Thursday, December 29, 2011

Blue Heaven: Previews of Original Music

Some works in progress I'm creating for choreographer/ dancer Lisa Conlin's "Blue Heaven". This evening of dance happens February 11th and 12th at Balleraena Dance Studios in Sioux Falls, SD and March 1st- 4th at the Ritz Theater in Minneapolis.

Inspired by the loss of loved ones in Conlin's own life, "Blue Heaven" explores mourning through movement. Conlin identifies grief as a multi-stage process, choreographing a segment to investigate each one.

This being a dance piece, my mission is of course to create music that's compelling yet immersive, consonant with the action onstage rather without calling attention to itself. The first two of these pieces (while still works in progress) are presented as they're currently in use for choreography and are quite long, unfolding gradually to accompany current choreography as opposed to being "quick" demos.

Bargaining [ Work in Progress ] by juniorbirdman

For the "bargaining" stage (audio above), Conlin imagines the dancers as orphans in the woods. I've created this piece in response, invoking not only a variety of instrumentation but also the sound of crickets outside my mom's house in Ohio.

Anger [ Work in Progress ] by juniorbirdman

This piece (audio above) accompanying the "anger" stage, incorporates the most abrasive, aggressive noise I've been able to conjure. Eventually it'll also incorporate vocal samples from Brian Evans, who dances solo for much of the segment.

Blue Heaven : End Montage [ Work in Progress ] by juniorbirdman

Here's a rough demo of what we're putting together for the end of the show (audio above), wherein healing and reintegration come into play.

Enjoy! And if you need any more info, feel free to contact me through my web site.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


[ Update: I stand corrected about some of what I say below, specifically my doubt that the film achieves many of its aims via CGI and that "plenty of it seems to have involved actual intervention in the locations that would have involved a great deal of planning and logistics." It seems so, yes, but having now viewed the Blu-Ray extras I can see that I was quite mistaken. And also let me say I'm really excited for Gareth Edwards to be helming the latest Godzilla in 2014! --MH, October 2013 ]

I recently spent a sick day watching a bunch of movies, and was happy to stumble across this one on streaming Netflix. Released in 2010, Monsters seems to have slipped through the cracks for the most part. Which is too bad. It's worthwhile viewing for fans of that all-too-rare artifact, the intelligent monster movie.

The film takes place in a large swath of Mexico near the border with the U.S. A returning space probe has somehow left this area "infected" by enormous tentacled beings, for the most part glimpsed as incidental/ peripheral phenomena. A photojounralist (Scoot McNairy) must transport his boss' daughter (Whitney Able) through the infected zone back to the U.S. I won't reveal too much more of the plot; suffice to say the film draws intriuging parallels between the human characters and their monstrous foils (the latter of which we get to know a little better by the end). The characters are well drawn, the cinematography hand-held verite with a magic-hour meditative sensibility.

Indeed, the film impresses technically given meager means. Its imdb page estimates $800,000 as the budget, and claims it was "made with a crew consisting of only two people using 'off the shelf' $8,400 cameras, editors, digital effects programs and other such equipment." I'll buy that, though I'm a little skeptical that "settings featured in the film were real locations often used without permission". My doubt arises from what I like most about the film-- the art direction portrays the alien "infestation" as having integrated into daily life by means of weathered signs and murals, ominous wreckage, and glimpses of news footage. I'm sure some of it could be CGI, but plenty of it seems to have involved actual intervention in the locations that would have involved a great deal of planning and logistics.

But no matter. I love monsters and I love film, and this movie offers otherworldly creatures emblematic of compelling ideas. And that, my friends, is how a monster move oughta be!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Repurposing, Part II

Snuck in some more work on "Foley In Search Of A Film" today; liking it more and more as it develops. I'm hoping to post an excerpt once it's a little further along.

It's pretty hilarious to hear all these cues pumped up at full volume rather than tucked into their usual subtle contexts; all sorts of disjunct room tones, quirks and glitches that usually disappear suddenly pop front and center. They have an alien quality when de-contextualized. Rather than my usual fussy crossfade nips and tucks, I think I'm going to leave the hard edges on audio regions to max out contrasts.

I'm struck by how much narrative is implied by the sounds of assorted activities, both through layering and through isolated sequential presentation. I'm wondering how to play with that; encourage, discourage, subvert, sabotage?

It's nice to finally move into some work that's highly presentational in terms of elemental recording; all too often I'll solo some element from a multitrack recording and think "That sounds really pleasing all by itself". Why not strip it all away and present it thusly?

I should also mention that this composition has been influenced by the work of Swedish composer and sound artist Hanna Hartman, whose boldly stark montages of field recordings and Foley-esque studio recordings have really been impressing me lately.


I've been invited to contribute a sound piece to the listening room at a sound art festival. I'm putting together a piece called "Foley in Search of a Film", which assembles Foley cues I've created for film and video pieces as a sound montage. I've had this idea in mind for a while, and it's exciting to finally sit down and work on it.

But the main challenge I'd anticipated has evaporated: I was wondering how I was going to make all these cues gel and go somewhere interesting. Instead, I've found that pretty much every combo of elements is dynamic and powerful. It's like selecting a whole bunch of eloquent people from different fields and inviting them over for a party; yanked from their original context and placed in sudden conversation, they have a lot of compelling things to say to each other.

This experience provides a link I've sought for a while: I've long been interested in the mis-use/ re-purposing of tools and methods, but I've never really known why. Here I'm finding that simply re-contextualizing some element of a process can refresh its mission as it stands in starker contrast. Wondering how to juxtapose elements never meant to be juxtaposed encourages examination of each element's essence.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Recent work

Links to some of my recent music composition and sound design.

For more info, feel free to drop by my recently updated web site.


Original music, audio accents and sound design for an episode of the "Inside Sessions" series produced by Avid and NYC's, featuring an in-studio performance by the band Beirut. I also completed the post mix for the video.


Los Angeles production company Yes Equals Yes used a couple of my musical accents (at the very beginning and at :29, for those of you keeping score at home) in this spot.

Sound and music for animation. Foley arts, recording of narration and character voices, original music composition, and final mix for the animation collection "Reform: Ancestors", a DVD of Old Testament stories from the Sparkhouse line at Augsburg Fortress Press.

Highlight reel of original music for "re:form Ancestors: Old Testament" DVD

Highlight reel of Foley and sound effects for "re:form Ancestors: Old Testament" DVD


An educational film concerning issues faced by contemporary teens. I served as location recordist, Foley artist, dialogue editor, and post mixer.


Original music for "I Like You", a multi-disciplinary performance piece by choreographer/ director Laura Holway. The show concerns varying spheres of intimacy, and how social experience transcends the barriers between these zones to establish human relationships. I accommodated requests for mandolin folk, funky synth pop, and a glitchy insect orchestra.


The debut of my performance/ installation project the Sound Spandrel, presented at the Science Museum of Minnesota as part of Northern Spark's 2011 Nuit Blanche festival on June 4th. A site-specific sonic event somewhere between performance and installation, the Sound Spandrel explores space via sound, integrating an environment's sonic character as both raw material and the medium of presentation.


To be sure, I'm a fan of spectacularly failed media. Lately I've been indulging in terrible movie musicals, the most momentous of which I've wintessed recently is definitely Voyage of the Rock Aliens. But V.O.T.R.A.'s availability in the U.S. is nil without some Internet gymnastics. So instead I'll discourse upon my second favorite recent find, 1990's Rockula-- recently rescued from distribution oblivion by the great re-animator that is streaming Netflix.

This is far from the worst movie I've ever seen (though exactly what is the worst movie I've ever seen? That'd be a hard call), but it's really dumb in all the right ways. Best of all, it's the only film I'm aware of to feature appearances by Toni Basil, Thomas Dolby, and-- who else?-- Bo Diddley. That's right. All three of these people in the same film.

The plot concerns a 200-year-old vampire named Ralph LaVie (Dean Cameron) who's been cursed to meet Mona, the reincarnated love of his life, every 22 years. For some reason Mona is always killed by a peg-legged pirate on Halloween night, and this cycle will continue until the curse is broken.

Anyway, Mona's a singer in this era, so Ralph decides to impress her by starting a band called Rockula. Bo Diddley is somehow persuaded to join this combo, which immediately starts playing huge club dates in the way that bands in movies often do. Witness:

Mona, of course, is quite impressed by all this (who wouldn't be?), and lots of romantic comedy stuff ensues. This includes meeting Ralph's mom (Toni Basil), who's also a vampire, and who for some reason decides to regale Mona with the following musical number:

Yep. If you've ever wondered what went on with Ms. Basil between "Mickey" and the choreography for those Gap ads, wonder no more...

But my favorite deliciously terrible moment in this film is, hands down, the big hip hop number. Check this out:

Truly incredible. So it kind of goes on like this... basically a dumb 80s musical romantic comedy, but it plunges into a surreal lack of quality often enough to satisfy. Vinnie Rattolle's terrific blog goes into a lot more detail if you're interested-- this is where I found out about the film in the first place. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 14, 2011


Quick late-night thought:

Why do I prefer one sound over another? Just in terms of pure timbre, blends of timbres. etc.

I just thought of buying an album online, but upon hearing a sample I thought "Nah, I've never liked the sound of [ name of instrument ]".

The instrument doesn't matter. But why don't I like that sound? And why do I prefer others over it? I suppose there could be any number of reasons-- cultural, experiential, blah blah-tial. But by the same token, I've sometimes found myself saying "I really like the sound of..." and when queried as to why, I've always been stumped.

I should think about how and why these preferences arise, in my own practice and in the sounds I choose to experience.

The question is: how do I figure out how to figure this out? Which approach will help me approach this?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Coconut Milk [ Work in Progress ]

A little jam under the working title "Coconut Milk", currently featured in Laura Holway's dance show I Like You.

Coconut Milk [ Work in Progress ] by juniorbirdman

The need was for a funky piece of music with a "square" feel to accompany highly regimented activities.

The example I was given was Rip It Up by Orange Juice:

I took the chug-a-chug beat plus the juicy vintage synth sounds and ran with them. Arrangements pile on, layer and build.

Still a work in progress... needs some fills and flourishes, and toward the end the track becomes kind of doodly/ noodly as less developed ideas unravel, though they have potential so I've left them in as sketches. I hope to realize the arrangement further someday.

Enjoy! --MH

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sound Spandrel Audio Preview

Some sounds I've been developing for my Sound Spandrel: Science Museum performance, part of the Northern Spark festival on June 4th, 2011. NOTE: Hours for the Sound Spandrel event have been revised to 11:30 pm- 2 am. Unlike most of the festival, this performance will not last all night.

The performance will take place in the lobby of the Science Museum of Minnesota in St Paul. The only real direction for performers is to make sound that somehow responds to the space they're in.

I made a series of recordings in said lobby recently, and did some work filtering the sounds to isolate the frequencies that seemed relevant. I've spliced up the resulting audio for use in remixing. The Sound Spandrel focuses on the sonically marginal and parenthetical, so I zoomed in on as tightly isolated samples as possible to accent the peripheral and easily overlooked. While much of the performance will be delivered via acoustic instruments, I (and perhaps other performers) will use these samples as source material for remixes.

I excerpted various sounds from these recordings, most elementally the basic percussive sounds of things like the pressing of a button on the cash machine, cutting off the connection on the public phone, and the closing of a locker and a door. Using follow actions in Ableton Live, I created a stack of samples that would sequence all these brief "ticks" as a rhythmic grid that randomized playback in a generative manner, varying the rhythmic pattern infinitely while forcing it to adhere to a pre-determined meter. Then I complicated things by adding sounds of clangs and bangs, processing said clangs and bangs using Live's grain delay filter.

Similarly, I chopped up and sequenced the ambience of the lobby (as well as the incidental footsteps and impacts therein), and tried a little processing of that too.

If you look closely in the above image, you'll see a sine wave-shaped line vertically bisecting the image. This is one of two spinning wires hovering over the front doors of the lobby. I found that by aiming a boom mic at one of these and heavily filtering the recording, I could fairly well isolate the frequencies at which the spinning wire resonates. Then, of course, I manipulated the result.

A sculpture next to the information desk pumps bubbles through fluid; you can see it stretching to the ceiling toward the right in this post's second photo down. I recorded the clicking of the valves and created a generative sequence in Live's follow actions, varying the pitch of each slice and including a backwards version of each for a little more variety. Then I tried the good old grain delay for a processed version.

And below is a montage employing all of the above in a sketch of what I may or may not be doing as part of the performance. This is a real time improvisation in Ableton Live.

Sound Spandrel: Science Museum [ Audio Preview ] by juniorbirdman

Monday, April 25, 2011

Bike ride: Easter Sunday 2011

I've become obsessed with bicycling in the past year (bisected though said year has been by one of the most brutal winters I've ever experienced). The path I take from north Minneapolis to downtown is lovely, and I've been thinking about trying to record it for quite some time. This past Sunday I decided to do so. The result:

Bike Ride April 24th 2011 by juniorbirdman

I used some in-ear binarual mics and wore a winter cap while I rode to try to cut down on wind noise. The resulting recording was largely overwhelmed by wind noise nonetheless, but a few passages were placid enough to be "legible" and I found that by pushing the high-pass filter I was able to filter out enough noise on other areas to make it a pleasant enough listen even if it is a little thin. From the original twelve-minute recording (the battery in the minidisc recorder ran out by then) I was able to salvage enough chunks to put together about four minutes by crossfading pieces together. I think it works much better on headphones than on speakers.

At about 2:49 a car pulling a trailer full of junk clatters by. I'm not sure what the fan-type droning at about 3:12 is; my guess is it's some sort of ventilation system in the building I was passing.

There are all sorts of recycling centers and other ill-defined warehouse type places along the route. At some point I want to stop and record all the clanging, banging and crunching along the way (which only happens during the week). It'd make a nice sound map I think.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Recent viewing/ listening

A busy time, and plenty I'd like to write about... but for now here's a list of things I've watched and heard recently that have tickled my fancy.


--Cowards Bend the Knee (I hope to write a separate entry about this soon... truly an extraordinary film.)
--The Adventures of Prince Achmed
--The Human Condition, Pt. 1
--True Grit
--Young @ Heart
--Paranormal Activity 2
--The Wire Season Three (for something like the 3rd or 4th time)
--White Zombie


--Dimlite, "Prismic Tops"
--Earle Brown, "Selected Works 1952-1965"
--Take Acre, "Believers" (see previous entry)
--Balmorhea, "Constellations"
--Various artists, "Forbidden Planets: Music From the Pioneers of Electronic Sound"
--Various artists, "Cowboy Crooners Sing Songs of the West"
--Baby, "Where It's Gonna Be"
--Rehdogg, "Watch My Flow"