RPM Challenge album complete!

You may recall I mentioned at the start of February that I was doing RPM Challenge this year. Well, February’s over and – true to my word – I now have a 35-minute-55-second-long album of electroacousitc work to show for it! It’s been quite a ride, and I want to talk about that a little, but first here it is to listen online, or to download for free, because I like you 🙂

So there it is – the result of a month’s work. Four tracks of wildly varying duration, demonstrating – I think – significant improvement in my understanding of how to record stuff, how to listen to stuff, and how to (intentionally) make stuff sound nothing like it actually did when I recorded it.

The whole thing (as documented in fragments over at One Creative Thing) was dogged by technical issues, and I’m dedicating the album as a whole to Stuart Russell, without whose extremely generous assistance, it would never have been completed.

This project was a series of experiments – so what did I learn from it?

1. Nightbirds

Essentially an exercise in trying to find ways of using sub-optimal recordings of sounds I really liked, this piece also highlighted the fact that my lovely little Bang & Olufsen headphones are far from ideal for monitoring this kind of work. The loan of a pair of small studio monitors made a vast difference to how I heard this piece, and how I approached later tracks.

2. Negative Space

This is a conceptual/experimental piece which I freely acknowledge is influenced by Alvin Lucier’s great I Am Sitting In A Room (go and listen if you’ve never heard it!). It’s the realisation of an idea I had a while back but didn’t know how to approach. Technically, it got me practising recording my own voice through my Røde M3 microphone (which I’ve done before but without really understanding what I was doing), and exploring the possibilities of automating aspects of EQ in Logic to achieve what I wanted.

3. 1200RPM

While 4th on the album, this was the third piece composed for this project. I didn’t have a lot of time left and I also wanted to experiment with using a very limited palette of sounds across quite a long duration. The final version correspondingly uses only two basic sounds from a single recording, using time-stretching, reverb and notch EQs to draw out specific frequencies from the time-stretched recordings. Really quite pleased with this one. It’s my favourite track on the album.

4. Random Study No. 1

The last piece composed, and pulled together in the final hours of the challenge as I raced to meet the deadline. I decided to use that time-limitation to make myself work with things I haven’t really worked with before in electroacoustic tracks. The short time available meant that I just had to throw things together and see if they worked, rather than thinking too deeply about whether or not they should work. The result is a study which is pure sound-in-and-of-itself – everything is out of context, and there’s no point trying to identify what the recordings are of and trying to make connections, because there are none! Previous musique concrète work I’ve made tends to use sounds all from a single location or source. I’ve avoided using comprehensible speech or musical fragments. I’ve avoided using loop effects and overtly rhythmic sounds. This piece goes against all of that, and I found it really very rewarding to work on. It combined recordings from a range of different sources – from a recording made at Borough Market the previous week with my new Tascam DR-40 recorder, to sounds recorded on my iPhone at the Kent County Fair and in Pompeii last year, to snippets of practice/workshop sessions from college and close-miked sounds recorded at home. It made me think differently about my material and how it could be used.

This idea of a study to randomly throw things together in a short period of time and see what happens is, I think, a very useful one. I ended up using sounds which I had thought would be unusable because of the low quality of the recording, thinking of new ways to combine things, paying more attention to the location of a sound in the mix (something that really becomes foregrounded when working with a variety of location and close-miked recordings) and just generally trying to put my preconceptions to one side to get the work done. I suspect I may end up making several of these Random Studies simply because they challenge the way I think about pre-recorded material.