Landscape with figures I

Ammons water

A poem by A. R. Ammons can offer metaphors for decentralized musical topographies.


"Conserving the Magnitude of Uselessness


Spits of glitter in lowgrade ore,

precious stones too poorly surrounded for harvest,

to all things not worth the work

of having,


brush oak on a sharp slope, for example,

the balk tonnage of woods-lodged boulders,

the irreparable desert,

drowned river mouths, lost shores where


the winged and light-footed go,

take creosote bush that possesses

ground nothing else will have,

to all things and for all things


crusty or billowy with indifference,

for example, incalculable, irremovable water

or fluvio-glacial deposits

larch or dwarf aspen in the least breeze sometimes shiver in---


suddenly the salvation of waste betides,

the peerlessly unsettled seas that shape the continents,

take the gales wasting and in waste over

Antarctica and the sundry high shoals of ice,


for the inexcusable (the worthless abundant) the

merely tiresome, the obviously unimprovable,

to these and for these and for their undiminishment

the poets will yelp and hoot forever



rank as weeds themselves and just abandoned:

nothing useful is of lasting value:

dry wind only is still talking among the oldest stones. "[1]


The poem can describe qualities and value of peripheral terrains outside a mainstream of rhetorical importance; these natural elements and terrains do not hold strong speeches concerning their worth. Lights are shed upon the concept of 'usefulness'. Keeping intact habitats for the "winged and light-footed" could be metaphors for a valuable diversity within a musical language. What is visible is not the whole terrain, but what appears from a particular point of view. The work of composition can be the changing perspectives within terrains, transferred to morphologies or spatial perspectives of sounds. Similar to such a natural world, the work can have a multidimensional nature, from the overall topography, to textures, surface qualities and general diversities of wildlife.          


This poem is treated in two different ways in these fragments.

  • Ammons text solo. The poem is:
    • Spoken or whispered through a bassoon.[2] Speaking through the narrow basson reed will obscure the meaning of the text.
    • Whispered through trombones.[3] The meaning will be less distored, as the larger mouthpiece allows the lips to move more freely.

Texts go through FFT processes (window size 1024/2048 for a sufficient time resolution to understand some words). There are 3 different treatments:

o   Transposition to score pitches. [4]

o   Transposition with spectral blurring.[5]

o   Transposition with spectral arpeggio,[6] formants are kept "using a true envelope method."[7] This usually creates a softer sound with emphasis on high overtones.

The sounds are actively moving through the whole space, with a large selection of reverbs.


Ammons text solo 8.

Ammons text solo 16.

Ammons text solo 17.


o   Ammons text morphing towards bubbles of water.

o   The poem is whispered through a contrabass clarinet, with additional "speaking" key clicks.[8]

o   Bubbles are blown through straws into different bowls and a kitchen sink filled with water.

These two types of sounds are morphed in Csound[9] through various transition shapes. The results are clearly hybrid sounds, while the bubbling sounds tend to be easier to recognize than the whispering.


Ammons water 5.

Ammons water 17.

Ammons water 58.




At times when the meaning of the text cannot be recognized, the efforts of speaking or whispering will have been transformed to gestures. Voices are moving in and out of the peripheral areas of these terrains.

Trombone, contrabass and drilling sounds morphing


To form ensembles of instruments and everyday sounds in a literal sense, virtual ensembles can be created through chains of associations. I recorded a test of the civil defense sirens in Bergen, as one of the soundscapes. Fragments of trombone, strings and drills are usually inactive in the sound installation, and get triggered whenever the sound of these sirens are heard.


Manipulated tam-tam analysis was used as a pitch material, focused on the deep register of trombone and contrabass. The tam-tam chords form basis for pure transpositions, or morphing between 2 groups of sounds.


o   The instruments.

o   Strings performing sul tasto, sul ponticello and harmonics.

o   Cellos and contrabasses fortissimo.

o   Pedal notes on trombone.

o   Tam-tams performed with different sticks.


o   The drilling.

o   A dentists drill.

o   Electric hand drill.

o   Pinion drill.

o   Servo drill.

o   Building drill recorded during restoration at Hotel Atlanta.[10]

o   Tam-tams performed with different sticks.


The dentist drill offers a piercing soprano range in this sound family. A jackhammer was first included as a bass of this drill ensemble, but it turned out too violent in the context, especially with resonant reverbs. Tam-tam sounds are included in both groups as a morphing option.


Potential morphological relations exist between the two groups, from the grainy quality of the strings and deep trombones, to the metallic hammering and friction of the drills.


Trb Cb Drill Morph 11.




Trb Cb Drill Morph 12.




Trb Cb Drill Morph 30.




 Trb Cb Drill Morph 33.









These are everyday sounds in the most concrete sense of the word. City environments from Bergen are recorded with a Soundfield microphone. [11] B-format is created[12] from these 4 channel recordings, and perspectives are in contant flux. Curves of jaw, pitch, roll simulate a pilot flying through the environments, giving a sense of a rotating city landscape, where the listener at times is hanging upside down over the city. This was done through Reaper[13] with the Harpex[14] plugin, saved to 8 channel ambisonic sounds, played at the outer circle of speakers of the 16 channel sound installation.


Recorded locations in Bergen were:

  • Nordnesparken.
  • Bergenhus fortress.
  • Skolten.
  • Various fontains.
  • Lille lungegårdsvann.
  • Store lungegårdsvann.
  • Fløibanen.
  • Fløien.
  • Brattlien.


Recordings are made at different times of the year, with variable weather conditions. They are not pure documentations of places, rather situations to be superposed to impossible situations; it’s at the same time rainy and dry, warm and cold.  Soundscapes were the sounds presenting the most diverse environments, and the one category I did not try to classify by pitch, neither did they go through other types of processing than pure spatialization.


"The soundscape is any acoustic field of study. We may speak of a musical composition as a soundscape, or a radio program as a soundscape or an acoustic environment as a soundscape. We can isolate an acoustic environment as a field of study just as we can study the characteristics of a given landscape. However, it is less easy to formulate an exact impression of a soundscape than of a landscape. (...) A soundscape consists of events heard not objects seen."[15]


Some specific soundscapes trigger overall changes in the sound installation.


  • Superball rolling in a sink bowl will turn everything off, except the Jet whistle pheasant group.
  • The sound of an elevator will turn everything off, and make the Ravel percussion music more frequent.
  • Civil defense sirens will trigger the trombone contrabass drilling group, and keep only the Ammons text and morphing multiphonics.
  • The sound of stones dropped into water will be repeated with variable spatial perspectives. The installation will focus on the Ammons texts.


After a certain time, things go back to a default balance. All of these triggering mechanisms were involved in the self-composing sound installation Landscape with figures I. Delays made connections less obvious, competing triggers were at times able to neutralize each other. For Landscape with figures II, some of the secondary triggers were disconnected, as they made it difficult to control the development of the piece on cues.


It will not make sense to reproduce these spatial perspectives in stereo.


[1] Ammons, 2001, Collected poems 1951-1971, p. 291.

[2] Recording sessions with Sjøforsvarets Musikkkorps, Bergen. Anthony Ringdal speaks through the basson.

[3] Recording sessions with Sjøforsvarets Musikkkorps, Bergen.

[7]  The parameter kkeepform of pvscale:

[8] Recording session with Rolf Borch.

[9] The Csound opcodes pvcross, pvsmix and pvsfilter.

[10] Rue Frochot 9, Paris.

[15] Schafer, 1994, The Soundscape, the Tuning of the World, p. 7-8.