It was a dark, windy and rainy night when a hooded figure appeared rap, rap, rapping at Encyclopedia Destructica Studios’ front door. That figure was Dawn Weleski, creator, artistic director, composer and librettist of this year’s Bus Stop Opera. Dawn had Lauren Goshinski in tow, and a few of us were sitting in the dark and talking by candle-light. We’d pretty much given up hope that any more folks would show up to our rintone recording session due to the power outages around Pittsburgh and the torrential rain flooding the streets (and numerous basements).
Dawn appeared, saying she wanted me to record a pre-set tone from her cheapie cell phone. The tone, an electronic drumroll, sounded like gunfire. I was intrigued. How was it that the universe (i.e., weather and power outage) cooperated for us to do this recording by candlelight?
Weleski’s bio notes that her “artwork relies on the innate drive of people to play,” and that “her work often acts as a social stress test.” So it is with these tones. It was exciting to collaborate with her–to listen to what she brought, and then to throw some ideas back out to her. What’s clear to me now, about having had the opportunity to work with Encyclopedia Destructica to record ringtones in a studio environment, is that the design of the event heightened elements of play, improv and spontaneous collaboration in really interesting ways (Weleski’s tones and Mickens’ Tones are an excellent example of this approach to making work).
I’ve edited a series of Dark and Rainy Night Tones from the audio produced with Dawn. They are the scariest tones in the lot so far, and some of the most “pop culture” critical. What’s with our culture’s fascination with guns? The first tone, Deconstructing Gunfire, includes Dawn’s original ringtone track, recorded off her phone, and a dissonant vocal improv which she performed with Lauren’s help. Because the origin of Dawn’s idea emanated from the sound of artificial gunfire as ringtone, I felt I needed to draw out the sound of gunfire, or show the drumroll for what it is when it’s slowed down. You can see a picture of the edited track below, the first clip is the gunfire tone recorded off of Dawn’s phone. The next clip of that audio has been slowed down to 50%, the third to 25% of its original speed. Then I dropped in the ladies’ vocals and brought the ringtone on home with a reversed clip of the guntone playing back at 25%.
Here’s a simple alert signal straight from the ladies’ vocal improvisations. Short and intentionally not sweet. I’m calling it Shrill-ert (for Shrill Alert).
This is Dawn’s ScareTone. Here I added Dawn’s response to my request for her to make sounds in contrast to the gunfire–she described these as “soft mouth sounds.” The track also includes the sound of chest beating (Dawn used her fists). Ouch.
The final tone is the repeated sound of a chair with metal legs scraping over a heating vent on a floor. When I pulled that audio into the editing program, the title for this piece became absolutely clear to me: Homage to Svankmajer Tone. Those of you who know the filmmaker Jan Svankmajer’s work will immediately get what I’m talking about.
Thanks to Dawn for coming out, and to Encyclopedia Destructica for expanding the range of tones in the project by opening their doors to a Locally Toned recording session. It was hard for people to get out that night, in that foul weather, but the tones are super fantastic.