October 30, 2015

8.00 am. Yesterday evening’s server downtime was over. (Phew!) I put together Thursday’s dairy page from my draft notes, responded to emails, and took time to reflect, before my 9.00 am start in the sound studio. Today’s objective was to fabricate a sound that evoked (rather than imitated) a trumpet blast. Obstacle: Having upgraded the IOS on my MacBook, I discovered that one of my sound software programmes was no longer compatible. Why am I not surprised? A work around was required.

For my first effort, the source sound for the trumpet (Hebrew:יוֹבֵל) was the prolonged screech of the engraving machine — by which the English version of the second commandment was inscribed — as it returned from the right side to the left side of the plate to begin each a new line. The sample was then dropped in pitch, two octaves. Four distinct ‘carriage returns’ were then superimposed and filtered through external modulators in order to modify the timbre of the composit and make it sound more breathy and hollow:


Unsuccessful. Analysis: This was due to my recognition that the original sound already possessed characteristics which I associate with the shofar (שׁוֹפָר) : the ram’s horn trumpet — one of the earliest forms of wind instrument, which the Israelites would have played and, most likely, the sound that they heard from Mount Sinai. (As a matter of principle, one should interfere with a source as little as possible and as much as necessary.)

12.30 pm. I reduced the number of components making up the composit to two, with one pitched five semitones below the other. 1.40 pm. Having made a final adjustment to the equalisation and channel delay, I imported the sample into main body of the existing composition. There, I lowered the pitch by a further six semitones in order to integrate the sample with the dominant low tone of the other tracks. Curiously, my ‘trumpet’ now sounded like the fog horns on the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, which I’d recorded while on holiday there in 2013. (One’s life and aesthetic experiences touch at so many points. Extraordinary!):


3.00 pm. I made several (ultimately failed) attempts to manufacture trumpet-like drones, this time using material from the data bending output of the visual engraving. 4.15 pm. Off to the osteopath for a little correcting.

7.30 pm. My sole, successful sample had evoked the trumpet’s voice as it would sounded when heard from a distance, by the people at the foot of the mountain. I needed, now, to make a louder and more insistent trumpet sound — to summon Moses’s experience of the same, on the mountain.  This was a much tougher call. The character of the shofar was supposed to resemble the cry of human voice. To this end, I explored the constructive potential of the voice samples, which I’d derived from my 24-hour vinyl record manipulation at the National Library of Wales. By stretching portions of the spoken words by 800%, I was able to extract samples of extended vowel annunciation that, when treated with a ten-voice chorus modulator, produced a throaty timbre not unlike that blast from a ram’s horn heard at close proximity:

Alphonse Lévy, Shofar

In the Exodus text, the Hebrew word for ‘voice’ (קוֹל) is the same as that for sound. Thus the ‘voice of the trumpet’ (Exod. 19.16) and the ‘voice’ of God (Exod. 23.22) were in some respects intertwined. This is a concept that I’ll need to explore further. By night-time, I’d produced four useable versions of a ‘trumpet’ sound.

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October 31, 2015