A Short Walk in Cae’n Y Coed


A few days ago a friend of mine got in contact about doing ‘some sound stuff’ at an event she was organising in the woods above Betws-Y-Coed in North Wales. Over the course of several conversations it transpired that it was to be themed around the senses and the woodland space.

After a bit of thinking I came up with the idea of doing a sound-walk through the woods which I could guide people on, and having an interactive digital version (note the funding words!) in a tent at the start of the walk so that the folk who were not able to walk or were not around at the start of the tour could still get the idea and have fun.

So we would have a form of bifurcated experience; the walk which I had yet to work out, and/or the ability to synthesize it. This I planned to make with a set off faders people could use to turn up or down my (as yet to be recorded) pristine 3D audio field recordings of ‘a stream’ for instance or on another fader ‘birds in the canopy’ etc…

Now, it must be said at this juncture that I had never organized a sound-walk, but I felt reasonably confident, and anyway how hard could it be. It turns out that it was not all that difficult to do in itself, after all, the topography is there; but what was really, really complicated to do was to disentangle the concepts and preconceptions I brought into the woods with me.

So 2 weeks before the day I first took the drive down the A470 and A5 (two roads loved and hated by tourists and locals in almost equal measure) with a view to mapping out a route and doing some recording. I planned to make interesting way-points to punctuate the walk, make something of them, and get a good recording to link it thematically into the digital version. If I could work out a set of paths through the woods that could string these together I would be home and dry. I should have guessed it is hubris to try to curate nature.

Unsurprisingly waterfalls, squeaky gates, caves and obligingly vocal jackdaws do not fall into an evenly spaced set of locations now matter much I contrived to organise a route. In addition to this it was a real issue getting ‘clean’ recordings of the various phenomena. The birdsong reverberated around the open space of the car park, but the moment I tried to record it I heard a group of walkers with children approaching. No problem I thought, I’ll give it five minutes and they will have passed by. Just then another car pulled in. Not to worry it’s a Sunday, I’ll be patient I thought. Twenty five minutes later I gave up as I still had not got more than eight feet from the car.

So, feeling slightly chastened about the idea of recording I decided that it may be better to come back on a weekday… possibly at night.


I decided to map out the route and record what I could along the way. I found a lot of wonderful ‘sound objects’; birds, shale, creaking trees, humming pylons, a small waterfall, an even smaller but echo-y cave and a wonderfully squeaky gate but these all began to feel slightly superficial. Rather than for a trail between various interesting things, it emerged that the route itself formed the arc and structure of what I was hearing. I had just spent 1 hour and 49 minutes (according to my stupidly over-the-top phone app) walking a loop of just under two miles. It formed roughly an oval, starting at the bottom of a hill, going up the escarpment, doubling back along the contours of the rise and around and down to the start. This had inadvertently formed a structural sweep that almost any composer would be proud of.

There is an ambient, evolving, ecology to the woodland soundscape where elements move in and out of perception and focus. Some are fixed in the landscape like rivers or roads (the latter of which make very little noise by themselves) others are not so locked in place. As you move through the space the recurrence and subsidence of these different elements roll through the ears in way which is in many ways very similar to the repetition and development of themes and tunes in opera or film music. I found that as I moved through the landscape the underlying sounds became more and more noticeable, as I stopped looking for an instant experience from AN identifiable object it became possible to comprehend more of the unfolding immensity of the everyday sonic environment.

There is a saying amongst sound engineers that ‘your ears are always on’, generally in the context of avoiding hearing loss, however, while you can’t mechanically disengage your ears, the perception of their input is a far more movable feast. I found as I walked that the sections where apparently not much happened were in fact the most interesting. Rather than going ‘ooh a squeaky gate’ the emergent detail of soundscape through which I was moving was held in greater contrast. Just by turning your head you can perceive the world in a subtly different way. Birdsong hits you are rays of light punctate through the trees and the rustling leaves close in and muffle as the smell of the damp earth comes up to meet your nostrils.

After a time even the road noise became simply part of the experience. As the sound of the cars became brighter it meant I was descending back towards my own car, closing the loop on my own experience and recapitulating the start of the walk.

So I sit here on the tailgate of the car, trying to organize my thoughts, plan a route and figure out how convey some of this experience to the people who may (or may not) turn up in two weeks’ time. I’m slightly concerned that if I turn on the engine and the radio I may lose some of the insight I have gained. Given it seems to be more to do with noticing detail than excluding material which is arbitrarily valuable I hope the detail stays.

Cae’n Y Coed


Caddis – new work in progress

Caddis – Notated work for solo instrument


Caddis flies live near ponds and streams. As larvae, they live underwater and make wearable tubes from local materials, such as twigs, sand, stones, or snail shells. The items they select are bound with silk and the larva hooks itself inside with the end of its abdomen. The tubes serve various purposes – stones can be added to increase traction in fast-moving streams; irregular twigs make the tube (and its inhabitant) difficult for a trout to swallow. This may be considered more of an engineering than creative process, but are they are none the less candidates for the stable of “natural assemblage artists”

Caddis draws on this phenomena creating a work from a bank of two dozen notated samples, reworking, organising and blending them into a new abode for the performer to inhabit.

Sample manipulation series (first few rows)

Pitch set Pitch set start point Chunk End Point Transposition steps up Transposition 8ve up Rhythm set Rhythm set start point Duration multiplier Reuse row?
1-12 1-12 Start + 1-12 0-11 0-1 1-12 1-12 0-2 0-row num
10 7 15 3 1 11 10 1 0
10 7 15 3 1 11 10 1 1
4 8 19 7 0 8 11 2 0
5 7 19 1 1 3 9 0 0
3 6 10 11 0 1 11 1 0


Samples to follow when I’ve worked them out! 🙂

Getting excited now 😀

Ricercar (for electric violin and stochastic step-sequencer) 2016

Ricercar was created as a way to create evolving polyphonic textures in a ‘solo’ violin piece. It uses a midi foot controller (currently a Behringer FCB1010) to control an electric violin into a piece of software created specifically for this piece.


Testing at home before the first performance
foot controller, violin and laptop visible in the
chaos of pre-event preparations

The work is essentially fugal, relying on live sampling to create the layers around the instrumental part and uses a 3 layered sequencer to achieve this. Each layer contains a series of buffers which can be recorded into. The top layer has seven 5 second samples, the middle has 5×17 and the lower has 3×71 second samples. These all prime durations so when left to their own devices they will take a long time to ever repeat in precisely the same configuration. Using a foot controller to trigger when to start recording and which buffer to record to or overwrite, thus it is possible to gradually build up a four part texture using the three sampler ‘lines’ and the live violin.


Overlapping prime blocks 5,17 and 71

In itself this is passable, but could be rather recursive and very quickly get repetitive unless loops are overwritten regularly, which in itself could become an oft-repeated task. This has been overcome in 2 ways. The first is that each time a sample is due to be played there is a 50% chance that it will not be in which case the sequencer just moves on and waits until the next step is ready and then re-rolls its virtual dice. When scaled up over each of the 3 layers of fast, medium and slow samples this means that there will probably always be something playing (depending on how many samples have had audio recorded into them!) but the thickness of the texture will vary.  The second way that diversity is added is by changing the playback speed of each sample. As a sample is triggered the sequencer takes a decision as to what pitch/speed to play the audio. This varies over four octaves (two up and two down) and results in a shift in playback of between quarter speed and four times as fast. The speed changes are in discrete even tempered steps and thus a broader sense of harmony and polyphonic/contrapuntal line can be achieved.pitch.JPG

In addition to this audio focused processing there are 2 global controls. The first is how fast the sequencer triggers each step. This in itself does not affect the length of individual samples so at extreme speeds loops will overlap in a densely fired texture or conversely there may be a lot of space and silence at very slow speeds. The last of the controls is volume of playback, which when used carefully can not only help to balance the live and processed material but can greatly increase the sensation of articulation and dialogue.

Within this framework the performer is free to improvise, guided by the constraints and freedoms of the instrument, themselves the hardware and software.


Video extract taken by Diane Evans at OscilloScope 28/6/15

The Xmas-o-lo-phone (no apologies)!


The Xmas-o-lo-phone

I’m going to set up a Christmas ‘xylophone’ between the trees. This will consist of a series of hollow (tuned) pipes hung length ways between the trees, suspended on rope or chord. The overall effect will look similar to a rope ladder slung sideways.

The idea is that rather than just playing a scale it will play Jingle Bells. So, the first few notes will be at the same pitch as with the tune:


Jingle bells, jingle bells

Jin- (It is not until you get to note 8 that it rises in pitch!)


So, each rung is a note of the tune, as you run along blowing or tapping them they play the tune, they will also be spaced so that the rhythm works properly e.g. the third note has twice as big a gap to the next ‘rung’ compared to the previous note.

It would be good to set it up in a horseshoe (probably more realistically a V) shape between the trees so that is can be run around in a loop.

The trick is working it out so that it is dead easy to play.

Tune Pitch Duration
Step Pitch Rhythm Degree of scale Relative pipe length Pipe length in (mm) Cut from pipe batch Relative distance to next note Distance to next note (cm)
1 e Crotchet 3 0.789889 50.0 3 2 50
2 e Crotchet 3 0.789889 50.0 3 2 50
3 e Minim 3 0.789889 50.0 3 4 100
4 e Crotchet 3 0.789889 50.0 3 2 50
5 e Crotchet 3 0.789889 50.0 3 2 50
6 e Minim 3 0.789889 50.0 3 4 100
7 e Crotchet 3 0.789889 50.0 3 2 50
8 g Crotchet 5 0.666667 42.2 4 2 50
9 c Dotted Crotchet 1 1 63.3 4 3 75
10 d Quaver 2 0.888889 56.3 2 1 25
11 e Semibreve 3 0.789889 50.0 3 8 200
12 f Crotchet 4 0.750188 47.5 1 2 50
13 f Crotchet 4 0.750188 47.5 1 2 50
14 f Dotted Crotchet 4 0.750188 47.5 1 3 75
15 f Quaver 4 0.750188 47.5 1 1 25
16 f Crotchet 4 0.750188 47.5 1 2 50
17 e Crotchet 3 0.789889 50.0 3 2 50
18 e Crotchet 3 0.789889 50.0 3 2 50
19 e Quaver 3 0.789889 50.0 3 1 25
20 e Quaver 3 0.789889 50.0 3 1 25
21 e Crotchet 3 0.789889 50.0 3 2 50
22 d Crotchet 2 0.888889 56.3 2 2 50
23 d Crotchet 2 0.888889 56.3 2 2 50
24 e Crotchet 3 0.789889 50.0 3 2 50
25 d Minim 2 0.888889 56.3 2 4 100
26 g Minim 5 0.666667 42.2 4 4 100
1310.2 6*3m pipes 1600

Watch this space for the chance to have a go 🙂

A Brief Intro to Acousmatic Composition

A Brief Intro to Acousmatic Composition

Posted elsewhere but may be of some interest!

ground loop


  • Philosopical

“Our musical alphabet must be enriched. We also need new instruments very badly. . . . In my own works I have always felt the need of new mediums of expression . . . which can lend themselves to every expression of thought and can keep up with thought.”

Edgard Varèse: New York Morning Telegraph 1916

“Perhaps the time is not far off when a composer will be able to represent through recording, music specifically composed for the gramophone”

Andre Coeuroy: Panorama of Contemporary Music 1928

“The rediscovery of the musicality of sound in noise and in language, and the reunification of music, noise and language in order to obtain a unity of material: that is one of the chief artistic tasks of radio.”

Rudolf Arnheim Radio 1936

“When I proposed the term ‘musique concrète,’ I intended … to point out an opposition with the way musical work usually…

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5am starts

Working writing some music for the wonderful No Fit State Circus (see one of their videos above-not my audio though), based upon a set of poems written by school kids for the opening of the new arts centre in Bangor, Wales. Getting the work done means I get to see a lot of this as it means a lot of early starts.


Sunrise over the sea from studio 1 Bangor Uni

However it does mean that I get to work with a fantastic set of people in what promises to be an amazing new venue. The building isn’t built yet so I’m not to stressed but hey September is going to arrive quickly!

Gosh I forgot how tiring it is being productive! 🙂



Max MSP Basics

Here is some stuff I put together a while back. It may be useful for some people 🙂

ground loop

Contents (click to jump to section):

What is Max/MSP?
Working with audio
Numbers, messages and lists
Programme flow and control
Making patches simpler
Playing audio samples
Simple MIDI control
Enveloping and cross-fading
Designing the user interface
Soundfile playback and timing.
Refining soundfile playback control and timing.
More elegant approaches to additive synthesis.
A better way to create polyphony: poly~
Breaking out; physical I/O and Arduino.
Working with acoustic instruments
Audio processing
Further audio manipulation
Jitter II
Javascript in Max
Algorithmic composition

What is Max/MSP?

Max/MSP (often just called ‘Max’) is a ‘multimedia programming environment’ which will allow you to create pretty much any kind of music or audio software you can think of. It can also handle video using a built-in extension called ‘Jitter’.

To get more of an idea of what Max can do, visit the website www.cycling74.com and click on the ‘projects made with Max’

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