One final piece to upload before the start of the semester, and the inevitable dry spell as most of my time will be devoted to teaching/grading for six courses at the university. So here’s a project I’ve been working on for a while now, Wendigo Étude, an Ambisonic acousmatic work that focuses exclusively on narrative structure.

Loosely based on Algernon Blackwood’s novella, The Wendigo, which is itself based on the mythology of the Great Lakes and First Nations Natives, this is a multichannel depiction of being hunted by a malevolent, but unseen presence in the cold wastes of the North. In the original mythology, the wendigo is at times described as a giant, gaunt, bloody-lipped figure with a heart of ice whose presence is preceded by an unnatural chill and foul stench. As it fed, exclusively on human flesh, it would grow in proportion to the meal it had consumed so it could never be sated. It’s an avatar of greed, gluttony, and cannibalism strongly associated with the privation of winter and the lengths that some isolated people would go to for the sake of survival. In Blackwood’s adaptation (and later, in August Derleth’s), the wendigo becomes an unseen presence that stalks its victims in the wilds of the North away from the safety of their camps. It constantly calls to them as they attempt to run from it, until eventually it catches up to them, carrying them off in the wind.

This chase through the frozen landscape is what is depicted here, layering samples of myself running with synthesized and manipulated sounds to recreate Blackwood’s tale.

Wendigo Étude

2 comments on “Wendigo Étude

  • Hi Ben,

    My name is Oliver Christian, currently studying a master’s in acousmatic music and dub techno. Would it be possible to know the approach you take when recording sounds?
    Also, the approach to compositional techniques techniques within acousmatic music?
    It would be if great help to me,

    Kind regards,

    • Hi Oliver-
      I’d be happy to talk about that. But honestly there’s not much to how I record sounds – it’s primarily done in studio, mono mic (usually a Mojave MA301, Rode NT5, or an sE V7 depending on the source), while outdoor ambience is just a Zoom H6 recorder with the XY capsules. Post production on the recorded sounds is very basic as well: a little noise gating, and occasionally iZotope’s RX to remove bird noises from the outdoor recordings if they’re noticeable, but that’s really it before the compositional stage.

      For composing, I plan everything out on paper first, whether it’s acousmatic or if it’s in standard notation. Typically, this is just a graphical sketch on a timeline showing the ordering of major events and a rough estimate of when they will occur. Since Wendigo Étude is explicitly a narrative piece, I also noted down the sounds I would need; ambience tracks, woodfire, wind, footsteps with snow crunches, breathing, creature sounds (modular synth that’s mostly a MakeNoise DPO modulated by a Morphagene, both of which are controlled by a Linnstrument), and auxiliary percussion (played from the Morphagene and re-recorded). Since I’m using Ambisonics for controlling sound in space, I also sketched out a rough guide of where each sound starts in space, and if it stays there or moves. Panning is primarily controlled in the IEM encoder plugins mapped to a TouchOSC layout that I made to quickly pan in 360°. The technique is then to follow the initial plan and make alterations as needed based on what I hear in terms of timing, volume, and position.

      After that initial stage, I focus on adjusting time and pitch within the DAW (Reaper in this case) to fit to taste, then some additional effects were added (GRM Tools SpaceGrain, delays, and the IEM Ambisonic OmniCompressor wich I set as a limiter). Then, there’s another pass of revisions (time, pitch, position, volume, duration, any other automation tweaks, etc.) followed by listening to it on different systems: I’m working in binaural throughout the compositional stage, so I test it in stereo, 5.1, and octophonic at a minimum, but would love to start testing on ATMOS… after I win the lottery…

      Hope that helps.

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