[Hbrunsociety-l] Trace of Channing-Murray talk

Paul Kotheimer herringb at prairienet.org
Tue Nov 4 14:37:10 CST 2003

hi all

I attended the presentation of composers on Friday at the Channing-Murray.
I was the audio technician.  I wrote this today in response to what I
heard (and helped amplify) on Friday.

It is a script for a monologue to be performed with accompanying audio
files played back over a sound system.  I haven't actually made the audio 
files yet, but could easily do so in an hour or so, if it's wanted...

I welcome any comments on this script.  Please correspond with me


On Decay and its Retardation

First, both decay and retardation are dependent upon time for their
distinction or definition. Without the time vector, there is no decay and
no retardation of it.  This much, I'm hoping, is a statement of the
obvious--but a useful one.

Next, retardation.  I approach the term by means of synonyms or
near-synonyms:  Decelleration.  Slowing.  Delay.  Impediment. Hinderance?
Prevention?  Also, from music, ritardando designates a momentary slowing
of the tempo for particular effect.

Now, decay.  I intend to provide a purely sonic example, but first, here
is a biological consideration of the term decay.

An organism does not need to be dead to be decaying, but a dead organism
is clearly in a state of decay, which is to say that since not all
decaying organisms are dead but all dead organisms are definitely
decaying, let us consider a dead organism:

It has ceased to function as the system it once was.
It no longer acts, but is only acted upon.
It no longer digests, but,for a time at least, and in the presence of
eaters, it will be digested.
Eventually, it is no longer recognizable as any vestige of its former,
living self, having been taken in as fuel by other organisms.

Any system in such a state cannot compose, and is compost.

Organic decay can be retarded by means of freezing, canning, pickling,
partial fermentation, or by the use of inorganic preservatives, such as
monosodium glutamate or formaldehyde.  When preserved by natural accident,
the result is a fossil.  When preserved by human technique, the purpose is
for sustenance or for study.

The parallels here with an artistic work or a body of artistic works or of
cultural artefacts, for example, are plentiful.  Please consider them.

Meanwhile, what about organized sounds?  Given an audio signal
[01.signal.way], its decay is the gradual decrease in signal amplitude
continuing until the signal is indistinguishable from background noise or
system component noise.  I can think of a number of ways to "retard the
decay" of the given audio signal:

I could search for a representative piece of the signal, a pattern which
seems to repeat persistently along the time axis, and then copy and paste
that pattern as many times as desired.  [02.reiteration.wav]  The result
of this reiterative process could, of course, be infinite.......[30-40
seconds??]............................--but that much is plenty.  

Reiteration becomes monotonous as soon as you have gotten the
point...Unless you're having fun, in which case, go ahead and do it again.

I could retard the signal's decay by playing it back in a reverberant
space, like this room:

[clap hands to demonstrate natural reverb of the room, and then gesture
for attention to that reverberation] --Now. listen:

[03.signal in room.wav].

This method of retarding decay by adding ambient reverberation inevitably
opens up the possibility of distortion and noise by output componets and
for the interference of coincidental sounds:

[04.noises.wav:  Chair squeak.  Cough. Truck passing.  Phone ringing.
Crowd laughing.] 

I could also add reverberations electronically: [05.signal plus

In this case, the reverberations would be delayed copies of the signal or
parts of the signal, added to the original signal with a number of
variable parameters.  Let's try not to geek out on the details.

Lastly, I could measure or estimate the rate of decay and compensate for
it inversely:  So that, as the signal's original amplitude decreases, I
amplify it proportionally.  [06.gainboost.wav] 

With this method, it is inevitable that the noise inherent in the
components of the system will be amplified along with the signal.  Entropy
always wins in the end.

In thinking about decay and its retardation in these ways, I noticed a few

For organic systems, the retardation of decay is "sustenance."
For sound signals, the retardation of decay is "sustain."

A self-sustaining system, like an organism, retards its own decay...until
it cannot self-sustain anymore. A sustained sound signal sustains...until
it decays.  

Whenever I intervene to retard the decay of something, I compromise with
entropy on the results.  

I want to sustain those systems and outputs which propagate what I see as

What's desirable?  The absence of violence and the presence of
choices--or, the presence of choices in the presence of the absence of

In short, freedom and peace.


703 East Illinois Street
Urbana, IL 61801
217 344 2062  phone (no fax)

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