Video and Analysis – “Lifegiver”

This is a post about the final project I made in a course focusing on the sound design program Metasynth.   The video I made with the sounds, images, and videos I have compiled over the past years is here:

To access the source audio files, please see below.


“Lifegiver”, the title of the video and audio that I created as my final project, takes its name from death metal band Nevermore’s chorus in their song about the environment, entitled “Matricide”:

Earth Mother is screaming, we can’t live without her
No time left for dreaming here, she knows
Have we forgot our future?
Earth Mother, life giver, we can’t live without her
So foolish, men who say they don’t care
They’ll be gone anyway

This project came to being out of my increasing concern that the climate of our planet will change drastically and irreversibly. I worry that Earth will become unlivable for most of the organisms that currently reside here. In the wake of politicians turning a blind eye, and especially since politics has increasingly become present in my work, I decided to make this piece an attack on the blindness and ignorance of our politicians.

I created the video first, in its entirety. This allowed the sound design elements to germinate in my mind as I completed the visual aspect. In making the video, I drew upon the black and white manipulations of Ryoji Ikeda in Test Patterns, but my goals were more in line with Arca’s video for Xen: creating a strobe-like synchronization (or close-to-synchronization) between jarring visuals and chaotic sounds. I admire Xen’s balance between the synchronized and free; the washed out colors of pure black and pure white/slightly blue white; all the while creating a dark, pulsating, anxious environment. This anxiety is a key component of my video, and I also pay homage to this Arca work in having meters emerge at times, but at other times being relatively free in rhythm. In addition, I admire Arca and Ikeda’s use of very limited material, but spreading it out enough for no content to become stale. I continually strived this semester for these disjointed, sharp, anxious, interrupting, and minimalistic tendencies. These works spoke to me because I typically make broad, expansive, and rhythmically dense works, and so highly specific, clear, and simpler forms urged me to explore and push those other boundaries to new extremes.

When it became time to score this video, I relied on 10 sound sets. I say “sets” because I used many iterations of the same sound. The first set was not included in my prior project audio, because I did not have any sound like it. To create the first sound set, I used an SM-58 to record myself singing a D note on five vowels: Ah, Ee, I, Oh, and Oo. These recordings were then trimmed and layered on top of each other, and bounced with this overlay. This created a composite-vowel sound entitled “All together”. With this unique voice creation, I decided to allow myself to make chords in the video, to offset the rapid, chaotic image and sound flashes. To do this, I used the pitch and time effect in MetaSynth with no change in sound, except for transposing my file into three octaves worth of semitones. This created a wide range of pitches that allowed my one note to deepen and soar to extremes (that my voice cannot produce naturally).

With my sounds in hand, I prepared the rest of my arsenal and began composing, editing and composing with new sounds as necessary. The BlueberryBag file, a rich, crinkly, deep, dark, and dense sound, underwent different effects to give it even deeper sonorities, using wave shaper and granular synthesis, for example. This allows this file to serve as both a rich undercurrent and a pithy sonic forefront.

The Microwave Beep serves to serve as an alarming tension escalator, and was edited to ensure that it could create crescendos of sound, for example by using reverb, volume, and reversing the sound.

The two Lip Smack recordings were the last sounds to be modified, and provided the extra touch and glue that a mastering session might serve, or that the French horns might provide in an orchestra. I modified these sounds to ensure they were clear, alien-like, and sustained enough to add extra phasing to the end of the work, and also as a bridge between cuts of other sounds (thus fooling the listener by having disjointed sections appear contiguous). Particularly, the use of Donald Trump’s tweet in the image filter, and harmonizing the spectrum in the spectrum synth, allowed the first LipSmack file to be bright and stick out.

The Hard Water sound also served as glue, using the shuffler to create an off-balance, endlessly revolving, noise floor upon which more melodic sounds could stand. The shuffler was set to 5 extremely fast, extremely short-attack, slow-release, beats per loop, so as to not fall into a 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, or 12-division (easily recognizable) loop.

I reserved the Water Draining sound for moments of clarity, breaks, and points of focus. For example, the Water Draining sound appears when we see the ocean off of Cape Cod in hyper-realized, overly-vibrant blue. This pairing of sound and video makes the ocean appear like sludge or slime, showing its degradation as climate change progresses.

For other moments of clarity, I turned to the Fan sound. This allowed me to create a wind-like, open, slightly noisy soundscape for quiet, serene, nature-celebrating moments. In contrast, the Zipper files help create the anxious, loud, abrasive, and nasal-like texture that gets under one’s skin and creates tension. The wave shaper, chorus, and shuffler effects helped me enrich, deepen, harmonize, remove meter, and randomize these two sounds.

In writing this project, I delved into a field in which I had only minimal exposure. Writing for a video of this length, where I had full control over every aspect, was unlike my prior projects. I have provided scoring for other people’s projects and relied on the director and audio engineer to cut things as they desired. This project was risky because I had never made a video for serious art; my only self-made videos had been scrolling notation videos of electroacoustic pieces of mine. In addition, I had never tried to synchronize music with video so closely. I drew inspiration from Arca’s Xen, but at first I doubted my ability to cut things as precisely as that piece’s video. But, once I got used to cutting things exactly, it became second nature. I soon was able to ensure that I was always fusing concept with form and content. As I sit here listening to more of the band Nevermore’s work, I would like to attribute not just their word choice, but their stand against environmental disaster, as helping to germinate this piece. Yet, this video is far from a copy of Nevermore, Ikeda, and Arca; it is a unique and independent work. To conclude, I would like to provide this work’s program notes:

The death metal band Nevermore wrote in their song, “Matricide”, the following chorus:

Earth Mother is screaming, we can’t live without her
No time left for dreaming here, she knows
Have we forgot our future?
Earth Mother, life giver, we can’t live without her
So foolish, men who say they don’t care
They’ll be gone anyway

I find this chorus intriguing because it does seem that those who deny climate change either will not suffer from it, or act against their best interest out of ignorance and misinformation. This chorus speaks to these dynamics of discourse while poignantly decrying our continual salting of the earth. It makes me wonder: at what point does the screaming deafen us—both the screaming of our mother and the screaming of us at each other? Can we be good stewards of both our forests and the gnarled, overcast swamps our politics have become?

It troubles me that we listen less, but fight more, even in the face of magnified suffering. We need to talk less. We need help our life giver heal. We need to help each other heal. Time only moves forward.

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