Connecting the dots

Connecting the dots

I never asked to be a scientist running experiments. A researcher of my own path. I grew up thinking I could do the opposite of what people wanted me to, and I would be safe. Turns out you can't just react to what happens in your surroundings. You have to act out of your own initiative, make things happen.

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Thinking of stucco

“I didn't know how to behave in front of another human being. I would get nervous and start telling jokes I had stolen off Facebook. I would pull off improbable haircuts or wear t-shirts of bands I didn't listen to. I would do all this to seem ‘cool’ and get people to approach me. “

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Writing to make sense of it all

This is one of the very first pieces of writing I am transcribing from a voice recording. I am using my phone to record my voice, planning to turn it into words at a later time. It is something that I could not do before.

I never thought recording my thoughts before writing them was worth the effort. Wouldn't it be easier to go straight to pen and paper? Why bothering listening to your own voice to then transcribe it?

Recording is one of the few ways for me to collect my feelings and thoughts—archive them in a way that feels comfortable to me. The unbiased microphone allows me to "voice" my thoughts by speaking into it. Writing is a rather intense practice. It easy to be effortlessly honest with a silent listener (the microphone). Not as easy to watch your thoughts appearing neatly spaced on the computer screen or, more or less neatly, on the page of a notebook.

Yes. There are times where words come out in a stream of consciousness while I am writing the ones before. This sentence, for example, is one of those.

Having visual access to this self-made journal is helpful in understanding the volume and content of what goes on in my mind. Archiving my thoughts, views, and emotions is as much of a personal therapy exercise as an artistic one. It is about making sense of what goes on in my head. But also making something from it all. Which is a lot. So much you would not imagine.

“Why Documentaries Matter” by Nick Fraser. A reflection.

Still from “HOOP DREAMS”, 1994

Nick Fraser is a producer, journalist, and documentary editor. Film-maker Alex Gibney describes nick in an interview with The Guardian as the person responsible for making documentaries so popular, pushing film-makers to make better work while being generous and understanding with them (Bromwich, 2018).

In the foreword to The Documentary Film Book, writing “ Why Documentaries Matter?” Fraser attempts to analyse documentaries through personal experience and by retracing the history of this medium.

Many are the possible definitions of what a documentary is, what it should depict, and how it should make the audience feel. What Fraser is really trying to find is an answer to why are we so attracted by documentaries. He does so by recalling the history of documentaries from their newborn-like status of being that genre that “never caught on in cinemas” to becoming a “recognisable cultural form”.

Broadcast television played an important role in this process, the journalist continues, in the way that it saved documentary film-makers, funding their projects and enabling those to reach large audiences. As rising trends demonstrate, documentaries are now well popular both in cinemas and online — often thanks to festivals like Sundance for putting documentaries to the forefront.

The producer’s experience with documentaries has not always been the easiest. Fraser disliked the predictability and conventionality of documentaries prior to his arrival in the BBC. However, a few years later, he was left in awe by Hoop Dreams— a 1994 American documentary film in which the lives of real characters were portrayed with such depth that, he states, made possible to think of Hoop Dreams as “something new”.

Fraser analyses the shift from documentaries being the public broadcasts’ favourite “filler” entertainment to becoming a tool against mass culture. He argues that the idea of the documentary as a binding force of society has been replaced by the idea that documentaries are made to change the world.

Despite the many attempts at depicting documentary films as fake — as artefacts mixing reality with fiction — the genre still subsists in a “crossroad of contemporary culture” (Fraser, 2012) attracting the likes of many including television entertainment, journalists, storytellers, and curious public alike.


Bibliography:

Bromwich, K. (2018). A Bafta for Nick Fraser, grandmaster of the documentary. [online] The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/may/14/nick-fraser-bafta-special-award-alex-gibney-eugene-jarecki-interviews [Accessed 3 Oct. 2018].

Fraser, N. (2012). Why Documentaries Matter. Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, University of Oxford.


Originally published at francescoimola.tumblr.com.

“Janie’s Janie” by Third World Newsreel.

“First I was my father’s Janie, then I was my Charlie’s Janie, now I’m Janie’s Janie.”

Set in Newark, New Jersey, in the early 1970s, Janie’s Janie tells Jane Giese’s journey to “self-determination” (Metrograph.com, n.d.). It was directed by Geri Ashur, with Peter Barton, Marilyn Mulford and Stephanie Pawleski, and produced by The Newsreel collective.

Janie’s Janie is the story of a single mother who refuses to be disempowered and made feel worthless by her abusive ex-husband. Determined to raise five children on her own, she achieves a feminist consciousness that helps Jane find her voice and navigate the welfare system in a post-1967-riots Newark.

Last year marked 50 years since the Newark riots. In 1967, a changing population had led to racial tensions in what was a majority black city controlled by white politicians, historians say (NJ.com, 2017). At least 26 people died and hundreds were injured in the rebellion of 1967. The city was devastated for decades to come (The Guardian, 2017).

Not only the film is a document of an era and the efforts of feminists and interracial movements, but it is also the first “personal documentary” produced by Newsreel (Twn.org, n.d.). Using a mix of handheld verité material and interviews, the directors make the viewer part of Jane’s everyday life.

It is a complex, beautifully edited, and decisively intense film for its 30 mins duration. The documentary has been praised by international critics on multiple occasions as “breathtakingly candid” (Monica Castillo, Village Voice) and “one of the most moving documentaries of the era” (Nellie Killian, Tell Me: Women Filmmaker, Women’s Stories).


Bibliography:

Metrograph.com. (n.d.). Janie’s Janie + Three Lives | Metrograph. [online] Available at: http://metrograph.com/film/film/1253/janies-janie-three-lives[Accessed 3 Oct. 2018].

NJ.com. (2017). 50 years ago Newark burned. [online] Available at: https://www.nj.com/essex/index.ssf/2017/07/what_you_need_to_know_about_the_1967_newark_riots.html [Accessed 3 Oct. 2018].

The Guardian. (2017). The Newark race riots 50 years on: is the city in danger of repeating the past?. [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/jul/11/newark-race-riots-50-years-rebellion-police-brutality [Accessed 3 Oct. 2018].

Twn.org. (n.d.). Janie’s Janie (Newsreel). [online] Available at: http://www.twn.org/catalog/pages/cpage.aspx?rec=1324 [Accessed 3 Oct. 2018].

strublog. (2013). Feminist film in Newark: Janie’s Janie (1972). [online] Available at: https://strublog.wordpress.com/2013/12/05/feminist-film-in-newark-janies-janie-1972/ [Accessed 3 Oct. 2018].

Richardbrick.com. (n.d.). Geri Ashur: “Janie’s Janie” | Richard Brick. [online] Available at: http://richardbrick.com/geri-ashur-janies-janie/ [Accessed 3 Oct. 2018].

BAM.org. (2018). Growing Up Female + Janie’s Janie + Betty Tells Her Story. [online] Available at: https://www.bam.org/film/2018/growing-up-female-janies-jane-betty-story [Accessed 3 Oct. 2018].

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. (n.d.). Tell Me: JANIE’S JANIE + THE WOMEN’S FILM + More… [online] Available at: https://drafthouse.com/show/tell-me-janies-janie-the-womens-film-more [Accessed 3 Oct. 2018].


Originally published at francescoimola.tumblr.com.

Now Playing

Music I’m listening to inbetween press-releases, assignments, Christmas, sugary sweets, planning my next holiday, and shopping.

How I helped create a generative audiovisual app that runs in your browser

This past two months have been nerve-racking. But we’ve eventually created something to be proud of.

A group of four undergrad students. We’ve build a net artwork, or as programmers like to call it: a web app.

We named it avtest. In a nutshell, avtest is an interactive multimedia web app that gathers textual data via the YouTube API from either predefined or user-selected videos to create generative music and visuals. It’s still a work in progress*, but it’s near enough to completion to be shared to with everyone.

*It works in almost every aspect but its behaviour changes independently from platform to platform.

What does it do

On the surface, the artwork generates visuals and music when clicking on one of the 5 checkboxes or when inserting a valid link in the underlying text-box and checking the relative checkbox to its side. Each checkbox is “connected” to a YouTube video selected by our team. The text-box + checkbox option instead allows users to insert their own link to any youtube video; this has to be a special API link formatted through Google’s YouTube Data API platform. We imagined most people would not be able to retrieve such info, so we’ve added our own links to make the artwork function without much effort.

The 20 most-recent comments from a YouTube video are displayed in a random order below the group of checkboxes. In a similar way, the “waterfall” of letters is generated using random characters from a random comment among the list of 20. The sound composition that starts about 2–5 seconds in (performance upgrades are still on our to do list!) is also generated using text from the comments, first converted into ASCII values and then into notes playing a synthesisers I personally built using the Web Audio API and other Javascript tools (libraries).

Checking into the “About” box will take you to another page where some info about our team and the project are shown.

Details and code

I created and programmed the sound composition and designed the website (HTML, CSS, text, DOM elements, etc). The rest of the team has worked on setting up the data-retrieving system and designing the visuals.

The music composition is created using two javascript libraries: Tone.js and tonal. I have used Tone.js to build the sound of the synthesiser playing the notes. It’s a polyphonic synth with long decay and sustain. A chain of effects — delay, reverb, compressor, limiter — has been added also using the same library. I then created a pattern elements responsible for playing the sequence of notes. Such sequence is generated using of the YouTube comments as input and the tonal library to convert number to musical values.

The list of comments is first “translated” from an array of strings (text) into numeric ASCII values (numbers) and then scanned to find the most recurrent number — which happens to be a value between 0 and 127. Such number is converted first to MIDI and then to a note value (C, D, E, F …) through tonal. From here — using sorting tools, plenty of for loops and arrays, and a list of all possible scale modes, I build a system that automatically defines a custom root note and a scale mode for every input (API link). Such scale is eventually played by the pattern element mentioned above so that sound can be heard on the page.

An almost transparent ellipse shows up when the synth is finally loaded and is playing.

Elements of the visuals and the DOM design may not work/display properly at first try nor instantly. We are not all professional coders and our experience in front-end dev is limited — hence many improvements are still to be made. The project has not yet been tested on every current browser and device. The audio does not work when the site is open on Internet Explorer (IE doesn’t support the Web Audio API).

The entire javascript code, including sound and visuals, is accessible here: https://github.com/francescoimola/avtest/blob/master/machinemusic.js

and here is the main Github page: https://github.com/francescoimola/avtest

> The artwork is accessible here.

Contributors:

Francesco Imola : design + web audio 
Jameel Knight : API + visuals 
Anthony Luc : visuals 
Ryan Nguyen : visuals


Francesco Imola is a London-based musician, multimedia artist, and current Sound Design student at the University of Greenwich.

website| twitter | instagram | linkedin

Ambience & Noise

A reflective essay and composition log including research and examples leading to the creation of my latest creative project

This article is part-reflective, part-descriptive. Here, I will, at different points in time, expand this post by writing updates about my current Creative Project for Organising Sounds as part of my Sound Design degree.

The project implements the thematic of genre-merging in music composition by combining the concepts and aesthetic styles of Ambience and Noise. It does so by not taking such definitions for granted. The back-story of my finished composition includes research in literature, sound, visual art, performance art, moving image, and a generous amount of hours of listening. I wanted not only to create a work I could be pleased with but, simultaneously, to learn more about the art that inspires me — its etymology, history, concepts and notable figures.

I have already talked about the theme of ambience in the arts and in relation to my sound practice on Medium here

[embed]https://medium.com/@francescoimola/the-unintruding-beauty-of-ambient-music-925f5db47351[/embed]

and about the “issue” of noise in music as something to be proud of here

[embed]https://medium.com/@francescoimola/the-unintruding-beauty-of-ambient-music-925f5db47351[/embed]

While the pieces above develop on the contents surrounding the many definitions of Ambience and Noise, here I will describe how I’ve applied such concepts to my composition.

Why Ambience? Why Noise?

I have for long been gushing about how much I connect to Ambient music because of its intrinsic ability to slow down time and make space for thoughts — yet, I realised that before starting to put my ideas together, I needed a broader perspective on Ambient Music. Not only that given by random Brian Eno quotes found on the web, but that which connects the history of Ambient Music to the ideas of Heidegger interrogating the relationship between ontology and phenomenology in our daily lives*.

*Heidegger presents a view that what exists (a question of ontology) cannot be separated from how we engage with it (a question of phenomenology).¹

I soon found that the term ambience represented broader domains of practice. There has [in fact] been a recent resurgence of interest in ambience in music and sound art [correlating] with a broad spike in interest around other ambient media.²

What better way to compliment the forever-looping slowly-changing aesthetic of ambience with the disharmony and disturbance found in noise. Ambient and Noise music are very distinct genres on the surface, but very similar at the core. If Ambient music maestro Brian Eno defined the genre of his invention “as ignorable as it is interesting”, could we say the same of noise?

While not as easily ignorable, noise position itself much in the background as in the foreground. It may be “louder” that some of the rest, but still shares the permeating properties of ambience. Similarly, loud sounds can become ignorable over time (see example below from Alva Noto’s Bit)

[embed]https://youtu.be/fOXxiM1Ujp0[/embed]

However, I’m not claiming to be the first attempting at such practice. A similar approach has been taken in drone music for decades. While not conceptually combining the aesthetics of Noise and Ambience, drone music sounds much like what I’ve had in mind for this work.

[embed]https://youtu.be/qNt1b9u7cZ4[/embed]

Many artists before —names such as Luke Abbott, Ben Frost, Fennesz, Black Mass, Alessandro Cortini and others — have produced beautiful music that merges elements of ambient and noise together. They are also some of the same artists who have inspired me to take this direction.

In order for my style-merging to be successful, I needed to find elements belonging to both aesthetics — or only to one of them — and combine those in a way that was pleasing to the ear. But it was at this point in my research that I had to face a major challenge.

Should my composition actually be pleasing to the ear, or should I strive for “noisiness” in every aspect?

The work I have created is not trying to sound like ambient music for noise fans; nor vice-versa. It implements concepts of noise, intended as unwanted interference rather than painful distortion. Disturbances can be embodied as randomly controlled pitch changes, a general disregard for quantization, generative sequences influenced by Jitter*, uncontrolled phase cancellation, and so forth.

*Jitter is the deviation from true periodicity of a presumably periodic signal.³

Creative Process

The fundaments of my compositions are based on a parallel stack of 3 synthesisers of the same type (Max for Cats’ FM Synth: Bengal) controlled by individual generative sequences. Each synthesiser plays a different semi-random sequence of notes over several octaves and at different speeds — disharmony par excellence.

Every chain is first EQed multiple times to enhance certain sonic flavours and then processed through a “gliding reverb” effect capable of adding rising and descending pitches to the reflections of a reverb.

Beginning of April 2018: A first iteration of this process is the piece named “Noise Sketch” available below. Although it may not sound similar to the later mentioned finished work, it makes use of a very similar setup — yet this time pushed to the extremes. Here, the harsh and gritty soundscapes of the digital synths are paired with a couple of field recordings. While I don’t believe this first part of the work to be an extremely successful attempt per se, I could say to have learned what to take and what to leave from it.

[embed]https://soundcloud.com/user-766630368/noise-sketch-march-2018[/embed]

End of April 2019: With a now conceptually redefined approach, I went on repurposing the work to what it started to sound like the music I had in mind. This is where my piece was one month into the project:

[embed]https://soundcloud.com/user-766630368/untitled-sketch[/embed]

May 2019: The sample above is sonically very close to the completed piece. Much of the work done at this point was meant to add density and one more layer of “noise” to the composition. I decided to play with phase in a less controlled way than when using autopan-like effects.

I bounced down three iterations of the same live-running generative system. By doing so I collected 3 version of the already-three-layered stack of synthesisers. Pitch-shifted each of those bounced tracks by a few cents and nudged in time each by a few milliseconds.

Immediately, you begin to notice the effect that phase has on each element. It makes the composition move in an (almost) unpredictable way — gestures that suggest a struggle: the music fighting to climb to a point it will never reach. I’e always loved the idea of never-resolving musical sentences and here had the chance to begin and end on one.

You can hear the completed work below:

[embed]https://soundcloud.com/user-766630368/permeating-with-disharmony[/embed]

Screenshot of the Ableton Live session where all the work was produced. CPU usage running at 90% in some section of the arrangement!

References:

  1. Jaaniste, L. 2003–2007. Approaching the Ambient: creative practice and the ambient mode of being. PhD Project Doctoral Research. Creative Industries Faculty, Queensland University of Technology.
  2. “The Politics Of Ambience”. Sonicartresearch.Co.Uk. Accessed 10 May 2018. http://www.sonicartresearch.co.uk/the-politics-of-ambience/.
  3. “Jitter”. En.Wikipedia.Org, 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jitter.

Francesco Imola is a London-based musician, multimedia artist, and current Sound Design student at the University of Greenwich.

website| twitter | instagram | linkedin

The unintruding beauty of Ambient Music

neither-back-nor-forth

“…I ask Eno how long he’s been in this space. “All night,” he says. If that’s true — it’s 10:30 in the morning — he looks remarkably fresh. I clarify: But for how many years? “All night for the past 22 years,” he deadpans. The room’s appeal is obvious; it feels like an oasis. A few tree branches are faintly visible through the skylights, silhouetted against February’s slate-grey sky. The city feels far away.” (Philip Sherburne in conversation with Brian Eno for Pitchfork, 2017)

“Here it is…”, you’re probably thinking. Another bustling piece of writing praising the beauty of Music For Airports and celebrating the uniqueness of Ambient as the stress-alleviating genre for excellence.

And you may be thinking right.

Still, whilst I regard the statements above to be true, I feel the need to analyse and reason my beliefs as a way to challenge my personal take on the subjects I write about. Therefore, before start arguing why Ambient music does and will always matter, it is worth shifting our attention to the concept of ambience.

That which surrounds

It is fundamental to reflect on the abstraction of the term ambience — especially for those in the creative works — since its understanding could influence the way we engage with our surroundings both in our “daily and aesthetic lives”¹.

Ambience refers back to the Latin ambiens (“a going around”) and ire (‘to go’): to go around².

Through his research project, The Ambience of Ambience Luke Jaaniste “expands upon a mode of being that has been hinted at within creative practice and intellectual thought” which he calls “the ambient mode”. It alludes to the pervasion of space and “deals with how we exist in our surroundings”¹. According to Jaaniste, ambience is not just “somewhere within a surrounding”, but widespread, evenly diffused in a place. Anything that stands out is divergent, “salient”¹.

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines salience as “the fact of being important to or connected with what is happening or being discussed”³. The concept of salience “has been studied with respect to interpersonal communication, persuasion, politics, and its influence on mass media”⁴.

By desisting salience while still remaining deeply connected with it, Ambience implies a political statement. To make art that incorporates the concept of ambience is to create something that is neither-back-nor-forth — articulating a belief in how things exist together, in our surrounding, and in society.

Ambience in the arts

Around the mid-1970s artists began to embody ideas relating to ambience in their works. New practices originated, not only in sound but also in screen-based, literature, architecture, and performative domains.

Anthony McCall’s Long Film for Ambient Light (1975) is a work of “Expanded Cinema” exploring “the ambient materiality [becoming] vital part of the aesthetic experience”¹. McCall’s Long Film came at the end of a series of works in which McCall was stripping back cinema to its absolute minimum — light, time, and human experience/perception.⁵

Anthony McCall. “Long Film for Ambient Light” (1975). Installation view at Idea Warehouse, New York, 2pm, June 18, 1975. Photograph by Anthony McCall.

Ambient video is video not to be distracted by, intended to play in the backgrounds of our spaces. The most well-known ambient video trope is the venerable “yule log”, which has been burning in video screens on television sets since its introduction at WPIX New York in 1966.⁶ It also involves the long-take slow-changing video works of Andy Warhol, Michael Snow and Yoko Ono.¹

[embed]https://youtu.be/VEx4KMzPegc[/embed]

My relationship with Ambient Music

I wouldn’t consider myself an expert in ambient music. I haven’t been listening to it for long and obviously haven’t listened to every ambient record out there. However, most of my time is spent listening to ambient. I have a special relationship to the genre as it has helped me get through some rough moments in life. Ambient music has pervaded the empty rooms I’ve been living in with a strangely suffused sense of calm — that calm that makes you feel connected to the ground and helps you find new clarity.

It is difficult not to mention the Eno’s coining of the term when talking about Ambient Music. He is not only a leading personality in modern society but also the “chief figure in any discussion of ambience”¹. Ambient music, however, has an important anthology that traces back decades before Eno and is still developing outside Eno’s studio through the work of others artists to this very day.

Erik Satie’s Musique d’Ameublement (1917) is probably the earliest example of ambient music ever composed. No, it does not sound anywhere close to sweeping synths and ringing bells of Eno or Harold Budd , but I still find Satie’s work to be way ahead of its time. Despite his natural extravagance posing him at the centre of scandals and litigations, with pieces such as Musique d’Ameublement and Gymnopédie No 1 Satie demonstrates to be the minimalist and ambient precursor par excellence.

[embed]https://youtu.be/CU2mDkZoYsc[/embed]

Of the many — but not all — records labelled as Ambient I have listened to, there are some that I particularly enjoyed at times only for their musicality, others for their ability to inspire my practice as a musician. A short sample of those is presented below in no particular order. Only need to mention that some of this music, while sonically close to Ambient is often re-labelled by the media belonging to a range of disparate sub-genres — including new-age, ambient-techno, drone, chill-out, space music, IDM, and others.

  1. Seefeel — Quique
  2. Alessandro Cortini — Avanti
  3. Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto — Vrioon
  4. Ryuichi Sakamoto — async
  5. Andy Stott — Faith In Strangers
  6. Brian Eno — Ambient 1 / Music for Airports
  7. Brian Eno — Apollo
  8. Dedekind Cut — $uccessor (ded004)
  9. Deru — 1979
  10. Surfing — Deep Fantasy
  11. Stars of the Lid — And Their Refinement of the Decline
  12. Oneohtrix Point Never — R Plus Seven
  13. Max Richter — Sleep
  14. Global Communication — 76:14
  15. Heathered Pearls — Body Complex
  16. Terry Riley — In C
  17. Huerco S. — For Those Of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have)
  18. Luke Abbott — Wysing Forest
  19. Mark Pritchard — Under The Sun
  20. Tim Hecker — Haunt Me
  21. Aphex Twin — Selected Ambient Works 85–92

References:


  1. Jaaniste, L. 2003–2007. Approaching the Ambient: creative practice and the ambient mode of being. PhD Project Doctoral Research. Creative Industries Faculty, Queensland University of Technology.
  2. Etymonline.com. 2018. ambience | Origin and meaning of ambience by Online Etymology Dictionary. [online] Available at: https://www.etymonline.com/word/ambience.
  3. “Salience”. 2018. Cambridge Dictionary. Cambridge University Press. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/salience.
  4. “Salience (Language)”. 2018. En.Wikipedia.Org. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salience_(language).
  5. Ihlein, Lucas. 2012. “Attending To Anthony Mccall’s Long Film For Ambient Light”. University of Wollongong, Australia.
  6. “Ambient Video”. 2018. Ambient Video. https://ambientvideo.org/.

Francesco Imola is a London-based musician, multimedia artist, and current Sound Design student at the University of Greenwich.

website| twitter | instagram | linkedin