Over Tone

On this edition of At Water’s Edge, we present the next challenge. This time, artists created tracks incorporating the extensive use of overtones and harmonics, and the results are truly fascinating. There were many different possibilities and approaches: acoustic guitar, synthesized sounds, filters, and so on.

The tracks used strings, voices, wind instruments, electronic instruments, field recordings, pink noise, an altered harmonic oscillator, harmonic scales and alternate tuning, and… stuff.

The first half of the program dipped into the RadioSpiral archive, as there were some very interesting tracks extant that demonstrated the principle quite nicely. Then, about halfway through, we get to hear the new challenge tracks created specifically for this episode. Those tracks will be released as another compilation on RadioSpiral’s shop page; all donations via that page help support station operations.

Part One: the archive tracks

“12 Tone Mystery” – The Lovely MoonMoonlight Drift (2013)

The lovely moon is a new peaceful, uplifting ambient music project from the man who brought you Bing Satellites, Ghost Harmonics, The Ambient Visitor, Blocker and more.

“Guitar Harmonics” – Robert Rich – Live Archive Volume 3 (Shamballa) (2000)

Live Archive Volume 3: A dynamic live concert from the era of Humidity, blending moments of pure sonic improvisation with melodic pieces from the Fathom-era catalog.

“Listening To The Long Shadow” – Ghost Harmonics – Listening To The Long Shadows (2017)

This RadioSpiral library track exemplifies the challenge: one long, continuous drone focussing on just one note and its normally hidden harmonics.

“Tone 6” – Kit Watkins – Thought Tones Volume 2 (2008)

Part of Kit Watkins’ evocative “Thought Tones” series, the ambient tone poems and abstract explorations in this series lend themselves very well to this theme.

“Harmonic Flow” – Jack Hertz – This Music Plants Trees (2015)

This Music Plants Trees began as a massive community effort focused on leveraging the power of music to plant trees through the Trees for the Future project. It has since inspired subsequent compilations, and is part of the excellent Sound for Good label series.

“Tonehenge” – Ozone Player – Videozone (2001)

Ozone Player is the inimitable Otso Pakarinen along with various collaborators. The first live Ozone Player performance happened in September 2003 at the Different Skies festival in Arcosanti, Arizona, USA, though he’s been making music for far longer. Videozone is a compilation of 29 soundtrack pieces.

Part Two: the challenge tracks

“Fades” – Tantroniq – Over Tone (2018)

It all began with hearing the toaster tray reverberate after taking out the toast, and, well, I was hooked. Anything metal that made a cool sound was fair game.

As to how it came together, you the audience get to guess. But here’s a hint: it’s all household object sounds. 🙂

“Lovely Luna” – Michael Brückner and Rebekkah Hilgraves – Love the Haven of Peace (in progress) (2016)

Michael proposed this track as part of the challenge. It’s a yet unreleased collaboration from our still-in-the-works album. This took one of those “well played, sir!” turns: rather than relying on specific instruments that emphasize upper partials, this one is based on scales that use the series of natural overtones — i.e. just intonation — which creates cascades of overtones that our western ears are often unaccustomed to hearing.

“{6bf83221-b708-4686-be7f-903870fb55cd} (Harmonic Version)” – Skoddie – Over Tone (2018)

For the Overtone challenge, I reworked a excerpt of my recent album {6c4e311a​-​bfb2​-​4da4​-​89d7​-​2ce49e566eaa}, which was a drone experiment running a little over 2 hours. While the original contained 4 voices, one of those used a harmonic oscillator. For this version, I removed the remaining 3 voices, and duplicated the oscillator and tuning it down to make a bass. The variations in this piece are created using six 4-pole LFOs, each of which are modulating each other in different ways, being fed into two linear-to-polar coordinate converters which then control how much of each harmonic is present, as well as a complex algorithm for creating stereo separation which I further enhanced in mastering. The non-octave harmonics are introduced by a random event generator which ticks once per minute.

The original patch that I used for the album will technically run for several days without repeating itself, though since it’s a drone this would be difficult to be fully aware of as a listener. I think this one can run for about 25% of that time before repeating. It’s a simpler version, but does function as a more interesting exploration into overtones, where in the original I was really focused on exploring frequency modulation.

I hadn’t been expecting to contribute to it actually, but I watched a video on a Buchla 200e [the Verbos 262v] that centered around a harmonic oscillator where the artist was trying to imagine an AI learning about music and it got me thinking..

“Also In C #2 (A Long Drone Out Thing)” – Glenn Sogge – Over Tone – (2018)

The first of two challenge track offerings by Glenn Sogge, this one is a meditation on the harmonics of C, using a random method for ordering things across the track — each voice is playing a different order of the first 10 or 12 harmonics of C.

“Out of the Pink Mist” – Glenn Sogge – Over Tone – (2018)

This track was created by feeding a pink noise generator into the Reaktor Prism FX module and playing with all the Modal Synthesis parameters which were taking the noise as the exciter.

“Harmonics” – Paul Harriman – Over Tone – (2018)

This track is entirely synthesis, using high resonance to pull harmonics out of waveforms. It was recorded in 3 passes, and is all analog synthesis — no sequencing — with some modulation and a little bit of sample-and-hold, and includes some complex harmonics created with ring modulator.

“Descending Through Harmonics” – Joe McMahon – Over Tone (2018)

This track uses two harmonic oscillators into different resonators plus a ping-pong delay, many LFOs, and hand-tweaking of the settings to “play” the piece.

“Ghosts” – ʞu¡0ɹʞSThe Ghost and the Goddess (planned) (2018)

ʞu¡0ɹʞS is, well, yours truly (Rebekkah Hilgraves), and is a relatively new ambient and experimental project. This track was built on two field recordings that I’ve been wanting to use for years. The first one (the strange sounds that open the track) is from a very windy day — so windy that it made the front door of the studio howl. I stretched and processed the howl until it became a long, oscillating drone, and then added another field recording, this one of wind and atmospheric sounds in the Mojave desert north of Los Angeles. The wind across the microphone, through window screens, and around poles added subtle textures to the track. Finally, I recorded and manipulated my own voice, playing with formants (the sounds made by shaping the mouth in certain ways to emphasize different overtones).

You’ll hear a recurring musical theme, which includes the only electronic instrument added to the mix: strings whispering snatches of the melody from the final movement of Brahms’ third symphony, along with me humming phrases and spinoffs — because the howling doors suggested that particular progression in my mind, which became ghosts of musical memories in the final creation.

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