Sound recording and preservation


Over the past few years I have recorded natural soundscapes such as those of the Canadian Rockies as well as the urban soundscapes and sound-objects of my home country, Iran.


In 2012, I traveled to Iran spending seven weeks gathering field recordings of traditional Iranian professions such as carpet weaving, cotton fluffing, felting, calligraphy, coppersmithing, among others. In a search for genuine soundscapes and sound-objects, I traveled to different cities and villages: Tehran, Kashan, Qazvin, Meraq, Isfahan and Sedeh to name a few. Many of these professions are on the edge of extinction and some have already vanished from the face of larger cities. With the disappearance of these professions, their rich and long lasting legacy will be lost forever. I tried to capture aspects of the sonic world of these workshops and I was able to record a large collection of soundscapes that are under the threat of extinction.


For more information about this field recording trip as well as some of the pictures and sounds recorded in Iran see:


One of my future field recording projects involves recording dialects of Persian origin and performing a comparative study of their timbral, rhythmic and intonation characteristics.



Deriving musical materials from concrete sounds


In my compositions involving concrete sounds, potential harmonic content of the recorded sonic material are investigated: using computer spectral analysis I take these sounds and study the possible intrinsic harmonic implications of their timbres. The dominant features of sound spectrums, which are central to defining their timbre, serve as the pitch content and inspire the organization of various harmonic sonorities. In other words, I use the data informed by spectral analysis to create harmonic sonorities that are to be played by the music ensemble. I intend to reflect the natural spectra of sounds in the harmonic colors of the instrumental music.


These spectral chords are then folded in various ways and fed to a chord progression generator software module designed in C++. By folding, I am referring to a process similar to inverting where a chord is fitted to a soprano-bass framework while optimally retained to its original intervallic structure. The results are spectral progression of chords, which are then used as a basis for the instrumental harmonic material.


Sometimes the rhythmic or textural qualities of sound inform the musical rhythms and textures. One example is my recording of a coppersmithing bazaar that inspired a set of polypulsic musical textures in Unremembered Soundscapes. Other times musical forms and structures are extracted from the rhythmic content of a sound stretched in time. In some cases the character of a sound recording such as the reverberant humorous sound of cotton fluffing, inspires the mood of the instrumental material. In other cases inspiration is taken from physical motions that are producing specific sounds. For example motions involved in Persian calligraphy are adapted and given to instruments such as piano and violin. The pianist draws pieces of Persian calligraphy on the strings inside the piano while the violinist executes these shapes in theatrical motions.


This method of looking at sound as a core source of inspiration for composition is an ongoing investigation.



Sound transformation


Studying techniques of sound transformation in a search for hidden exquisite qualities, is central to my compositional practice. I use both fixed and live tools of sound processing which include: enhancing the spectral characteristics of sounds through use of filters and equalizers; creating various spaces using reverberation; generating rich sonic textures of granulated sounds; harmonizing single-line instruments to rich progressions of spectral chords using real time pitch-shifters; Amplifying and enriching delicate sounds to dramatic and expressive sonic effects; composing diverse musical textures using various sets of delays in combination with pitch-shifters; Revealing the concealed enchanting timbral characteristics of sounds through stretching them in time; as well as blending the spectral qualities of sounds using convolution.


Recently, I have started to explore methods of manipulating sound at sample level through coding in Max. This is a search for effective and original methods of real time sound transformation that cannot be achieved using premade processors of software applications such as Max and Pure Data.



© 2016-2019 Ali Nader Esfahani