An artistic research project, made in 2020 as part of the larger dissertation project "Outside the Grid: Practices of Grid-Based and Grid-Resistant Time in Electronic Music" by Marcel Zaes at Brown University, Providence RI, USA.
#otherbeats is an experimental 'space' that lives on a website and makes sound. These sounds are invested in ideas of ‘deviant’ and ‘resistant’ time grids. Although #otherbeats is conceived primarily as a virtual installation piece, it may also be used as an ‘instrument’ and be played as a sound performance.
The piece features sounds that were sent to me by many volunteers across the world who have responded to the #otherbeats prompts and have recorded self-made beats, found pulses and ‘alternative metronomes’ from their locations. A huge thanks goes to all of them for providing so magical sonic (and sometimes visual) ephemera.
The piece is involved with different notions of time grids. Using human data for an internet-driven sound project leaves the listener with an ambiguous sonic world that oscillates between periodicity, rhythmic deviance, and what might be called a defiant networked system of arbitrary connections. #otherbeats reflects on contemporary notions of ‘technological/techno’ and ‘organic,’ of ‘grids as resistance’ and ‘otherness,’ ‘broken’ and ‘failure.’ In particular it does so by referencing to the queer, African American musical undergrounds of the 1970s via its visual language. Thereby the piece acknowledges how deeply dance music rhythms are indebted to these scenes and pays tribute to them. By way of designing ‘alternate’ systems of networked time grids, I propose an idiosyncratic mode of thinking ‘time grids’ in digital, networked electronic music performance. #otherbeats might be neither ‘techno’ nor ‘organic,’ but in fact, both.
The piece includes sounds from quiet to loud, from low bass to delicate high frequencies. I thus highly recommend using headphones or external speakers to get the most out of the sonic environment.
First, click on 'Start sound.' Then, use your arrow keys, scroll wheel or trackpad to move through the #otherbeats space. By doing so, you will encounter sonic and visual findings. Also, some objects are clickable and will take you to a new location in space. The next time you visit the piece, or if you reload the website, you will find yourself in a slightly different space with slightly different sounds.
Unfortunately, this piece will only work in newer versions of Firefox, Google Chrome, or Chromium browsers on computers since it uses some very new and specific audio features of HTML5. It also will not work on mobile devices. I apologize for the piece not (yet) being as accessible as I would like it to be.
These contributors have sent me a total of 148 location sound recordings that form the primary sonic content of #otherbeats. Some have included imagery, i.e. video recordings or photographs from their performance or from the recording location. These contributors are marked with an *.
Cindy Del Rio,
Martim S. Galvão,
Lauren Sarah Hayes,*
Surjit Nongmeikapam Bon,*
Mariana Roa Oliva,
Arden Wren Sawyer,
Cathy van Eck,
Irene van Zeeland,*
"Every morning when I'm breastfeeding, the heat goes on but changes its tactus."
"The objects I used are: toy maraca, toy vegetables, you know they are hard plastic but in the middle there is an adhesive velcro, so you hear the hard hit and the push and pulling noise from the velcro on each attack. The other thing I used is a baby shusher. You can turn it to three modes and it shushes. The switch gives the clip sound."
"Laundry machine metronome"
"The drum on prompt 3 is a non-tunable animal skin native american frame drum played with a handmade mallet. I really like that since you can't tune this drum it really captures the essence of that particular period of time. Also for that prompt I just let myself tune in to the strange cyclical nature of this whole shelter-in-place period and how so much changes in short periods of time and as humans we are just trying to adapt."
"#3 bath tap + foil"
"First, coffee is ground up and using a Faema Chrisma, a silver hunk with various knobs and complications, she adds the coffee and pulls a shot of expresso. Then goes on to steam milk, combines with the coffee, sometimes adding a decorative element."
"Frying pan and spatula."
"Secret location near the Blue Ridge Reservoir [apologies for sound quality, only had a phone]."
"#2 Washing Machine Beat"
"The drum on prompt 2 is a tunable frame drum from middle eastern music traditions, played with the hands/fingers."
"Dog snoring heavily is from my house."
"Beach creatures from the beach in the middle of the night."
"I played the beat on the drums and then edited it a bit."
"#1 My dance tempo, (revealing my terrible consistency in beat keeping!), fingers on sheet metal"
"I also recorded some room tone for you today."
"Number 1 I had to realize in a storage space because in the streets of Berlin, generally, there's some music playing 24/7 and you'll always have a tempo reference, which seemed important to avoid :)"
"A bass amplifier is being switched on and off"
"My metronome: Gourgas brook"
"The prompts have made me more attentive to sounds in the last while, which has been great."
"#2 Ive sent a video and sound recording - incase you’d prefer to use either. The video doesn’t show the whole picture because its a project I'm in the works of making and its not finished/shown yet hehe.. so sorry its not entirely revealing!"
"Yesterday when hanging out the laundry in the backyard I found yet another coincidental 'alternative metronome' and couldn't resist to improvise with it."
"some strange sounds. Pen clicking and a piece of paper scraped over the computer keyboard (w/ducks)."
"Fingers and mic case lid against metronome body. (Not my best timekeeping.)"
"Two hands caressing each other"
"Dancing with Gourd Ale and stone"
"The sounds were recorded indoors in a house located near the train station."
"Local silence. Right channel is silence inside the bedroom. Left channel is silence outside the window, with wind in the trees and waves crashing on the shore. (Might have confused left and right. The channel where you can hear me lay down on the bed is the inside recording.)"
"I recorded a couple of "babybeats" for you - tapping on baby his legs and stomach! :P Hopefully these follow the prompt(s) well enough as they're a bit shorter than 3 minutes."
"Contact Microphones with Spring Verb"
"I'm a writer so I thought I'd make a beat with my typing. Later I open the screen door to let the cat in."
"I recorded the ambient sound of three rooms, because I didn't know if the task is to capture the ambience of the room in which I am while reading your prompts, or if the task is about the room that I'm in while recording the other prompts; so I decided to just record all rooms that I've used."
"An oscillating lamp as metronome"
"Metal microphone case lid against metronome case lid."
"Fingers on an empty milk container."
"Beach creatures from the beach in the middle of the night."
"PlingBeat... fingers on a mug."
"A knife beaten on the worktop in the kitchen."
"Rhythm with beer bottle"
"Number 4 is simply in the apartment, but with the windows closed."
"My neighbor's male cat, Carmelito."
"here’s your prompt recordings! Sorry they are done with random stuff (AC, my pants, an earplug container, my desk) late tonight. Weird, and kind of remote sounding."
"There is an ice cream truck that has been one of the anchors for me during this period. It just keeps circling the neighborhood, despite not selling any ice cream! I have this theory that the driver is trying to instill some sort of constant and peace for everyone. The tune that it happens to be playing in the prompt is the children's song, "If you're happy and you know it", which is just this strange sort of juxtaposition for everything that's going on. (I can hear the ice-cream truck now as I write this!)"
"what you can hear is the ceramic vases of my plants on the balcony + 2 wooden cooking spoons :-)"
"My treadmill in my basement."
"For the silence, I only sat still next to my computer and I didn't do anything..."
"The idea with the dripping water tap as metronome I had long ago, because I always thought how beautiful it would be to have an organic metronome that runs not stubbornly but slightly fluctuates."
"clothes dryer with 3 tennis balls inside, in my laundry room."
"#4 Silence in the night"
"Sending you unprocessed iPhone recordings, both because I think it matches the spirit of the request, and also because I don’t have any of my mics on me."
"The first ones is one rock tapping on different other rocks"
"Alternate Metronome. Actual, broken metronome that needs to be held in order for function correctly."
The guiding principle of #otherbeats is that all sounds and images used are either contributed by volunteers, obtained as public domain materials, or crafted using software and technologies that are available for free and to anyone. No specialized, expensive high-end tools are involved in the making of #otherbeats, nor any tools that are subject to restricted access. All materials and tools used are listed in the following.
The piece is first and foremost inspired by my friend and long-term collaborator Cyrill Lim, who has not only provided me with guidance when realizing my first steps with the Web Audio API, but has also convinced me that a proper sound arts project in the browser is feasible for an amateur web developer as I am.
The visual components of #otherbeats include the imagery by contributors, processed with HTML in the Browser (de-saturation, contrast, brightness, pixelation, distortion). Furthermore, it includes digital drawing directly made in code, such as circles, lines, color fields, color gradients and text fields.
The audio processing routines of #otherbeats (written with the Web Audio API) include radical bandpass, lowpass and highpass filtering, volume manipulation and reverb, all of which are applied in real-time to the collected sounds.
The reverb in the Web Audio API is realized with a 'convolution' alogrithm that simulates the reverb of a given physical reverb space according to a so-called 'impulse-response' audio file of that space that we first feed into the algorithm. For #otherbeats, I used one such impulse response that I downloaded from freesounds.org. The file is named "184102__noisecollector__ir-native.wav" uploaded to freesound.org on April 7, 2013 by a user called 'NoiseCollector' and licensed under the Creative Commons 0 License; it thus being a document of public domain. The author has described this sound recording as "Impulse responses based on public domain recordings of historical events from around the world and from space. Some processed to stereo artificially. Native American drum." This impulse-response, as a reverb simulation, is applied to all collected sounds.
The making of this piece as well as its first public presentation on September 12, 2020, were supported by the Brown Arts Initiative and the Department of Music at Brown University, Providence RI.
Thanks to my dissertation committee for the relentless trust: Kiri Miller, Paula Matthusen, Ed Osborn and Butch Rovan.
Thanks to all faculty that have informed my projects and helped me develop critical theory at Brown (and at RISD and Harvard) during my time here: Debra Balken, John Cayley, Mark Cetilia, Anthony Cheung, Erik DeLuca, Emily Dolan, Shawn Greenlee, Brian House, Vijay Iyer, Wang Lu, Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo, Jim Moses, Eric Nathan, Dietrich Neumann, Sydney Skybetter, Peter Szendy, Kristina Warren and Todd Winkler.
Thanks to my friends in the Brown/RISD community for all the inspiration: S.A., Luis Achondo, Eli Backer, Nicole Carroll, Melody Chapin, Inga Chinilina, Alexander Dupuis, Katie Freeze, Martim S. Galvão, Lee Gilboa, Alexander Hardan, Kathleen Haughey, Brian House, Will Johnson, Bonnie Jones, Jinku Kim, Courtney Lau, Jasmin Meier, Stephan Moore, Luke Moldof, Michael Paninski, Mirjam Paninski, Caroline Park, Mariana Roa Olivia, Julia Schade, Jake Sokolov-Gonzalez, Ramon Solis, Asha Tamirisa, My Tran and Amber Vistein.
Thanks to all my other friends for the many critical questions about my work: Annie Aries, Philip Bartels, Meghna Bhardwaj, Robert Black, Jordan Dykstra, Cenk Ergün, Annelie J. Graf, Simone Keller, Cyrill Lim, Jamie Morra, Lia Sáile, Anna Schölß, Zsolt Sőrés, Poorna Swami, Cathy van Eck, Beat Vollenwyder and Melchior Wyss.
Thanks to my students from last Spring’s “Anti-Fascist Drum Machine Ensemble” for helping me try out ideas about deviant and social drum machines: Akiva Chaleff, Will Evans, Ray Fishman, Asha Franchi, Leni Kreienberg, Miranda Luiz, Pedro Polanco, Amick Sollenberger and Cody West.
Thanks to all staff at the Music Department and the Brown Arts Initiative — it would simply not have been possible without all of you: Lauren Bitsoli, Chira DelSesto, Thalia Field, Sophia LaCava-Bohanan, Drew Moser, Greg Picard, Mary Rego, Shawn Tavares, Jennifer Vieira and Katie Vincelette.
Thanks to my family and partner for endless support from far and close distance: Doris, Ivo, Richard, Markus, Erzsébet, Péter, Daniella and Laura.
And a huge thanks goes to all #otherbeats contributors.
I am hoping to collect sounds from anyone who would like to participate, anywhere, and at any time. I will constantly extend the #otherbeats project with the sounds that are sent to me – also after the project's first public presentation in September 2020. Contributors will be credited unless they wish not to be.
All you will need to contribute is a device to record audio. Any device from a phone with a voice memo app to a laptop with a mic will do; whatever you have at your disposal. The prompts have been adapted to the COVID-19 lockdown and can be performed in any room as small as a bedroom. If you feel that the visual component of your performance is as important as is the auditory, then you may decide to record video. Otherwise, an audio recording is just fine. If you feel inclined (and if it is safe for you) then it may be fascinating and inspiring to perform some of these tasks outdoors – in the street, on the balcony, in the backyard, or in front of an opened window. Otherwise, an indoor performance will perfectly do.
Imagine you’re dancing. What tempo would be just right? Use your fingers/hands or any objects that you might have at hand to clap the tempo for ~3 minutes and record your performance, but don’t use any technological aid for keeping the tempo.
Create a beat with any means that you might have at hand, or with no means at all. Make a recording of it that lasts for ~3 minutes.
What would you imagine is an alternative metronome? Invent one, or find one, or perform one, and record it for ~3 minutes.
In whatever space you’re in right now, record its “silence,” that is, its ambient noise for another ~3 minutes.
If you feel like improvising along with your freshly created beat or alternative metronome, I would love to hear what you come up with!
send the recordings to me using some file transfer service and my contact form. Include, as precisely as possible (for archival purposes), the recording date/time and the place of recording. The latter could be indicated as a postal address or as map coordinates from Google or similar. If you feel like it (but definitely not required!) post some of your recordings publicly on any of your own channels, using the hashtag #otherbeats. Thank you for contributing!