Musical Synthesis and Sonic Environments

Architectural Drawing of the SRT from Tonkin Liu

I am quite honored to have an article about my recent work published by the American Composers Forum (ACF). The article was written by ACF member Timothy Hansen and is available here. The focus of the piece is on my duets with the Singing Ringing Tree. From the article:

… “I started these duets close to home in Northeast Minneapolis,” explains Keston. “My neighborhood is crisscrossed with railways, rail bridges, and rail yards. I found that I could coax music from everyday ambience by emphasizing rhythms and textures with a portable synthesizer.” Once he had exhausted the possibilities of his local neighborhood he began to search for, as he describes it, “more exotic locations.” This was how, in 2014, with the help of a grant from the Jerome Fund for New Music, Keston found himself seated at the foot of the Singing Ringing Tree, ready to create a series of new duets with his strange, lonely collaborator.

Please read the short piece at ComposersForum.org. During the interview for the articles I was asked some interesting questions that didn’t make it into the the final draft. I’ll share some of those answers in upcoming posts.

Duet No. 2 With The Singing Ringing Tree

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This was the second take on day one of my Duets recording project with the Singing Ringing Tree (SRT), a wind activated musical panopticon in Northern England. The sculpture was designed by architects Tonkin Liu and completed in December 2006. I performed accompaniment for the SRT binaural recording simultaneously using a Novation Bass Station II connected to a USB battery. I also ran the Bass Station II through a Moog Minifooger Delay. Eventually I will be producing videos of these compositions. For now I wanted to try a quick mix to get an idea of how things will sound.

NOTE: This is a binaural recording combined with a monophonic synthesizer track. Although it sounds great through speakers, circumaural headphones must be used to experience the binaural effect.

Duet Under Bridge

This piece was shot under a railroad bridge that I ride under during my commute. While trains are going over the bridge a nice rumbling, screechy ambience envelopes the space. On this occasion, a few weeks ago, melting icicles were dripping onto the sidewalk adding a chaotic rhythm to the soundscape. Rather than producing a drone to mimic the ambience I used noise, LFO pitch sweeps, and sample-and-hold on the Monotribe to contrast the reverberated railroad rumbling, and screeching.

NOTE: This is a binaural recording mixed with a monophonic, analog, synthesizer performance. Please use circumaural headphones to experience the binaural effect.

Duet for Synthesizer and Robotic Vehicles

In May 2009 I toured a newspaper facility with a group of students and a field recorder. Recently I decided to revisit the recordings and found that one of them was laden with the varied-pitched warning beeps of several robotic paper transporters moving about the printing facility. Here’s a duet study that combines the use of the Pro-One with the recording in a similar fashion to the last two examples.

Duet for Synthesizer and Freight Train

This is the second study in a series of duet recordings that I am working on. In this example I made a recording of a freight train passing from about fifteen feet away using my Sony PCM-D50. On a side note the train recording was made in December of 2008, and I had no Idea until recently that I would be using it as a test layer for this project. Next I performed along with the recording while attempting to listen and react the same way I would when improvising with a human performer. The synthesizer I used (and may use for all of these) is my Sequencial Circuits Pro-One running through the Memory Man delay. There’s quite a bit of low end in the synth for the first two thirds of the piece, so I recommend listening on a good system, or set of headphones, turned up as loud as you can manage!

Listen to the original, uncompressed train recording from December, 2008:
Winter Freight