When I write, there's always a noisy, boisterous part of my mind that won't settle down. Sometimes I think this is a distraction, and other times I think it is actually the source of any ideas I may end up with. Like a greek Daemon - spirit ally, spirit of the place. I do recognize it as part of my mind/psyche...but at the same time I also feel that this entity or voice fits in to a specific shape outside, in the aether. The archetypal unconscious.
As I sit at my desk, best time to write for me is as early as possible in the morning. That accompanying voice settles in to a fairy tale sing-song voice. Not always comfortable, this. Do you know the stories of the Dingle Dell? It's a wooded area in the center of a village with a pathway often used as a shortcut. Many the strange occurrences in that dell. Misty trees and pixies, lumbering green men. Simmering pots of meat for unsuspecting children.
Harrison Birtwistle composed a piece called Down By The Greenwood Side which uses bits of British folk song and old mummers plays. He also wrote an opera on Punch and Judy. Punch throws his baby in the fire, attacks his wife Judy and eventually is sentenced to hang for his crimes. Pantomime, commedia del'arte - dark and mysterious underneath the competing chants of "Oh yes we can/Oh no you can't".
Those are the sounds of my daemon, I guess. It all can be occupied by the right song. If I'm not actually writing - if the work at hand is more like editing, proof-reading or working in Sibelius to produce the score - I can listen to a song on repeat. If there's a blank piece of paper in front of me, then I have to turn off the radio and listen to the other music instead.
I've been known to play one Yanni track for several hours. It's on the album "In My time" but I don't know the name of the song. If I need it, I have to grope through each track, breath short, heart pounding until I hear the blessed release of those opening notes. Eldar and Nigar (the 2011 Euovision song contest winners) sang a song that also fit in the required slot. I can't recall the title of their song, and certainly can't remember any of the lyrics although I've probably heard it over a thousand times.
I'm going to start calling the electromagnetic pieces "The Beleboke". That word comes from our own family word games, and is a variation on the word telescope. But the telescope is not a tool anymore, it's a receptacle or alchemical retort. These pieces for atmospheric electromagnetism are a first step - I'm going to learn how to build backyard receivers for solar activity, Jupiter, galactic rises. Apparently I can use an old FM radio to pick up meteorite activity. All these layers of activity, filtered through a developing computer patch, in counterpoint to the didgeridoo. That is The Beleboke.
The earth's atmosphere is alive with electromagnetic activity at the low end of the radio spectrum, Most comes from lightening storms across the globe, although some of the most beautiful forms are generated by the interaction of solar winds with the magnetosphere.
I say "beautiful" forms, because with a Very Low Frequency (VLF) receiver, you can pick up this electromagnetic activity and reproduce an equivalent sound. Check out the NASA page for streaming 'sferics' . The available sounds are like bird song, animal calls or deep breathing. With some pretty good electronics skills, I could make a receiver myself. With passable skills, I could probably put together one of the available kits. Since I have neither, I'm deeply grateful to Steve McGreevey and his website Auroral Chorus. In addition to providing a great introduction to the subject, the site also includes many examples from his own field recordings. And most important, he sells completed and tested VLF receivers. One of which I have on order.
I'm going to start working out a piece that I first started thinking about over 5 years ago. Called Voices of the Noosphere, it is a piece for radio telescope and didgeridoo. The idea was that the telescope would be receiving electromagnetic signals from a pulsar. That pulsar signal would be represented in sound. I had a patch written in the cSound software language that would apply the envelope of my didgeridoo playing to the 'sound' of the pulsar. I'd throw in some optional granular synthesis processing for aesthetic effect, and then re-broadcast the signal out to the stars.
If I remember right, the very first impulse for this came as part of a discussion of SETI message construction with Doug Vakoch. We'd met at a SETI workshop, and started to write down a proposed structure for an outbound message, one that attempted to encode notions of 'creativity'. We did this by presenting material that was shaped by the fibonacci series. Rhythmic bursts of radio at specific frequencies, harmonic relationships across the radio spectrum: all governed by the Fibonacci series.
The idea was that a receiving culture would identify the underlying series, and then would recognize that other parts of the message manipulated this underlying pattern. A natural source - like a pulsar - could create a repeating pattern, but it is highly unlikely that a natural source would move through the first 5 numbers of a Fibonacci sequence, and then retrograde that pattern.
I thought that a larger piece could be done using an identifiable radio source - like a pulsar. The electronically manipulated sound along with my didgeridoo would provide a couple layers of counterpoint. A receiving culture could identify the pulsar, and then ask themselves what on earth that other material represented. I like the didgeridoo for this because of all instruments, it seems to create music with a period about as long as a human breath, with overtones that seem to resonate with the human heartbeat.
Another element of the piece was that this same material would be meaningful for a human audience, listening to the sonic representation of it all. The sound becomes an interstitial space, a place where the biological necessity of sense perception overlaps with a representation of the larger electromagnetic form of the universe. This is a privileged location, one that is liturgical, poetic, alchemical.
I've gotten a lot of mileage out of this piece, for something that has never been realised. With the VLF receiver, I'm going to start working out the details, and creating the alchemical conjunction. I may not (yet) be working with pulsars, but I will be interacting with the electromagnetic spectrum in a meaningful manner.