Stop Making Sense or How I Composed My First Sound Sculpture

My first out-of-class assignment was to make a sound sculpture.

Sound sculpture has always been an abstract idea for me, something that was hard for me to understand. I want something to have a structure that I can follow. I do love instrumental and electronic music that have a rhythm but when you take that out of it, then I’m lost. Listening to examples by Pierre Schaeffer and William Basinski in class made me realize that sound sculpture doesn’t necessarily need to be a cacophony of random noises. It can be moody, rhythmic and beautiful.

My tools, apart from the contact microphone and my computer, were found in my place of work. I work at a cheese and cafe so it can be a pretty noisy place. My main instruments were a coffee grinder, espresso machine, a tamper, paper cups, the metal grate on the espresso machine and small metal dishes with coins (my tip jar).

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I experimented with the noises these machines made. Some, like the steamer is loud yet the noise it made was hardly picked up by the microphone. Much of it had to do with temperature of the steamer. It gets extremely hot very quickly, so I feared burning my fingers and microphone, which is too bad. The steamer makes a really neat sound!

Having collected a variety of different noises I uploaded them into Audacity and played around. I had the idea to create a piece of music, similar to what I had heard in class, and after a while I discovered a narrative. I decided to tell a story through the noises I had manipulated and created an atmosphere that was moody and suspenseful.

All of the clips have been manipulated. They do not sound like their original format. I do hope that this is ok as I wanted to convert these sounds and create something that could be heard in a suspenseful movie, for example.

Editing these together was a fun albeit arduous process. It reminded me of when I had to edit commercials in school and at radio stations I worked at years ago.

I’m not sure if this sculpture makes any sense but then I ask does it really have to?


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