The Room Tone of the City

A field recording four times over

I was sitting in a room, perhaps like the room you are in as you read this. It was very early on April 13, 2022, and I had been listening to the city I was in, Manhattan, as it woke, and as I woke along with it. Construction had already begun by the time I lifted my head, and I hit record on my phone to capture the combination of irritant and coziness that the muffled sounds of building provided. On the one hand, these were not comforting noises. On the other, they were quite quiet, especially from my tiny, 12-floor hotel room. I thought about how much the annoyance of the sound was tied not just to the time of day, but to how the small sounds could permeate my otherwise remote and private hotel room: how the sounds could be present without being overwhelming.

And so, having recorded 45 seconds of the sound from where I was seated, at a small desk, I decided to combine the outdoor sound with itself — to, in effect, magnify it. To accomplish this task, I played the initial 45-second recording on my laptop’s speakers, and recorded it as it sounded in the hotel room, while a variation on the outdoors naturally (or unnaturally, depending on your perspective) proceeded. Then I did this layering a second time, and then a third. Each time I added sound, the result was not particularly louder, or even all that eventful. There was clanging and droning, but there was still a lot of space present, not silent space but quiet space: the room tone of the city.

At first I thought I would just upload the fourth track, but instead I made a longer recording that presented the transition from one segment to the next. I treated each of the four recordings with a fade-in, and then I concatenated them, so just before the first recording ended, the second one began, and then the third, and then the fourth. And then I faded out the fourth track, so the full piece didn’t end suddenly. It’s quite remarkable how little happens in the finished piece, how the sound combined with a variant on itself multiple times is not that much more dense, not that much more full, than was the original. It speaks to both the relative quietude of morning Manhattan, and to the way the ear processes aberrations and unwanted occurrences. This is “Construction Kit.”

Track originally posted to

“First Two Thirds”

Experiments in parallel processing

This is an early-on trial run of a new mixer pedal I got. The pedal, the large green one in the center, provides for parallel processing of a single inbound signal. There is a send and return for each of the three channels. Each channel also has an EQ control, which allows for you to further refine which subset of the original signal is sent. I don’t employ the EQ here. Here I’m just using two of the mixer’s three channels, both going to loopers. Before one of the two loopers gets the signal, it first goes through an effects pedal. That’s the set-up.

The signal is just an electric guitar, being played with an EBow. The effects loop, the one on the left, has two layers of a random pitch feature, which makes it sound like a sample and hold patch from a synthesizer. The looper on the right is receiving the signal straight from the EBow-played guitar. I used the volume knob on the guitar to fade in and out of the swell.

All the loops were recorded and running before I recorded the video, which is why the EBow is laying there on the ground. The audio is coming from a small amplifier just to the right of the pedals. I wanted to try a more complicated set-up, but it’s been a long week and I didn’t want to get ahead of myself. More to the point, I did try a far more complicated set-up, with two additional effects pedals and a third looper, but it got to be too much. I’ll build up to it.

And that about covers what is heard and seen here. The mixer is the Electro-Harmonix Tri Parallel Mixer. The two loopers are Dittos from TC Electronic. The effects pedal is the Tensor from Red Panda. Video recorded on my phone, an iPhone 13 Pro, which clearly I’m simply holding in my hands.

Originally posted at

In the Mix

An ongoing series cross-posted from

Got this new mixer earlier this week. It’s both exactly what I wanted for parallel processing (the EQ is essential for separating subsets of the inbound signal), and perhaps the final such step before I switch gears and just go full-on SaGP (which is to say: software as guitar pedal).