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Interstellar Cabaret – a few tracks

A few years ago NASA uploaded its catalogue of audio files to SoundCloud and invited artists to those files to create art.

This is my take on it.

Every sound on this album began its life as a sound from outer space — comet dust hitting a spacecraft or lighting storms on Jupiter.

A very cool example of a genuine audio recording is at http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/video/details.php?id=970.

“During its Feb. 14, 2011, flyby of comet Tempel 1, an instrument on the protective shield on NASA’s Stardust spacecraft was pelted by dust particles and small rocks, as can be heard in this audio track.  The instrument, called the Dust Flux Monitor instrument, measures sound waves and electrical pulses from dust impacts.”

Below, I have included links to various NASA pages that describe the original sources of some of the sounds I used in the works on Interstellar Cabaret.

The problem I had to solve was what to do with these sounds.  Should I use them as is and just combine them like a collage?  Should I use them merely as a starting point and manipulate the heck out of them so that they would be unrecognizable as “space” sounds, but sound cool — the way sound designers for movies create new sounds, e.g. Chewbacca (http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/08/the-remarkable-way-chewbacca-got-a-voice/375697/).

My overriding focus was on keeping the “other-wordly-ness” of the sounds apparent.  I did not want their provenance to be concealed; I wanted it front and center.  It was a hard balance to find.  I don’t know if I fully succeeded, but I did my best.  The compromise I struck was to cut the sound into smaller, more usable bits, while manipulating their tonal quality as little as possible.

For instance, I took this file from the NASA archives:


and isolated this part of it:

This small, isolated section is called a sample.  One can then take that sample and change it to a different key:

I also isolated other parts of 584791main_spookysaturn and turned them into short clips that loop over and over:

So samples are small bits that do not necessarily loop, although they often do, and loops are typically small bits that, upon looping, create a particular rhythm.
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I used this process of creating samples and loops on a variety of different sounds.  Another example i: I took this sound [interstellar] and created these samples and loops.

The act of creating the sample and loops was relatively easy.  Aside from the routine technical challenge of making sure the loops work, the only artistic aspect of creating loops is finding the ones that will make for an interesting piece of music.  Other than that, the real challenge is putting them together in an interesting way.  It is like a painter choosing her canvas and color palette — there might be some challenges in the process, but the hard part comes when you try to put the color on the canvas.

I struggled for many months putting the pieces together.  I was able to come up with some fun little exercises, but there was nothing genuinely interesting about them.  They were merely curiosities.  It was one failure after another, but I just knew there was something interesting to be found in all those sounds.  I was like the little boy who was shoveling through a pile of horse manure.  His mother asked him what he was doing, and he said, “With all this horse poop, there has got to be a pony in here somewhere.”  I knew there was a pony in that pile, I just had to find it.

One solution to my problem of finding interesting music in there, was to relent on my initial decision to not manipulate the tonal quality of the samples and loops.  I started using more effects than I had intended, but I still tried to keep them to a minimum.  I used reverb and echo to create a sense of openness and distance, and a little compression and EQ, but very little else.

So there.  That’s my story, and I am sticking to it.

I hope you find these works more than just interesting; I hope you find some artistic merit in them.  If so, let me know.  If not, have a great day anyway.


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