic tone building.  The practice was tied to dumpster-diving, where unpremeditated object combinations can be observed.  I originally wanted to recreate the complex sounds sometimes heard when travelling on decrepit old trains - and this precipitated a peculiar habit of resonating every ferric object I could find.

To my present shame, Dropping Out incriminated me for multiple indiscretions.  The foremost was my description of attempts to resonate rows of lampposts.  The concept had such genuine sonic promise, and it was not my intention to deliberately antagonise.  The acoustic potential of lampposts can be beheld by using a soft-headed mallet to strike the tubular neck, and immediately placing one's ear to the lamppost.  Because the tops of lampposts are usually open (to prevent build-up of humidity / moisture?), bits of leafy grit and muck accumulate inside the tube, and the striking of the mallet shakes down all this grit in a harmonic metallic cascade.  Many different partials and upper modes of vibration momentarily manifest themselves in this luscious sound.  Extensive trials also reveal that although lampposts - clustered in a particular street - are standardised in their construction, every lamppost has slightly differently pitched resonant frequencies.

Any low fundamental tones - typically associated with pronged structures - are absent in lampposts.  They are heavily damped to prevent this.  One may imagine, in some parallel universe where lampposts are undamped, on a blustery day they may gently hum in the wind: aeolian lampposts.  I dreamt that powerful electromagnets in cradles could be clamped to the necks, and rows of lampposts could all resonate in a chorus...  'Bowing' lampposts with giant Ebows.  But, because of this damping, electromagnetic resonation is impractical, and only the higher frequencies are accessible, therefore a piezo-electric system was devised.  The project, however, was scuppered in a 'disgraceful' attempt to have each lamppost self-powered by step-down transformers drawing off their own mains supply.  This is described in embarrassing language in Dropping Out (a juvenile production - and I'm relieved to say that copies are not generally available at the time of writing this).  Subsequent to this, some experiments were made with bits of lamppost and other street furniture.

Cover to a manual relating to a slice of errant lamp-post resold as an experimental instrument (circa 2003).
Resonating railings (photo courtesy of Toby Clarkson)
A similar effect to the imagined streets of resonating lampposts can be realised by resonating railings.  Like a grille, each rung has an ever-so-slightly different resonant frequency (a typical railing has a very low fundamental tone of around 30-50Hz).  Cardboard, plastic or wooden boxes can be wedged into the resonated railings to act as sounding bodies to diffuse the sound or introduce buzzing subharmonics.  When multiple railing rungs are resonated, an internally conflicted drone is produced that is both lively and trance-inducing when concentrated upon.

I was embroiled in an interesting altercation last year during a busk in Cambridge with my electromagnetic apparatuses.  I had procured some coinage on previous occasions through busking on my resonated wok toneshapers powered by car batteries.  On this occasion, I was busking with my baking tray resonator (which drones and alters its harmonic/subharmonic content according to the arrangement of coins inside the tray - £17.24 was obtained on this particular day) alongside resonated railings that I had engrafted my gubbins onto.  Two Police Community Support Officers accosted me.  I had assumed they would take umbrage at my electromagnetic 'EBowing' of street furniture, but this was not the issue.  Apparently, doing toneshaping drones is a form of begging(!).  A handwritten sign encouraged passersby to throw coins or paper notes into the EM resonated baking tray to alter the tone of the drone.  I argued that it was plainly *busking* which is perfectly legal - hence the acoustic element.  But they disagreed - it was begging because there was no "music".  We then argued very publicly about what constitutes music, touching upon every argumental cliché that has ever been farted out in amateur music-theory debates since the 1900s, but the argument took a surreal turn, because the PCSOs then accused me of committing a public order offence by simply protesting my case to them!   The argument itself became an offence!   I couldn't argue with that, although it was they who initiated the argument.

Read all about acoustic circuit bending and the use of electromagnetic coils to resonate objects in Exact Change #8.  In fact, 'reading' is a bit old hat now.  Being an ultra-modern e-zine, you can also look, listen and watch!

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Entangled Histories: Digging out Electronic Music's Roots (or, what's electronic, and what's not)

Acoustic Futurist noise-intoner,
London, 1914
With the centenary of the Italian Futurist's first UK performance of the Art of Noises fast approaching, various rustlings are underway to commemorate the occasion.  There are stirrings at Resonance 104.4FM: the expert engineer and sound designer Peter McKerrow is now working on some Futurist acoustic noise-intoners for an upcoming happening - the specifics still under wraps - but these replicas promise to boast some novel visual quirks that will see the 100-year-old acoustic noise-makers (that one reviewer in 1914 described as "sausage machines") brought "BANG" up to date (to use a Futurist noise effect).  For this project I researched the original noise-intoner (intonarumori) patent to assist the construction, and also set myself a challenge of building a prototype entirely from found materials.

In my own rather slapdash attempt (built inside a "red telephone box" CD holder) I took the liberty of dispensing with the soundmaking handle.   The pitch lever (an arm from a hydraulic door closer) remains in place, but the actual handle to produce sound is removed.  Giving into temptation, I decided to replace it with a resonating coil system to electromagnetically resonate the metal string (as an eBow does) - bringing the noise-intoners a big step closer to the proverbial 'mechanical synthesiser.'  My skew-whiff prototype has thus taken a big departure from the original, and now begins to resemble a post-electronic miraculous agitation apparatus...

Electromagneticised noise-intoner - built from found materials
But here I should skid to a halt.  Tony Herrington recently wrote a great piece on The Wire website - "Turn that Noise down!" - drawing attention to the clumsiness of an excitable electronic music collective that has misrepresented Luigi Russolo's Art of Noises as being the birth of electronic music(!).  Woefully, perspectives on Futurist music have been skewed by modern popular accounts erroneously lumping the Futurists in with early electronic developments.   The Futurists did play some "electric" noise-intoners, *but* these only featured electric beaters to strike the strings - the soundstuff itself was purely mechanical, and bore no relation to any electronic instruments.  Regarding my own electromagnetic rebuilding of a noise-intoner with electromagnetic resonators, I must stress that I am bastardising the original!

Noise-intoner patent
Let's take this opportunity to look at a forgotten pre-history of electronic music, that is, electronic music in its proper definition: electronically produced tone...  As Herrington says, truly, the Futurists are not implicated with the history of electronic music - the history rather circumnavigates around them, tacitly acknowledging, but shy of their presence.  So let's leave the Futurists behind and examine the true beginnings of electronic music...

The principles of electronic music were established in the early 19th century, but electric loudspeakers were not perfected until the early 20th century, so the early quiet experiments did not lend themselves to grand performance - remaining confined to the laboratory.  It was the perfection of the electric loudspeaker that gave electronic music its "mouth" so to speak: giving the electrons a means to sing.  In Britain, the earliest loudspeaker-derived electronic sounds were being dabbled with by the now overlooked electrical engineer Alfred Graham (1856-1929) - his work led to the apparent first UK performances of a prototype electronic instrument to junior scientific audiences at London's Royal Institution in late December 1895 and early 1896.

Alfred Graham was the founder of Alfred Graham & Company (continued by his son of the same name) who put their horn-like electric loudspeakers on the market in 1887.  Graham, through his experiments in telephonic 'amplification', noted that when a carbon granule microphone was connected to a loudspeaker through a battery, and the microphone and speaker brought close together, a musical pitch would emerge - feedback.  The circuit was simple: carbon microphone, loudspeaker horn and a battery (not forgetting a switch).  Alfred Graham patented the soundmaking technique in 1894, and also specified a possible musical application where the microphone and loudspeaker are acoustically joined through a pipe with holes cut in it.  This alters the feedback's pitch by altering the resonance of the pipe.

One of Alfred Graham's 'electric flute' circuits
In his 1894 patent titled "A New or Improved Method and Means of Producing Sound" Graham suggests that the timbre of the tone may also be altered:
"The pitch, loudness or quality of the sound produced may be varied by varying the battery current in strength or changing its direction [polarity] or by changing the forms of the trumpets [loudspeaker horns] or varying the relative position of the instruments [the microphone and loudspeaker]"

Graham's technique was adopted as a showpiece by scientific lecturer John Gray McKendrick (1841-1926).  McKendrick, as a physiologist, wanted to amplify the sounds of the human body.  Such levels of amplification were hard to achieve (no electronic valves existed).  Inevitably, his experiments in pre-electronic amplification met with the extremities of self-oscillating feedback states described in Graham's patent.  McKendrick found this particularly inspiring and wrote a short paper on it in 1896 titled "Note on Mr. Alfred Graham's Method of producing Sound by an Electrical Arrangement".  He enthused that the apparatus "suggests the possibility of constructing a new kind of musical instrument.  Thus diaphragms might be tuned to the notes of the scale, and by pressing on keys, and thus completing circuits, musical notes having something of the quality of those of brass instruments might be produced.  Possibly, also, by piercing holes at proper distances in the flexible tube, these holes might be so fingered as to produce different sounds, and thus we might have an electric flute."

John G. McKendrick's sketch of the soundmaking circuit
McKendrick exhibited the electronic sounds at the aforementioned 1895 Royal Institution lectures in London, where he presented a series of demonstrations for young audiences dealing with sound, hearing and speech.  From what I can tell from limited information, he presented the tones unadorned - in a scientific manner - rather than demonstrating any adaptations to play musical ditties.  This was intended to inspire the young audience about the possibilities of electrical sound production - a technique to be refined by a future generation.

Alfred Graham did not market or pursue the musical possibilities of electronic sound.  Both his and McKendrick's experiments are apparently absent from the 'official' histories of electronic music.  Pushing telephonic sound to its limits to make feedback was rather too ahead of its time, and what was more useful at this time was the prospect of basic telephonic amplification.  Thus, Graham pursued the perfected reproduction of sounds rather than the generation of sounds.  He helped establish on-board communication systems on British naval ships.  His company later popularised the Amplion loudspeaker - designed specifically for radio sets in the 1920s.  It could be said therefore that Alfred Graham helped give electronic music its mouth...