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Listening to art.
Playing with audio.
Sounding out technology.
Composing in code.

tag: score

We Belong to the Sound of the Words

A vacation week at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Over the past 12 months, I’ve slowly undergone a quite unexpected later-in-life conversion, specifically to the works of William Shakespeare. Especially unexpected if you happen to have known me in the insufferable ages between 18 and 21.

Once upon a time, I got my degree in English at a good school having managed to wend my way through its curriculum, both overt and hidden, while severely limiting my Bard input. I didn’t take a single course dedicated to Shakespeare’s work, requiring some caginess on my part, given that many of the school’s buildings were designed to look like we actually were in Great Britain, and that one of my more famous professors would later, enacting exactly the sort of arms-race overstatement that turned off a young student such as myself, attribute to Shakespeare the very “invention of the human.”

And yet, several decades later, the plays and poems (the characters and the tales, the words and the culture, the institution of the theater and the mechanical opportunities of iambic pentameter) are all new and alive to me. (The how and why of it comprise a separate story.) I got to see a gender-swapped “Hamlet” at the Globe in London last July, featuring a deaf Guildenstern, a casting gambit that resulted in a cascade of ingenious minor text and staging decisions (bonus: Pearce Quigley of The Detectorists as Rosencrantz), and it closed with a choreographed jig (an Elizabethan norm, which Takeshi Kitano fans will recall from the ecstatic end of his 2003 Zatoichi remake) so emotionally overwhelming that I found myself not just clapping along but … crying. Crying? The only tears I previously associated with Shakespeare were the rare moments in college when, despite my course-catalog subterfuge, I was forced to read the stuff. That same England trip I got to visit the Bard’s home turf of Stratford-upon-Avon. Now, don’t worry. I didn’t go all Jerusalem Syndrome. Or Arden Syndrome, or whatever the horrible Anglophile equivalent might be. I just took a bunch of tours and ate a lot of savory pies.

And then this past week I spent three nights watching as many evening productions at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in the lovely, if dense with pollen (the true serpent underneath those innocent flowers), town of Ashland: first “All’s Well That Ends Well,” then “Macbeth” (lacking a jig, sadly), and finally “As You Like It.” The music and sound were strong with this festival, these highlights in particular:

“All’s Well That Ends Well” (directed by Tracy Young) took place in a mix of period and present day, the sets and characters a steampunk-lite combination of courtly and current. One musical through line was, of all things, Pat Benatar’s mid-1980s pop hit “We Belong,” a sample of which was looped and used as a background cue, before the song itself erupted from the mouth of Helen(a), as performed by Royer Bockus. The multi-talented Bockus has so much music in herself, her skills perfectly fit director Young’s many stratagems: feminist upstart, class-system defier, adolescent fantasist. Amy Altadona is credited as both composer and sound designer, so presumably the Benatar bits were a collaboration between Altadona and Young. In addition, Maudlin, played by Jane Lui in an expanded role, performed mid-scene accompaniment from a keyboard visible up in one of the faux-Tudor set’s balconies. If Helen’s penchant for breaking into song (part Glee, part Dennis Potter) brought to the production a fully fleshed character shuffling off the bounds of both eras’ societal and gender strictures, Lui’s performance (veering humorously between diegetic and non-diegetic, between duties on-screen, as it were, and off) tied the whole thing together.

Roughly one half of the musical revelations in “As You Like It” are Palmer Hefferan’s; the other half are Rachel Crowl’s. Hefferan is the production’s composer, serving director Rosa Joshi’s apparent desire to draw a stark distinction between the stultifying rigors of the court and the free-flowing nature of, well, of nature. The production opens with incredible clockwork ensemble choreography, essentially the exact opposite of the Elizabethan jig: rather than closing with catharsis, it opens in bondage. The daunting ticktock of the superb clock-like music (think The Prisoner or Watchmen as scored by Michael Nyman) finds its alter ego with large, loose-hanging chimes in the trees of Arden, the forest where Rosalind, now disguised as Ganymede, runs into Orlando, her life-altering crush. While their romance unfurls comically, it is Crowl whom the audience falls for. She is credited as both the banished duke (on-stage) and music captain (behind the scenes). Her considerable authority, all generous grinning swagger amid the makeshift woodland family, finds purpose in the guitar-strumming leadership of the misfit characters’ musical troupe.

I’m guessing this won’t be the last time my newfound affection for Shakespeare will bleed into my writing about sound. I have photos, for example, to post of the door knocker of the church where the Bard was buried. There’s an interesting story (a relic of sonic culture) associated with it, one that doesn’t require moving bones to excavate. That’ll have to wait, though. This journal entry has reached its necessary end.

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Personal Soundtrack 3.0

More from Neal Stephenson's Fall: Or, Dodge in Hell

Raising the bar for adaptive video-game music: Your favorite composer is digitally resurrected near you in the Singularity, and proceeds to improvise a score to accompany your avatar’s actions. This passage connects with one much earlier in the book, when we first come across the music of a band called Pompitus Bombasticus, and the story digresses into various examples of how the music we listen to informs our perceptions at the time we are listening. This is the opposite of a spoiler. There was zero doubt at the moment Pompitus Bombasticus was introduced into what the book calls Meatspace that a parallel, or mirror, rendition wouldn’t surface later in the virtual/digital world. (From Neal Stephenson’s new novel, Fall: Or, Dodge in Hell, at roughly 55% of the way in. I’m occasionally collating observations about sound in the book as I make my way through its nearly 900 pages. See, previously: “The Hell of It.)

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Disquiet Junto Project 0361: Zork Diaries

The Assignment: Score a classic interactive fiction.

Each Thursday in the Disquiet Junto group, a new compositional challenge is set before the group’s members, who then have just over four days to upload a track in response to the assignment. Membership in the Junto is open: just join and participate. (A SoundCloud account is helpful but not required.) There’s no pressure to do every project. It’s weekly so that you know it’s there, every Thursday through Monday, when you have the time.

Deadline: This project’s deadline is Monday, December 3, 2018, at 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are on. It was posted shortly after noon, California time, on Thursday, November 29, 2018.

Tracks will be added to the playlist for the duration of the project.

These are the instructions that went out to the group’s email list (at tinyletter.com/disquiet-junto):

Disquiet Junto Project 0361: Zork Diaries
The Assignment: Score a classic interactive fiction.

Step 1: Zork is the title of one of the earliest interactive text adventure games. The complete text of a spoiler-laden full run of the game is at the following URL, housed at Georgia Tech, or the Georgia Institute of Technology:

http://bitly.com/junto-zork

Step 2: If you’re not familiar with Zork and/or with interactive text adventures, consider reading up. Otherwise, just think of the script as exactly that: the bare-bones narrative of a story.

Step 3: Compose a score (along with, if possible, sound effects) for the first page or so of Zork. It is suggested that you begin with the fifth line of provided text (“West of House”) and end about a page down, where it reads “The door reluctantly opens to reveal a rickety staircase descending into darkness.”

Bonus Alternates: (A) You can, of course, end sooner or later. (B) You can, of course, play the game yourself and score the moves you make. (C) You can, of course, sort out a means to record alternate, forking versions, based on various potential outcomes of different decisions when playing the game. (D) You might open with a brief opening-credits theme.

Six More Important Steps When Your Track Is Done:

Step 1: Include “disquiet0361” (no spaces or quotation marks) in the name of your track.

Step 2: If your audio-hosting platform allows for tags, be sure to also include the project tag “disquiet0361” (no spaces or quotation marks). If you’re posting on SoundCloud in particular, this is essential to subsequent location of tracks for the creation a project playlist.

Step 3: Upload your track. It is helpful but not essential that you use SoundCloud to host your track.

Step 4: Post your track in the following discussion thread at llllllll.co:

https://llllllll.co/t/disquiet-junto-project-0361-zork-diaries/

Step 5: Annotate your track with a brief explanation of your approach and process.

Step 6: Then listen to and comment on tracks uploaded by your fellow Disquiet Junto participants.

Other Details:

Deadline: This project’s deadline is Monday, December 3, 2018, at 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are on. It was posted shortly after noon, California time, on Thursday, November 29, 2018.

Length: The length of your track is up to you.

Title/Tag: When posting your track, please include “disquiet0361” in the title of the track, and where applicable (on SoundCloud, for example) as a tag.

Upload: When participating in this project, post one finished track with the project tag, and be sure to include a description of your process in planning, composing, and recording it. This description is an essential element of the communicative process inherent in the Disquiet Junto. Photos, video, and lists of equipment are always appreciated.

Download: Please consider setting your track as downloadable and allowing for attributed remixing (i.e., a Creative Commons license permitting non-commercial sharing with attribution, allowing for derivatives).

Context: When posting the track online, please be sure to include this following information:

More on this 361st weekly Disquiet Junto project — Zork Diaries / The Assignment: Score a classic interactive fiction — at:

https://disquiet.com/0361/

More on the Disquiet Junto at:

https://disquiet.com/junto/

Subscribe to project announcements here:

http://tinyletter.com/disquiet-junto/

Project discussion takes place on llllllll.co:

https://llllllll.co/t/disquiet-junto-project-0361-zork-diaries/

There’s also a Junto Slack. Send your email address to twitter.com/disquiet to join in.

Image adapted (cropped, text added, etc.) from a Wikipedia photo by Marcin Wichary, thanks to a Creative Commons license:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Zork_photo.jpg

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

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Clint Mansell Says, “Shhhhh!”

What appears to be the score from Mute

Just three days ago, soundtrack composer Clint Mansell posted these 17 tracks under the collective title Shhhhh!, combined with a “Shushing Face” emoji, to his SoundCloud account. A commenter on the opening track, “Don’t Say a Word,” asks if it’s the score to Ghost in the Shell. However, a quick check of the titles seems to confirm what the collection’s title, in retrospect, suggests — that this is the music from Mute, the film by Dunan Jones that debuted on Netflix earlier this year. There’s a snippet of what is said to be the Mute end-credits score on YouTube from back in February, and it is identical to the “I Would Drive All Night(Slight Reprise)” track here (the final one, number 17). Another clue: the penultimate track includes the name “Leo,” the Mute lead character, played by Alexander Skarsgard (except in flashbacks to him as a young boy). The set was originally posted at soundcloud.com/clint-mansell. He announced it, coyly, on Twitter, and though someone there guessed it as the Mute score, Mansell hasn’t replied as of this writing.

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Rimbaud Scores Ryman

Music by Scanner for radio science fiction drama about the future of gender

As mentioned here back in early February, upon the death of Denise Duval, the electronic musician Scanner is an especially apt choice for scoring radio dramas. Much of his early electronic music involved lending scores to real-life conversations plucked — well, sampled, really — from the ether. Commissioned scores allow him to apply that experience and those techniques to more formalized narratives. That February entry was about Scanner’s take on the Cocteau play La Voix Humaine, the opera of which starred Duval in its first incarnation. More recently, Scanner provided the score to a BBC Radio 4 story by science fiction author Geoff Ryman. The Ryman story, “No Point Talking,” isn’t currently online (bbc.co.uk), but Scanner (aka Robin Rimbaud) has posted nearly 11 minutes of the score, a cooly atmospheric outing, with plenty of echoing synthesizers, though the main thread is a sequence of what sounds like electric guitar. Around the seven-minute mark, unintelligible voices intrude, passing as if by the window of the studio where Scanner is recording. The voices play an interesting third-party role. They are neither speaking parts from Ryman’s story, nor are they score. They are human presence as score, voices as sound design. And after they fade, the guitar proceeds forward, bending until it comes to resemble another voice of sorts: the call of seagulls.

Here’s the BBC’s description of Ryman’s tale:

Award-winning sci-fi writer Geoff Ryman’s new story for the BBC, imagining a future world where California has been split in two, each half with very different political outlooks.

His conservative hero finds himself in a place he doesn’t like or understand, where everything he holds dear is challenged: relations between men and women, and even the very definitions of ‘he’ and ‘her’.

This story was written as Geoff was investigating the portrayal of gender in utopian science fiction, as part of BBC Radio 4’s Utopia season. That documentary which accompanies ‘No Point Talking’ is called ‘Herland’.

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/scanner. More from Scanner, who is based in London, at scannerdot.com.

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