The River :  A composition for ambisonics

The River is an electronic-acoustic concept piece. Programmed for mixed-order ambisonic acoustics, the project sonifies the recollection of a memory of an extended backpacking trip in Zion National Park, Utah. Beginning in the past, the listener travels through a memory of the backcountry, plunges into a river, and follows it down into the canyonlands and valley floor. Each timbre and texture corresponds to a specific feature along the journey. Finally, the composition concludes with the listener returning back to the present, along the shores of northern California.

A binaural version of the end result can be downloaded/streamed here.

Checkpoint: Week One

This week was spent making rough sketches for the project concept. I've done quite a lot of brainstorming and will organize myself by dividing the process up into smaller pieces: sound design, composition, mixing (in binaural), and final mixing (with ambisonics).

Checkpoint: Week Two

I've made good headway on designing textures and timbres to use in the piece. Most of these sounds will be produced via VST software plugins such as Native Instrument's Massive and Absynth, or iZotope's Vinyl, though I plan to include electric and acoustic guitars, as well as piano and vocals for setting. I've started thinking about how the timbres that I find unique and appleaing can be applied to certain concepts or objects, such as walking or cacti.

Checkpoint: Week Three

Most effort has now been devoted to composition, and I've settled on a few motifs and themes that will permeate the entire piece. To deepen the contrast between present and past memory, to different keys will be used (Amaj and Emin), as well as two different sets of chordal and melodic motifs. However, several textures and characteristics of each will be present in the other, i.e. the use of white noise, sample speed modulation, audio jittering and splicing, and bit rate modulation. An example of the opening/closing chord progression im using is below:

Checkpoint: Week Four

More progress in composition. I have subdivided the trip into individual experiences rather than days, and I am working to highlight the following milestones: arrival and beginning the trail, backcountry woodlands, foothills and seeing the panorama of the canyonlands for the first time, diving into the river, following it into the canyonlands and slot canyons, and arriving at the valley floor. Then there is the matter of tying in the transition back from past memory to present reality.

Checkpoint: Week Five

I went out to the Dish and off campus and got some field recordings to layer throughout the piece. I also dug through my files and found a few nice bird and beach recordings, as well as those we got from the 220A whale-recording hydrophone trip. Additionaly, I finalized the synths and timbres I'll be working with. A little funky demo showcasing some is linked below:

Checkpoint: Week Six

I worked almost exclusively this week on the canyonlands and slot canyons. It introduces a lot of new textures, but continues with the same melodic themes. A sand and stone scraping recording, as well as a side-chained white noise duck really adds a tactile dimension, and the cave water-droplet-like supporting rhythms synths are filling the space well. A small demo of my progress on this slot-canyon-cave sequence can be found here:

Checkpoint: Week Seven

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Checkpoint: Week Eight

Composition is finally complete. It's all been written. This week was mainly final binaural mixing, touch-ups, and ultimately bouncing the whole thing down to seven different mono .wav stems to be mixed in ambisonics for the finalized version. Six of the stems are classified according to spacial positioning, including front, back, left, right, center, and top. The final stem is a "free" stem, whose image will be automated and moved in space much more drastically and frequently than the base stems. Each can be listened to below, to give you an idea of how the complete piece is comprised of different parts:

Checkpoint: Week Nine

This whole week has been spent in the Listening Room at CCRMA working on mixing in ambisonics. I'll be using mixed-order ambisonics, with horizantal order 2 and vertical order 1, which means that my seven distinct audio signals will simultaneously route to the six virtual channels W X Y Z U and V for decoding by the openmixer. I'll be using Fons Adriensen's ambisonic 2-1 panners and Ardour 3 as my digital audio workstation for playback and mixing.

Checkpoint: Week Ten

She's all done! My final week was spent making very minor adjustments to automation and finding my favorite combination of pillows a pads to lay on while listening. Really happy with how it turned out... it was definitely worth the all-nighters and unhealthy amounts of coffee.