Name: Danny Saul
Where do you live / work: I live in Manchester and work as a research student and electroacoustic composer at the University of Manchester.
Personal Website: dannysaul.com
What makes these manipulations your favourite?
There are so many different outcomes which can be created by using each of these tools to transform sound, but some examples might be as follows:
- Filtering allows you to strip away parts of a sound in order to reveal the aspects of a sound which you might not normally hear in isolation.
- Granulation can be used create a sense of rhythm or movement,
- time stretching can produce some very peculiar sounds, as can transposition.
- I use distortion sometimes to mask a source sound, or to produce a more harsh, noisy sound.
1. How would you describe the type of music that you make?
2. If you had to use the genre categories to describe your music, which would it be?
3. What types of sounds do you like to use when you compose?
I use all manner of different sound sources in my music, I use any sounds that I find of interest. I tend to like discovering sounds which occur by accident i.e. sounds that I could not specifically produce or recreate myself, sounds that I was lucky enough to capture through the process of recording. Sometimes I use musical instruments and synthesized sounds also.
4. What makes these sounds your favourite?
I think that random sounds (or uncontrollable sounds), can be very exciting for both the composer to work with, and also for an audience to listen to in a resulting composition or performance, because they are unexpected sounds. With electroacoustic music, because I work with recordings of sounds that I have made, I can take those unique moments of sound which happened only once (sounds I would not normally be able to repeat in exactly the same way), and I can repeat them, reuse them, transform them, or place those sounds in a completely new context. The possibilities for making music this way are endless.
5. How do you go about starting or coming up with an idea for a composition? Do you personally use a similar approach each time? Or is it always different?
Generally I begin by identifying and recording some sounds I like, or discovering a few ‘moments’ that I have captured through recording (moments which I feel have musical potential). Then I experiment with the recordings, transforming the sounds and combining the sounds together in different ways. Occasionally I will have an idea before I begin recording, and this will inform my choice of sounds to record, for example, recently I decided to compose a piece using my cat as the source sound material. I then spent many months recording the different sounds my cat made (purring, eating food, miaowing, the sound of the cat running up and down, playing with toys, etc.), then I started to experiment with those sounds and try to make something musical out of them. I created different musical sections which each focused on a different aspect of the cat’s sounds, for example, one section was based around purring sounds, and another section was based on miaowing sounds.
6. Which composers /musicians are an inspiration to you?
I am a huge fan of all different forms of music so there too many to name, and a lot of what I listen to is entirely different to the type of music I compose. I love the music of Tom Waits, Jim O’ Rourke, Mike Patton, I really like metal bands such as Slayer, Helmet and Isis, and I love folk musicians such as John Martyn and Richard Thompson. In electroacoustic music I would say that Francis Dhomont, Denis Smalley and Francois Bayle are influential to me, to name a few.
7. What is it about this music (either your own or the work of others) that engages you so much?
I like music in which the musicians have developed their own distinct ‘sound’. I’m also drawn to music which can challenge our ideas of what one might usually define as music, so anything that presents itself as a fresh or different sounding, generally excites me.
8. Could you pick a short section from one of your own pieces and describe how you created it?
This is a section from my piece Jaws which is an acousmatic (fixed media) piece I made for cat and electronics. I wanted to create a section in the piece which focused on the purring sounds which my cat makes, and I wanted to make it sound like a much bigger, scarier animal than my cat. I did this by making several recordings of my cat’s purrs, then I transposed them down in pitch (which produces a deeper, slower sound, more like the growl of a lion or tiger!), and then I used panning to make it sound like these growling creatures were moving around, stalking and circling around the audience. I used a tool called ‘freeze’ which I applied to the cat’s miaow sounds to produce the high pitched drone sounds you can hear. I also had some recordings of me pouring cat litter into a litter tray, which I sent through a granulator tool, to produces the more rhythmic crescendos in the section.
Listen to this excerpt as you read Danny’s explanation of how he made the piece. Can you hear the processes?
11. What were you trying to convey to the listener in this excerpt?
I wanted to create a sense of intimidation, and a sense that the listener was being surrounded and circled by larger-than-life beasts. By using a ring of eight speakers placed around the audience (instead of just two speakers as used in stereo pieces), I could move the sounds all around the concert hall, and all around the audience, which created the illusion of large animals circling around the room. Volume also played a role in this section of the music; by playing the sounds loudly through the speakers I was able to add to this intimidation, as the speakers were able to output sound far louder than a small cat can make!
12. If you were giving some general advice to someone who was beginning to compose a piece what would it be? What is the most important thing to remember when composing?
First and foremost, composing should be fun, so I would recommend starting by finding some sounds that you like, some sounds you would like to work with. Don’t be afraid to experiment, try new ideas out and discover new possibilities; there really are no rules when composing with sounds, so exploration is the key, just go as far as your imagination can take you.
Also, it’s very easy to take familiar sounds and everyday sounds for granted, we all do it! I would strongly recommend that you get hold of a microphone and some headphones, and listen to the sounds or your normal everyday activities as you do them, through the mic and headphones. For example, listen to your school playground at lunch break, or brush your teeth, or walk through a shopping centre listening through headphones, and you might just be surprised to discover how many different sounds suddenly reveal themselves to have musical potential.