Sometime earlier this year I was asked by sound artist Justin Ashworth to curate a Little Songs of the Mutilated month. My month was August. Little Songs of the Mutilated is a sonic take on the surrealist game of Exquisite Corpse, where each player takes their turn to create a section of a work, only receiving the ends of the lines from over the fold of whatever canvas you were working on. In my childhood, it was refill paper. As an adult, and a musician/artist, we’re doing it with sound. Each person creates 30-40 seconds of sound per day and then segments ~10seconds off for the ringmaster to pass your metaphorical lines over to the next person. All segue sounds are anonymous until the very end, but there is a group chat to talk to your co-conspirators. That is, unless you hear very distinct markers of a person. I have participated in Little Songs of the Mutilated several times over the last few years – once hearing my own voice back, when Adam Rudegair used a sample I’d given him from another project in his segment because he knew I was playing. Here’s another link to the collective’s discography (I have been involved in several of these albums): https://littlesongsofthemutilated.bandcamp.com/
Every time I participate I choose a new focus to work on in my skillset – once I only used extended vocal techniques, once I composed everything in Sonic Pi. I thought that I’d take this opportunity to do a series of very rapid design changes for the GLVD project (in case you’re wondering, I am still running with Gently Leveraging Variable Decisions as the backronym) as my composition material for this round. For August, I’m Corpse 1, Player 1 (C1P1), C2P4, C3P5, C4P2, C5P3, and C6P6.
Corpse One, day 1:
I exploited glitches that were occurring because I hadn’t had time to tame my data – notes slamming into each other quickly through unfiltered data created squelchy glitches. I used these as a percussive element throughout this segment. I really enjoy them, but I did have to get rid of them for day two. I had the finger flex sensors assigned to pitches, so all pitches happening are generated by flexing my fingers in varying amounts. Pitches were distributed over three octaves and each pitch had three sine-wave oscillators that were fed into a limiter to keep some control on the sounds that were coming. It was quite a fun piece to make, and I enjoy how insane the melodic content becomes. I remember making some of the movements (let’s not call them gestures, it’s just finger waggling) while laughing because of the absurdity.
Corpse Four, day 2:
The first response. For day two I decided to keep the glitchy sounds for just one more day but in a different way. I assigned a toggle on my right hand to an on/off switch for the built-in Max/MSP granulator example and fed the Corpse Four Player One segue into it to create percussive sounds that had some of the same qualities of the glitchy sounds from day one. I also worked on the complexity of my synth sounds instead. I used four sine waves and one sawtooth wave per finger. This added some grittiness and balanced out the clipped granulator sounds.
Creatively, I’m less of a fan of this one because it’s too similar to day one. I thought that it might add a bit of consistency in my output, but that’s not an aesthetic decision I reach for as regularly as others. I do really like the sonic textures contained within, it’s just the execution that doesn’t feel “like me”. Whatever that means, anyway – I have a habit of radically changing it up.
Corpse Five, day 3:
My first day with live vocals – I converted the right hand into a vocoder and left the left hand as a synth. I played of the serenity of the segue and went wafty. I deliberately went a little church-y (or as it’s known in our house, Florence Welch in the cave they stick her in to record the Florence and the Machine material). The drone pitch is from the segue, with the reverb added in post. I used small, slow hand movements to keep the harmony as static as possible from the vocoder and took one line in from the mic and one line in from the vocoder.
My biggest regret for this is using a cheap headset microphone (the kind for one’s cellphone). I reach for it when I’m doing quick work partly because I think the sound is interesting. It is not, however, flattering, and a better mic might have made this section make a little more “sense” and not be a juxtaposition of shitty sound quality with choir in a church.
Corpse Two, day 4:
On this day I got Sage Pbbbt. Unmistakeably Sage. I was excited. I was also very unsure of how I wanted to use the gloves in this scenario. Because it was Sage, and because we’ve sung together a few times, I went to (and wanted to) do more live layering, and play with her sound overall. That would have defeated my week’s objective. Because I was drawn to the acoustic-style performance, I used loops (captured through another toggle), a single synth/vocoder line/chord, and fed Sage’s segue into the granulator once again. I managed to get a very organ-like sound out of my vocoder hand which is texturally very pleasant. I felt like my performance mirrored some of the ways I might sing when live, but I focussed on inward phonation techniques to mirror Sage’s singing from the segue.
Corpse Three, day 5:
The first day with lyrics. The first day with words/text from any player, I think. So naturally, those lyrics are, “I’m just gonna fuck it up”. I used more vocoder, synth, effects (new!), and looping. This day is a lot more complex in terms of what the gloves are doing but works together as a more unified thing, IMHO. I barely hear the segue because it blends into the beginning of the piece.
The effects are working on the X, Y, and Z axes (or yaw, pitch, and roll – if you’re into that). I had a fuzz, delay, reverb, and filter. I’m not extremely satisfied with the quality of this round of builds for the effects, but they fulfilled the niche for the remainder of the week. I reduced the amount and spectrum of pitches possible from the vocoder (right) hand because everything was getting a little cluttered. The filter on the vocoder took a little too much of the high frequencies off, in reflection. It makes the piece a little too muddy and heavy sounding.
I really the saw-distortion sound that happens about 8 seconds in. It’s got enough grab in there to come sailing through, have a good time. Sadly, I think I should have used it a little more but placed it around a binaural mix to get the travelling effect to continue.
Corpse Six, day 6:
The finale. Every time we get to day six, I’m very tired. I always think of how I felt at the end of my “Song-A-Day-January” in 2014, I feel like I’ve been wrung out through twisting and then fed through the two flat rolling pins that my nana had on her washing machine (it was very vintage, you had to crank the hadle to feed clothing through as a proto-spin cycle. I was terrified of that thing as a small child).
I tried to use a little bit of everythign in this because more is more. I think I didn’t feel like I’d thoroughly interrogated my inclusion of the fuzz effect, and by golly, was I going to rectify that situation. There’s a little synth, vocoder, reverb, filtering, text, singing, extended techniques, and just a butt-tonne of fuzz. I’m still not happy with the tone of my fuzz, I have a way to go even now as I tweak the settings behind it. This has a little too many high frequencies and not enough softness. Still, I have no regrets. Once more I quote Iris Apfel,
More is more.
Would you believe that I’d actually implemented my data-smoothing by this day?
If you came here looking for answers, you’ve come to the wrong place.
Sometimes sound just is. I didn’t try to answer any philosophical questions during the process of the August Little Songs of the Mutilated. Only practical ones, and only as pertinent to, “oh no, I don’t feel as versatile as I do with no constraints!”
One last note, you can see the order of contributors on bandcamp, BUT I have never looked it up, because I prefer to guess or be mystified.