Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Take Acre: Believers

Very much enjoying Believers, the new album from Take Acre. Brings to mind Tom Verlaine's solo work, or Set Fire to Flames. A sprawling album that covers a lot of ground, from melodic to droney to some skittery free improv material, but always very intimate and respectful of negative space. Fairly basic rock instrumentation without much in the way of effects or studio trickery; the treat is to hear the musicians listening and responding in real time.

Great stuff. Stream for free, and/ or download at an optional price ($5 minimum) here.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Google Translate beatbox

This found phenomenon has been circulating the blogosphere lately... hit the link, click "listen", and get DOWN.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Call for Musicians: "Antigone" at Macalester

Call for musicians-- audition
To accompany production of "Antigone"
Directed by Randy Reyes
Auditions open to all Macalester students
Project will earn each student one theater practicum credit
Saturday, December 11th
Black Box theater space, downstairs in the Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center, Macalester College
Between 3:00 pm and 6:30 pm (Please let us know your preferred time, and we'll do our best to accommodate you)
Mike Hallenbeck: hallenbeckmike@gmail.com
Beth Cleary: cleary@macalester.edu
(Please cc both email addresses to let us know you're coming)

Show dates/ times: February 18, 19, 24, 25, 26 @ 7:30 pm and February 20 @ 2:00 pm
Bring whatever instrument(s) you'd like to demonstrate with; prepare a piece of no longer than 3 minutes (or improvise!) to play with each instrument

Macalester's upcoming production of "Antigone", directed by acclaimed Twin Cities theater artist Randy Reyes, seeks musicians to develop a score with composer Mike Hallenbeck. Any and all (and we mean any and all!) instruments played at any skill level are welcome.

We'll be developing a score in a workshop format. We'll create through improvisational strategies, then compile the successful elements as a live soundscape. As composer, I view my role in this process as a mediator/ facilitator/ arbitrator of what will work as part of a live theater show, and as a dynamic in opposition to the entire thing turning into chaos.

As far as what we're looking for in terms of skill set and instrumentation, we're pretty open. We'd also like to try "found" objects as instrumentation part of the time, but the process will be about seeing what instrumentation we wind up with and taking it from there.

Virtuosity is great, but it's not necessary-- as long as you've got the willingness to explore and use your imagination, that's really what we're looking for. And you don't have to be a music major or even involved with the music department to be part of the show.

We're looking for an ensemble of folks who are open to improvisation, to a process that thrives on listening to and leaving space for others. It'll be about developing group performance dynamics, and about coming out the other side with improved skills and with a broader vocabulary of what it can mean to play music-- specifically, what it means to play music that accompanies a theatrical production.

Thanks for your time!


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Collections: UMMA

I recently had the honor of participating in this project, created by sound artist John Kannenberg. "Collections: UMMA" is the live score for a site-specific sound and video performance based on the architecture of the University of Michigan Museum of Art.

Here's the original silent film-- click on through to the Vimeo page if you want to read the complete score, which includes directives like "if you can read any signs or indicator lights, do your best to obey them" and "when you see a bench, rest."

And here's a rough cut of our first performance:

This was a very exciting piece to be a part of. Mr. Kannenberg's projects are always sensitive and thoughtful; this was no exception. My role was to sample the sounds of performers and the surrounding space, then process and recapitulate them in the live setting. The experience made me think a lot about architecture's facilitation of a sonic experience, and inspired me to explore it further in the future.

One of my favorite aspects of this event: even people who were just passing by and had no idea what was going on enjoyed it. It was rewarding for folks with the intellectual background to appreciate the implicit and implied concepts, but it was also enjoyable on a purely visceral level. Nice.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

CSI Ben McGinley

Presented at the 2010 Minnesota Fringe Festival and directed by Laura Holway, this performance piece showcased the talents of actor, writer, and filmmaker Ben McGinley. McGinley described the piece as "an investigation of adoption, addiction and solitude... rich in image, projection, dance and soundscape".

I came aboard as sound designer for the show, as well as location recordist and post sound mixer for the opening video segment.

As well as the recording and editing of many voiceovers, my main focus was the crafting of three special sound cues:

TRAIN: Travel is a frequently deployed metaphor in the piece, so the slightly surrealized sound of a train was requested. I montaged and subtly scrambled elements of recordings I'd made of trains in central Ohio, Delhi, and my recent honeymoon (en route from Seattle to Vancouver) to give the listener the impression of being both inside and outside the train at once. mp3

IN UTERO: Themes of adoption and addiction (to nicotene, in this case) intertwine throughout the play. McGinley wanted a soundscape to evoke the womb of his birth mother, and for us to hear warped impressions of her lighting cigarettes, inhaling, exhaling, and speaking simultaneously. Here's what we wound up with. mp3

CONVENIENCE STORE: An inebriated visit to a convenience store operates as a metaphor for life's searches, choices, memories, and regrets. To create this environment sonically, I montaged recordings I'd gathered of establishments in Portland, OR and Minneapolis. mp3

Close to the top of the show, McGinley imagines his birth mother and father meeting at an airport bar and discussing how much kids irritate them. For this segment I recorded on-set audio, edited the post sound and arranged the piano jazz you hear in the background.

Upon seeing the show, I was amazed at how much further editing Holway and McGinley accomplished with the audio-- I have to say they were as responsible for the sound design of the show as I was. Nice work, guys. Always a pleasure.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Last Address

I'm really liking Walker Art Center's practice of screening short films on a loop in the lecture room during gallery hours. Yesterday I had a chance to pop in for Last Address, Ira Sachs' 8-minute piece.

The film consists entirely of static footage shot outside the last residences of New York artists who died of complications from AIDS. Many shots feature tree branches that twist and hiss in the wind (Damian Volpe does a fine job of keeping the potential problems of wind sound under control), evocative of life's fragility as the imagery bears witness to mounting loss. An elegiac and refreshingly simple film.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Future Is You

From time to time I sit in with Brown Rainbow, an amorphous project with no fixed personnel and a carte blanche approach to music making. A recent session gathered Charles Gillett, Bryce Beverlin, Rich Barlow, and myself in Charles' basement.

The result: The Future Is You (available for free mp3 download at the preceding link). An entire day in the making from showing up at the house place to final upload of the recordings and cover art, "The Future Is You" is easily the most important statement to emerge from Charles' basement in the past month or so.

I play synth (via laptop) on "Implied Chariots" (so named because the melody seems poised to segue into "Chariots of Fire" at any moment but never does), the title cut, "The Twinkling" (my favorite of the bunch; I don't think I've ever heard a track featuring sax, banjo, and Moogy synth bass before, though who knows), and "The Tits on Those Mannequins", drums on "Animal Insides", "You Don't Have to Worry" and "The Yellow Rose", and banjo plus tambourine on "Just Slip Further".

The samples I'm contorting on "Better to Have It and Not Need It" are mostly wilhelm screams. Charles got a lot of lyrics by reading out of books; Bryce got the lyrics for the title track from spontaneous divine inspiration. Trevor sketched us while we played; I'm hoping the art will show up online eventually.


Monday, May 10, 2010

mp3 vs. fidelity

Nice NY Times article about the decrease in fidelity that's accompanied the rise of mp3 and its playback devices.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Tetsuo: Iron Man

I finally got the chance to see Shinya Tsukamoto's Tetsuo: Iron Man recently, and I wasn't sorry about it. Crafted with obsessively detailed lo-fi art direction, shot in 16 mm black and white in a pileup of vertiginous angles, and spliced into a rapid-fire frenzy that proposes the spectacle of "Eraserhead" on speed, the film plunges into a cyberpunk netherworld where nature appears to have vanished altogether. All that remains is a wilderness of discarded machinery, piles of scrap metal and and rows of rundown buildings. The relentless pounding and slashing of Chu Ishikawa's industrial score drives the frenetic visuals.

The victim of a hit-and-run car accident, a "metals fetishist" (played by Tsukamoto) takes his revenge on the businessman responsible (Tomorowo Taguchi) by transforming the latter into an amorphous cyborg. Machinery literally bursts forth from Taguchi's body, overtaking him in a harrowing sequence that recalls the fusions and fetishes of early Cronenberg films.

Tsukamoto tells his victim that the violation will open his eyes to a "new world". Indeed, one is reminded of J.G. Ballard's novel "Crash" (the denizens of which fetishized car accidents as an apocalyptic cybernetic paradigm), adapted brilliantly by Cronenberg in the mid-90s. (imdb says the film adaptation references "Tetsuo" somewhere; I'll have to go back and check that out.) We get the sense that Taguchi's transformation may be a hallucination, and/although the visions that accompany his ordeal are often viewed on a TV screen-- technology mediates his thoughts just as it augments his body.

Infector fuses with infected as the film lurches toward a conclusion that demands a sequel. In fact, Part III of the franchise is due in 2010, and I hope that'll make Part II more readily available in the West than it appears to be now. I've read that the second film is even better than the first. And given that this is one of the most compelling films I've ever seen, that is something to look forward to.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Symptom : BodyCartography Project

I've recently had the pleasure to design sound for a work in progress called Symptom, developed by The BodyCartography Project for a SCUBA Touring Network showcase at the Southern Theater in April 2010. (The video above documents the Southern Theater performance; below is an earlier iteration of the piece at Judson Church in NYC.)

The company states an intent for the piece to "investigate notions of social bodies versus biological bodies, tease out dynamics of sibling rivalry, and explore the gaps between seeing, knowing and empathy... We want to investigate the disparity between what people see and what they feel that they know as fact. We want to find out if we can alter what viewers visually observe and change what they know, or conversely, if we can change what they know and thereby change the way they see."

We developed a 20-minute version of the piece over the course of about a week and a half, experimenting to discover how the intent could be brought to life onstage. As part of the visual score, brothers Otto and Emmett Ramstad spend a good deal of time posturing with microphones, embodying a physical vocabulary of public address-- sometimes speaking but often defying the expectation that a physical gesture with the mic will necessarily be accompanied by speech. By the end of the piece, the mic cables (chosen specifically as bright yellow for this outing) created a design across the stage floor by means of the dancers' movements:

To portray a gap between sensory input and perception, I sampled the Ramstads' voices as they spoke and held the sound for playback during subsequent passages. The notion of looping perception also lent itself to the use of feedback; a section of the piece uses live noise generated when the dancers move close to an amplifier that's wired to a feed of the audio from the PA. The resulting feedback then crossfades into a piece I composed [mp3] that starts as a piercing whine and morphs into distorted harmonies before dissolving into an echo. To superimpose one perception over another, I also recorded the dancers at work in the creaky rehearsal space [mp3]; we superimposed this over the dancers' movements during the performance at a fairly high volume at one point.

More info on "Symptom"

Monday, April 12, 2010


A web site where you can upload a sound and have it played back in a huge water tank. How have we lived without this till now?

Sunday, April 4, 2010

ACTivation/ The Directors

Recently I've been working as the location recordist on a film project involving issues faced by contemporary teens.

The concept is still evolving, so I'll quote the official copy from the site of The Directors, which states it's "producing its first film this spring for a new start-up company, ACTivation. With a working title of Set to Spark, by Trista Baldwin, this will be the first film in a library of online content that ACTivation will make available to teachers, parents, community leaders and other youth influencers."

I've been having a blast working with director Steve Barberio, cinematographer Kevin Obsatz, producer Tim Wilkins, and a host of talented performers and technicians. We'll wrap the shoot in the coming week, and then I'll head into the studio and get to work on editing post production sound. Looking forward to it.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Stacking Chips : trailer online

I spent the winter of '09 to '10 laboring over the dialogue editing, Foley, and sound design of this film. A trailer now graces YouTube (I didn't work on the trailer, just to be clear). Enjoy!

Apologies if the screen of the video is chopped off on the right side-- not sure what's up with that. I'm just a sound guy, after all. Go directly to the YouTube link here if you like.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Never Gonna Give It Up: The Rickroll Chronicles

By now, most Internet vets are familiar with-- and really, really tired of-- the phenomenon of the rickroll. If you're not up to speed yet, and you really have nothing better to do than read the following story, then you might want to familiarize yourself with the rickrolling Wikipedia entry (and there's even some interesting historical trivia there for the initiated, truth be known).

Anyway... I believe a good joke doesn't become more stale but actually improves with age, like fine wine, as this tale will attest. You see, I was utterly unaware of the rickroll till about the end of 2008, when my friend Brian told me about it. I repaid the favor by almost immediately sending him a link I told him was an appearance by David Bowie on the Muppet Show-- something I knew Brian couldn't resist-- but which, of course, led to a clip of Rick Astley's Never Gonna Give You Up video. Brian was enraged, I was elated, and war ensued.

One night Brian, a couple other friends, and myself convened to watch an episode of "Battlestar Galactica" at Brian's place. After the opening segment, instead of the usual credits for the show, that familiar drum fill sounded and Mr. Astley cavorted before us, as the video for "Never Gonna Give You Up" unfolded and the words "Suck it, Hallenbeck!" cruised across the screen. Brian had artfully prepared a "special edition" DVD, and sweet victory was his.

Temporarily, anyway. I happen to be acquainted with Brian's guitar teacher. I felt that if he could be turned, he would be a valuable ally. Once the recruitment process was complete, it didn't take long for Brian to walk into a guitar lesson only to find a chord chart for "Never Gonna Give You Up" waiting for him. He could run, but he couldn't hide.

He did, however, avenge. Brian is a huge Morrisey fan. One day, after telling me at length about some of his favorite Morrisey tracks, he loaded them on a flash drive for me to take home. It was easy to locate them on my mp3 player: there was Morrisey's name, his likeness on the cover art, the track title... but each one I tried to play instead turned out to be "Never Gonna Give You Up", meticulously re-tagged as a decoy rickrolling time bomb.

My next sleeper cell conversion was the producer of a play Brian was soon to act in. Sitting down to sign his contract, Brian found clauses to the effect that "Artist pledges not to give Producer up, let Producer down, run around and hurt Producer..." etc. Brian had to sign his own rickroll. Humiliation was upon him.

One night at karaoke I asked Brian if he wanted to reprise the duet of the Everly Brothers' "All I Have to Do Is Dream" we'd sung a couple years back. He said sure. I went up to the KJ and submitted "Never Gonna Give You Up" instead. Once I'd gone elsewhere, Brian went up to the KJ and said "See that bald guy over there? Whatever song he submitted, I want you to change it to 'Never Gonna Give You Up'." Somewhat confused, the KJ replied: "But he already asked for 'Never Gonna Give You Up'." At this point Brian's eyes locked with mine across the room in a moment of horrified recognition. We'd unwittingly created a rickrolling feedback loop. Ultimately we dueted on "Never Gonna Give You Up" as a resolution, which turned out not to be such a great idea.

And so on. Atrocity begets atrocity, and eventually war becomes a lifestyle. I'm getting married soon, and I'm thinking about having "Never Gonna Give You Up" sung at my wedding since it is in fact an anthem of fidelity and celebration. It'll be a small ceremony, out of town, and while I'm gone Brian will rest easy in the knowledge that he can go about his business rickroll-free. Or can he? Better watch your back, Brian... even from halfway across the country, you know I'm never gonna give you up. And by the way: have you seen this long lost T. Rex video?


Interesting article about beeps in the NY Times today. Features a nice index of famous beeps from cultural history.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Lego sequencer

I'm way too busy to post this, but it will not do not to:

"Yoshi Akai... has created a complete 8-step, 3 channel LEGO sequencer that actually works."

Read more

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Wandering Ear : getting ready for the 2000s

My friend Nathan Larson and I are getting off our duffs and dusting off Wandering Ear, a net label we co-curate to bring you audio related to field recording from around the world.

We're starting to think this whole Web 2.0 thing might catch on someday. So we've decided to add a Twitter feed and a fan page on Facebook. Adventurous, eh? Drop by if you care to.

A couple of new releases in the works too, so stay tuned...

Appetite for Self-Destruction

I recently finished "Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age" by Steve Knopper, and I found it a very illuminating read. I certainly knew the music business has become a bloated behemoth, but I wasn't aware of just how bloated till I read this book. The magnitude of hubris, greed, and sheer waste is nothing short of staggering, and keeps the pages turning with the urgency of a trashy true-crime account.

Along the way we get detailed accounts of 90s artifacts I recall only as media constructions burnished by rumor and hearsay. Knopper raises the curtain on Napster's hapless mismanagement, and the tale of warring boy band managers-- one winding up relatively broke, another one of the richest humans on the planet-- is epic and riveting.

The issues surrounding downloading, intellectual property and the cultural marketplace are complex indeed, and one's positions on them are easily influenced by the distinct vantage points of creator, seller, or consumer. But this book brings to mind something I've been thinking about lately: any economy to some degree thrives on deprivation, and if that deprivation is surmounted, then the dependent economy will collapse (or be replaced by others).

Many arguments justifying downloading contend that "labels are ripping off all the artists anyway" (as if the speaker has thoroughly researched each artist's career before proceeding) or "labels are ripping me off with how much they charge for CDs" (generally quite true). But I think it's important to acknowledge that the real reason we download is the same reason so much other digital technology has flourished: it allows us gratification not only without spending money or leaving the house, but in fact without even getting off the couch.

I don't have any real point to make here-- but that's never stopped me from blogging before. Suffice to say that the current music-biz landscape of 360 deals, licensing, ringtones, and the like is fascinating and-- as a former co-worker of mine used to observe-- "weird". Anyway, I recommend this book if you're interested in a recent history of the music biz and its calamitous decline.