Posts Tagged ‘sound design’

My trip to Burning Man 2015, sonically, via Coney Island’s great Dreamland fire of 1911

Tuesday, October 6th, 2015

Paul Belger of Flux Foundation, an art collective based out of San Fransisco that builds large scale public art, invited me to be a part of an interesting project for Burning Man 2015. Flux was building an interactive art piece inspired by Coney Island’s historic Dreamland amusement park that tragically burned down in a colossal fire in 1911. The Flux team wanted me to create music/sound for the experience. The project had many aspects which I enjoyed: sound design, location recording, incorporating found sounds, and historical research, so I gladly accepted the offer.

Dreamland, along with Steeplechase Park and Luna Park, was one of the original iconic theme parks of Coney Island from the beginning of the 20th century. It was built in 1904 and was designed to be bigger and grander than neighboring Luna Park. It had a tall central tower, a railway that travelled thru a Swiss alpine landscape, gandolas on a Venetian canal, lion tamers, side shows and thrill rides.






In the beginning of the 1911 season while preparation work was being done late at night, there was an electrical malfunction. In the ensuing darkness, a worker who was calking a leak spilled a bucket of hot pitch which started a fire. All of the buildings were made of highly flammable material and the fire spread quickly thru the park. Unfortunately the near by high pressure water pumping station malfunctioned and by morning the park was totally destroyed.



The theme of Flux’s Dreamland is wonder, carnivals, childhood rides, and memories of the past. The installation consists of a central spire reminiscent of a spinning carnival ride along with other surrounding sculptures which have lighting, flame, and sound effects. These effects are controlled by the spinning of the central spire which onlookers are encouraged to do.






On reflecting on what kind music/sound I was going to produce I knew that traditional “music” wouldn’t be appropriate. The pacing of regular music wouldn’t have worked because the sound had to go on for hours and hours. I also wanted the sound not to be intrusive to the experience and be more of a background element. I decided an ambient soundscape that slowly revealed different evocative sounds from carnivals, the past etc., was the way to go….

I veered away from the more obvious childlike, dreamy carnival sounds and went toward something more ominous and darker, possibly foreshadowing the fire. The team at Flux agreed that it was a good creative direction. I produced five different pieces ranging from 30 to 60 minutes each with low pulsing drones, static, and vinyl crackle, along with recordings of carrousels, carnival music, barkers, rides and crowds that I captured on location at Coney Island (The historic Cyclone roller coaster included!). It was rewarding to incorporate authentic sounds from the actual location the sculpture was inspired by.

Here’s a video of Dreamland when the carousel section of my piece was playing:


Here’s a video of when a more ethereal section was playing, incorporating music box piano, roller coster sounds, crowd, and dreamy/hazy ambient sounds:


It was a great project all around and I was grateful to be a part of it, thank you Paul!

On a side note, the historic Coney Island B&B carousel, built there in 1906, has been recently refurbished and has a beautiful German-made Gebruder Bruder organ. Turned out it wasn’t working the day I went there, which I only realized after I paid for the ride, sat on a carriage, and turned on my recorder. The carousel music I was recording was coming from a CD playing thru speakers and not the organ I was looking at!

I was determined to get a real carousel organ “on tape” so I went to Brooklyn Bridge Park which houses Jane’s Carousel, a 1922 carousel made built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company and originally located in Youngstown Ohio. I got some great recordings of that organ, from on and off that carousel, which ended up in my Dreamland pieces at Burning Man 2015.

[P]LOSIVE debuts “In Three Acts”

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

Chris Jones and I embarked on an exciting artist project called [P]LOSIVE ( Sound design and percussion meet processed orchestra/choir in some tracks, big guitars and drums in others, and collaged/abstracted sonic material in yet others.

We went all out to create an arresting sonic palette by recording found sounds and manipulating them using MetaSynth, AudioMulch, and other interesting software tools. We composed each piece in three segments loosely following a three-act structure of exposition, rising action, and climax. The music explores cinematic moods from mysterious/suspenseful to dark/aggressive. “In Three Acts” is distributed by Immediate Music as part of their Artist Series.

Listen to “Unholy in Thee” Acts 1, 2, and 3:


Check out the video Chris Jones created for the track “Churning”:

Tempo Modulation as a scoring technique for supporting increasing action/drama.

Friday, April 9th, 2010

An interesting way to build intensity in a score is to employ a musical tactic called Tempo Modulation. Tempo Modulation (TM) is defined as a change of tempo by pivoting on a common durational unit (Benadon 2004, p. 563). By taking the time value of a subdivision in one tempo and then finding a corresponding tempo that has the same time value for one of it’s own subdivisions, a relationship between two tempi is established that is useful in transitioning from one to the other without losing the listeners’ sense of pulse/beat.

For example, at 80 bpm an eighth note triplet has a duration of 250 milliseconds (ms) which is the same duration of an eight note at 120 bpm. Emphasizing the eighth note triplet subdivision at 80 bpm and then by treating that note value as an eighth note in 120 bpm, a tempo change can smoothly be made which will increase the activity/tension/drama of the music and effectively support the building dramatic arc of a scene in a cohesive way.

Benadon, F. “TOWARDS A THEORY OF TEMPO MODULATION”. Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Music perception & Cognition, 563-566, 2004.

Pounding Pangea is a cinematic percussion track that uses this technique. At :28 the triplet is introduced. The break down from :41 to 1:01 still references the old tempo but in 6/8 meter. At 1:08 the modulation is complete and the piece is in a new tempo and meter.


Horrific Surge is another cinematic percussion/sound design track that uses a similar approach. Although the tempo doesn’t technically modulate there are shifts of meter and feel that are accomplished by analogous “pivoting” methods.


“Infinity Curve”, a track based on a variation of an auditory illusion called the Shepard–Risset glissando, used in the Shutter Island (Scorsese/DiCaprio) theatrical film trailer.

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

“Infinity Curve”, used in the final section of the Shutter Island (Scorsese/DiCaprio) theatrical film trailer, is built on a variation of a Shepard-Risset glissando (also called a Shepard Tone). This glissando creates an auditory illusion of a tone that is forever ascending in pitch. It achieves this by raising the pitch of the sound while simultaneously making its lower octaves more prominent. “Infinity Curve” uses this concept but is based on rhythm instead of pitch. While the track goes steadily from 65 BPM up to 900 BPM the most prominent note duration is shifted from 64th to 32nd to 16th notes and so on. The effect is a feeling of infinite speeding up. “Infinity Curve” is published by VideoHelper.


On the trailer it starts at around 1:52: