As summer decays into autumn and the days spent out-of-doors to indoors ratio begins to shift, one’s thoughts turns ever toward ones projects left to hibernate over the summer. For me my primary project this year has been The Curve of the Earth, which I’d had just begun to really develop when various externalities put it on hold. But now I am fully back into it with the final parts of the score finished, its premier performance scheduled and the first recording made. There will be more on all of this in posts to come, but first some groundwork needs to be laid. The most essential notion that I haven’t discussed much (if at all) at this point is the concept of grey.

I outlined extensively in an earlier post my experiences and general opinions on field recording and related enterprises but there was one realization about a fundamental aspect of our sound environment that I didn’t really delve into in that post: that there is a constant aspect to nearly all field recordings which are the sounds of humanity; primarily traffic. This has of course been commented upon before but I’d like to generalize the notion.  First off it should be noted that yes if there are dominate sounds in ones field: rushing water from rivers, ocean swells, mechanical device, etc or if one is in a sonically pristine environment – increasingly rare these days – then there certainly are different aspects to the recording.  Likewise in processed or other less pure recordings.  But in the main there is a background wash made up of layers of traffic, punctuated by airplanes, other mechanical devices and the sound of general human activity. This I call the grey.

Grey is distinguished from white noise in that it basically is layers of white noise. Distant traffic at varying degrees of distance become a wash, but not as uniform as white noise, it is more like layers and layers of white noise, interfering with each other, starting and stopping, changing in density and basically chaotic a finer levels of detail. Beyond hearing the grey in field recordings, you also hear it in live recordings of pieces that work with notions of silence, especially those where silence is a primary component.  And this is the part that interests me – for all intents and purposes grey is silence.  Non-grey silence is as artificial as anything and only exists in artificial constructions.  There being no such thing as silence is of course one of the many points of Cage’s interest in silence and that notion is no new thing. But the relative uniformity of the “silence” as a medium I think is a notion that has not been so explored.

Following my realization that what we take for “silence” is actually this grey noise, I then came to notion that instead of simply being silent and letting whatever grey-ness exists in the listeners environment fill in, why not generate the grey oneself? Thus was born the Grey Sequence, the first project where I explored this notion. The Grey Sequence, of which I posted the first four pieces of earlier this year (with no explanation at the time), was a multimedia project where a photograph and a piece of music were placed into correspondence and any “release” of a piece had to include both.  The recorded sound for these pieces involved two separate instruments one acoustic, one electronic. One instrument would be setup to play on its own, but in a not entirely static way, while the other one would improvise with.  The instrument that wasn’t being played was providing the grey that would always be in the background and become the foreground during the “silences”.

 

Grey Ripples setup

This I think is an actual extension of silence beyond notions that Cage explored and along with Network Instrument theory had been the primary area of investigation I’ve been exploring. First with the Grey Sequence and later with a number of the Eleven Clouds pieces this has been a primary concern with my projects and has moved from the focus in the earlier project to a tool in the later pieces. It is an essential aspect of The Curve of the Earth, the very fabric upon which it is composed,  though I’ll defer to later posts to go into details about this.