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Entries in Fun (2)


Pop Rocking with the Kids

Last week we had a couple of kids staying with us, and it was fun to have that energy around the house.  Parker and Sophie and their mother were visiting from L.A.  and spent most of the week on a whirlwind tour of the city, courtesy of my wife.  I was stuck in the studio, finishing up a series I've been working on for the last few months, so I missed out on most of the fun.  Finally, on the last day of their visit, I  found myself with some free time, so I enlisted the kids to help me with some audio experiments.

Parker, who is 9, had been poking his head in my studio all week, curious and maybe a bit confused about what I was doing with the computer and all the noise I was making, so I knew he would be a willing accomplice. I asked him if he wanted to come and record something with me, and when Sophie, age 11, heard me talking about it with her brother, she immediately wanted in too.  

Well, kids love candy and I love making weird sounds, so I figured an ideal way to put these things together would be to raid my wife's secret stash of Pop Rocks and see what kinds of sounds we could come up with.

I set up a mic in the basement, threw headphones on the kids and let them each empty a package of the cracking candy into their mouths.  They both quickly realized how loud their breathing was and tried to hold their breath while the candy popped away. They were also really good about not giggling until I said "cut."  I was completely shocked at how long the popping lasted: I was expecting it peter out after a few seconds but that candy just keeps going and going! Each mouthful made noise for over 2 minutes, which is an especially long time when you are in front of a mic, trying not to breathe while candy is tickling your tongue, and it's probably an eternity to a 9-year-old boy who has otherwise never been known to stand still for more than 2 seconds.

I purposely did not give the kids any instructions as to how to get the best sounds out of their candy, and they both went with very different techniques. Sophie poured the candy onto her tongue, stuck it out in front of the mic and then stood very still while it snapped crackled and popped. Parker took a more aggressive approach swishing the rocks around, chewing on them and generally agitating them constantly. Actually, I think  their personalities are pretty much reflected in their candy recording styles.

Next up, we decided to see how the Pop Rocks reacted on different surfaces.  I got a tin lid and a wine glass and we put just a little bit of water in each of them. Then we poured the candy in and recorded the results.  Parker said the tin lid recordings sounded like bacon frying and the wine glass like rain on a window, but the recordings are actually pretty cool.  The tin lid has a great little wobble to it on the bigger pops, and almost sounds like it has a phaser plugin on it, while the wine glass has an almost evil tone to it, like the sound of a bad fairy. 

Here are some of the results of Sophie and Parker's recordings.  First up is the Pop Rocks in Sophie’s mouth, then Parker’s, followed by the tin lid and the wine glass. The final sound in the audio clip below is what happens when you leave a microphone in front of a 9-year-old boy and turn your back for a second.

POP-ROCKS! by azimuthaudio

I think the kids had fun and they seemed be captivated by the way the microphone and headphones make things sound different than how they are used to hearing.  They also really appreciated how quiet you have to be when recording. Each take got quieter and quieter as they realized that each breath and movement was being picked up by the microphone.  In the end, I think the one who got the most out of our experiment was their mom, who got a bit of a break from the kids while she planned the next leg of their trip.

I would love to hear if anyone has any other stories or ideas for getting kids involved in recording projects.  If so, please leave a comment to pass it on.



Everyone Can Be a Musician

Through out my life I have taken lots of joy in making noise, it has entertained me endlessly when bordem was creeping my way.  As a kid it was singing songs I made up, as a teenager it was playing drums in too many bands to count, and as an adult it has been as a sound editor.  But I know a lot of people for whom making noise seems to be something they just don't do.  Sometimes its fear of someone hearing them and laughing, sometimes its that learning an instrument seems too daunting, and other times it is just that they take joy from hearing what others are creating.  There are a million reasons to stay quite I guess, and there is a point that the world is already too loud in general.  Yet there is something that happens inside when a person is responsible for something musical that is not really replicated in any other pursuit and thankfully technology is helping bring that to more people.

Here is a really great and simple audio toy that ANYONE can have a whole lot of fun with.  @JadAbumrad, co-host of RadioLab, posted this as a link on his twitter feed a few weeks ago and I have been noodling with it ever since. It is an online step sequencer built around a simply matrix grid, just click on various squares within the matrix and they will make a "ping".  The higher up on the grid the higher in pitch the ping will be and it loops going left to right repeating your composition endlessly.  If you don't like the way a section sounds just click on the squares again and they will go back to silence.  Once you have played with it for 30 seconds it makes perfect sense.

Try it yourself:

I love playing with this because it can be tackled a few ways and will always be fun.  The simplest is to just randomly click or drag over the grid and see what happens, normally something great happens.  It is almost like you can not make bad music with this thing.  Another approach is to make visual patterns on the grid and see how the pattern sounds.  Finally you can really dig in and try to come up with something through trial and error that is just mind blowing.

The other great thing is how the grid illuminates the squares as they ping, and the light spreads like water after throwing a rock through its surface, between the soothing music you can create and the trippy lighting, this thing can really take away the debris of a shitty day quickly.  The main thing with this is anyone can play with it and have something cool sounding in moments, whether they are 3 years old or 75, no musical training necessary.  It is addictive!!!!!

Here are a couple of "songs" I did on the fly (no planning just winging it), with a video of the grid in action:

The way this thing sounds is similar to a song I made in 1998 with my friend Scott Ballem, when we were roommates.  I had a 4track and drum machines and he had a Roland JX-3P synth, so we pooled our gear and one of the results was this song.  He came up with the loop and I stole it and did the rest.  I took it into the studio where I was working the night shift at the time and did this mix:
(AUDIO NERD SIDENOTE:  I just found the protools session on a CD, Protools 4!  No plug-ins or automation in the session as it must have all been done in the console back then.  No stereo tracks either.  We have come a long way.)

And here is a video I found of someone expanding Mary Had A Little Lamb into a ambient nightmare, 

And here are some sound clips of other audio doodles I did with it:

Matrix 1 Boost by azimuthaudio

Matrix 2 Boost by azimuthaudio

These are other cool sound generators:

I know there must be plenty more out there, so please leave a comment with any suggestions of sites along these lines if you know of any.