Sound is Promiscuous

From my research and from decades of playing music, I have come to the conclusion that sounds are somehow inherently promiscuous. They are always mixing up and screwing around with other sounds, transgressing boundaries, creating new wholes from disparate parts. Musicians crossed race lines before civil rights. Even if the musicians stayed segregated, the sounds drifted from one camp to the other. African American jazz pioneers worked with classical European instruments, and white dance band leaders borrowed extensively from African American musical stylings. Mari Yoshihara, in her book Musicians from a Different Shore, explains how Asian and Asian American musicians have encountered European classical music.

Microphone bleed: one instrument gets in another one’s channel, interfering with the sounds of analog recordings.  Studios have all sorts of contraptions to isolate the instruments, but then the problem becomes that the music sounds sterile and dead, so there is an opposite “live in the studio” tendency as well, where precision gives way to the different feel of promiscuous sounds all getting into each other, which would seem to be what is at the heart of ensemble playing of any sort.

TR-808, By Eriq at Dutch Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

In the digital realm, where every drum in a kit can have its own channel with no bleed, software has to add in microphone bleed along with overhead microphones for the drums to sound alive.  The unmixed drum sound has found its own niche in hip hop and electronic dance music, where the Roland TR-808 and 909 drum machines are ubiquitous and instantly recognizable, but there, especially in hip hop, sampling mixes sounds promiscuously in other ways that have quite disrupted the music industry before being co-opted and stabilized as a commodity (although there are still undergrounds).

Of course music is not the only place sounds mix. In spite of writerly (and thus visual — print and writing are after all, visual media) attempts to standardize and fix languages, they keep coming together and changing into each other: Spanglish, hundreds of pidgins and creoles, African American Vernacular English, all the Latin borrowings in English.  Languages are constantly changing in the speaking, only becoming fixed when dead. Indeed the morality that attends promiscuity can be found in these places as when creole languages were and occasionally still are deemed inferior and corrupt, with campaigns made to stomp them out so that the “true” written language might be kept “pure.” Such campaigns coursed through public schools in Hawai?i in the first half of the twentieth century and are still occasionally proposed, though thankfully no longer executed, today.

Or just listen. For me a kid shuffling feet outside mixes with traffic whooshes to create an ambient texture over the yelling from the ballpark half a mile away. Above, trade winds whisper in and out of the treetops, planes rumble across the sky. Inside, another person pecks at a keyboard in the other room even as my own keys clack away. The more I listen the more I hear, so that sometimes there is a sort of inscrutable hum of something intimately familiar yet unidentifiable any more for being the mix of a thousand local sounds too quiet to each be distinctly heard, all mixing it up, the sound perhaps of life itself.


Play it on a sunny day if you’re only happy when it rains. This is a chill thing, not much going on it seems on the surface. Nice background music that will make you reach for your raincoat when you leave. The track is a simple live guitar improv run through four different lanes with the use of some rain sounds in unusual ways.

Only read more if you want to geek out on the details.

The first thing to come in….the pit-pat of drops splatting…is a guitar synth triggering samples of my home-made wooden-keyed sansa.  This is “lane 1”

IMG_0114Soon after you gradually begin to hear two sets of ambient rain sounds emerge in the background. These are the only other thing than the four-lane guitar. The first to enter are a group of snippets of from a freesounds field recording of rain on a tin roof. The recording is split into pseudo-mid-side, with one section of the clip providing the mid, the common base sound to both stereo channels. Then two other clips, both from different times on the same recording are placed, one on the right channel and one on the left, to provide some stereo, giving the track a sense of space. All this was because the original field recording was mono and I want the stereo to be big on this. The second track is a stereo field recording I made of the rain as it sounded on the 9th floor outdoor walkway of my apartment. It is in stereo from the start, and much more “ambient” than the tin roof.

The second guitar lane comes in during fade in of the ambient rain. It is still the same guitar notes as the pit-pat samples. It is electric guitar, more or less pretty clean, run through two vocoders, one with the “left” side of the tin roof pseudo stereo recording, the other with the right side. On one vocoder it is the carrier, on the other it is the modulator. This means that one side of the guitar sounds like it is playing through the rain, while the other side sounds like the rain is playing through the guitar. The two sides are sent through the rain yet again, this time using a convolution plugin that makes the vocoder processed guitar/tin roof sound as if it is playing in the tin roof rain. Got some tin roof rain for your tin roof rain sound. All of this gives the guitar a sort of watery voice I think while still keeping the notes clear.

That gets joined soon after by the third lane, the “acoustic channel” of my Godin e
lectric guitar. This makes the articulation of the “watery” guitar clearer. The fourth guitar lane (still the same single guitar playing though) then fades in, a reverb drenched, trebly guitar that smears everything up again, but just in the background, tying together the guitar with the rain tracks to complete the atmosphere. Past the middle, all of the sounds gradually fade out one by one til only the the vocoded, convoluted guitar and a little ambience is left at the end.

As a special bonus, the art for the song is made from the spectrogram of the mix, which looked nicely smeared and rainy to my eye. That is the part “outside” the car. The driver’s eye view of the road and the inside of the car is stolen. Not saying from where.

connection fail

jammin on that modem like its 1999.  lol, got a “connection fail” message when uploading this.  its a sign.


#4 and #5 from rreplay

more lost
Thinking about how much suburban homes look like motherboards, I missed my turn.  We missed last week’s installment, so here are two new rreplay tracks this week.  “more lost” ostensibly “about” driving in Somervill, MA, where this was recorded, and “we suppose,” because we wanted to call it that we suppose.  Hope you did not miss us too much!


Eric and I are putting together a demo cd to get gigs, and we will sort out what we think are the best cuts from our recordings here. If anyone is out there, we would love to know what you think of the songs. We have decided to call the band rreplay. We had been initialing all the songs rrep for Eric (EP) and me (RR), and Karen came up with a whole bunch of song titles punning on words beginning with “rep.” We thought rreplay sort of captures what we’re doing then, no? Anyway, on to the music.

My favorite thing we’ve done as of right now is a very loose cover of a chicha song by Los Mirlos — “Sonido Amazonico.” Ours is going by the name of “Amazonia Dub” right now. Chica is hybrid pyschedelic surf twang cumbia music played by hard partying Peruvians who had come to the oil boom cities of Amazonian Peru in the 1960s. Great stuff. You can find out more at Los Mirlos’s website and at Barbes Records, where you can hear a whole collection of Chicha songs. Once I heard it I had to get the album!

My second favorite song that clocks in under ten minutes is this one, which for now is called “cool keep” (We have to figure out what to do with the longer stuff, like this trip-hoppy kind of thing). I also like this little slide blues from last week. This is its rowdier sister. We’ll probably put one blues thing on just to mix it up.

Well, that’s all for now. As always check out all the free music on if you like what you’ve found here.