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David CC Interviews Part IV – Stretta

This is part 4 in a series profiling SoundCloud users using Creative Commons licenses. to see the whole series, click here.

It’s easy to talk about how Creative Commons licenses and new technologies can change the way people interact with music, but few people are really pushing the boundaries as much as Stretta. Not only does he engage in a collaborative creative process, sharing incomplete tracks and ideas with his SoundCloud followers, but he also releases much of his finished work under a Creative Commons license. On top of that, he’s now released hundreds of CC samples as part of the Stretta Samples project. We picked Stretta’s brain about music, SoundCloud, Creative Commons, and the creative process.

Thanks for talking with me, Stretta. Can you describe the kind of audio you’re producing with your two accounts?

I working on two albums simultaneously right now, and they’re wildly different from each other. One is an ambient piano project, in the style of the Harold Budd/Brian Eno collaborations, and the other is highly electronic, constructed of elaborately orchestrated modular synth overdubs.

The plan is to release the piano ambient project as a free Creative Commons download and I’m not sure what I’ll do with the modular album yet, so I’m retaining the rights until I decide. I’m using soundcloud to post my progress on these projects, both publicly and privately to my followers. This has been very rewarding, and I’m able to get valuable feedback on tracks before they’re released.

The other account is exclusively a repository of Creative Commons licensed audio files – not complete songs, but useful loops, phrases and noise, free for anyone to use.

You sometimes release early versions of tracks for comment, and then upload updated versions as it develops. That seems to let your fans see and participate in your creative process. What was your inspiration or motivation for that?

I think this is a process that happened before, but behind closed doors. An artist invites friends and people involved in the project into the studio, and the track is played and comments are offered. Given long distance collaboration, and the distributed manner in which people can work together over the internet, there needed to be a similar online mechanism and this didn’t really exist before soundcloud.

The key here is fine granularity of control over access. Soundcloud allows me to privately grant access to groups of people that I want to get feedback from. I can allow fans to hear works in progress, without ‘giving away’ the full resolution track. Or, I can use soundcloud to distribute full resolution downloads. Or something in-between.

Of the tracks and samples you have uploaded, are there any individual tracks or sets you’re really excited about now? Why?

Currently, I’m most excited about the ‘A Funneled Stone’ set, because it is what I’ve been working on most intensely. We’re in the midst of a great modular synth renaissance, with all these amazing small garage operations churning out lovely, sophisticated modules. I was very frustrated by the technical and workflow limitations of integrating a modular with a computer, and this directly led to the development of ‘Volta’, a virtual instrument that turns a DC-coupled audio interface into a system that provides very high resolution, sample-accurate control over a modular synthesizer. Volta unearthed huge swaths of previously unavailable (or very difficult) techniques. Many of the tracks on ‘A Funneled Stone’ use a Risset rhythm, which is a sort of audio barber pole illusion where the tempo is constantly changing, but transitions are masked by subdividing the beat in clever ways. It pretty much guarantees no one will ever be able to dance to your music without posing a danger to themselves or others around them.

So, ‘A Funneled Stone’ is realized entirely on a modular, with the exception of drums on some tracks. Of course, using a modular isn’t the fastest way to work, but I find it the most satisfying. And fun. It breaks synthesis down to base principles and, at the lowest level, you find yourself making music exclusively through the manipulation of voltage. This is a reaction I had to the increased sophistication of software synthesizers. What is available today is simply amazing. In many cases, you can choose a preset, hold down a key and be rewarded with a gratifying evocative soundtrack instantly. But someone else can come up and press a key and get the same thing. It makes it difficult to hear the artist behind the output. For me, it feels less like expressing myself, and more like leveraging the talent of the preset designer. From an artistic standpoint, if the technology is masking the artist, it becomes less interesting to me. I’m all for powerful tools, and if I were a composer doing work for hire on a deadline, I’d be all over these things because they make you sound brilliant in no time. I’m also for empowering technology, but I want my tools to support expression, not obscure it.

In practice, I’m finding a lot of interesting aspects behind the process of making music with a modular. For example, MIDI seems to be very ‘note’ centric and synthesizers that use MIDI are also focused on how to handle individual note events. A modular enables me to easily think in terms of phrases, or groups of notes where the modulation spans a bar or several bars. Many people comment on how the music on ‘A Funneled Stone’ seems to ‘breathe’.

Some of your tracks are downloadable, and some of them have Creative Commons licenses, where others are just streaming. How do you decide which track gets which treatment, and does that have something to do with a collaborative creativity process?

Works in progress are streaming only. Older, pre-Creative Commons tracks retain their original licensing. Most of my newer finished tracks get a Creative Commons license, as the primary issue I’m struggling with isn’t exploitation, it is obscurity. I don’t know why unknown artists are so conditioned against exploitation of their work. That’s like the best thing that can happen to you. How many times have you seen a YouTube video and the comments are all people saying “who did the music? what music is this?” It is impossible to hide who made the music these days. Your music isn’t a limited resource. You’ll make more. That’s the easy part. Finding an audience is the hard part.

How did you start the samples project? What have the reactions to that been?

I routinely produce huge amounts of audio when testing software, or in the course of music production. In the past, this audio would sit unused on my hard drive, but given the popularity of sound loop libraries, it seemed foolish to simply sit on it. I released some sounds to the OLPC library, and that was the start of the Creative Commons sample outpouring. Today, I have a large number of samples available on SoundCloud, which is nice because you don’t have to download a multi-gigabyte library for just a few sounds. You can preview right in your browser window and download what you need.

How did you start releasing material with a Creative Commons license? How have the licenses been beneficial to you?

I’ve been releasing music independently for a while now, dating back to before Napster and such, and for a moment it seemed it may be possible to squeeze out a modest living selling recorded music, provided I live simply and keep expenses to a minimum. Then the complexion of the marketplace changed to a point where that was no longer possible for me.

While making a living was out of the question, reaching an audience is not. Creative Commons was the right tool to remove accessibility barriers and signal to consumers and other artists that it is ok to use, resample and repurpose the work. I see a lot of artists seeking ways to ‘get around’ copyright because they want to use All Rights Reserved samples in their music. I think this is the wrong approach. They want to take, when what they should be saying is “How can I help? How can I contribute?” It is time to be part of the solution.

Same goes for consumers who are indignant about RIAA lawsuits, take down notices and the corporate recording industry. Typing “Fuck the RIAA” on digg is an empty gesture. If you truly want to make a difference, the solution is right in front of you. Support independent music. Support artists who support Creative Commons.

How has Soundcloud helped you? What’s your favorite part of using the site?

The entire social aspect is powerful in ways I think many people have yet to appreciate. Who you follow and who follow affect how you listen to and discover new music and artists. Soundcloud has put me in contact with tons of amazing music and musicians that I would not have known about before.

The social commenting on SoundCloud is definitely my favorite part. Timeline-based commenting is an innovation that was sorely needed in the medium. It is almost like being in the same room with people as they’re listening to the track, and enormously gratifying when someone identifies a special moment or surprise you’ve built-in. Part of the art of a good piece of music is to set up an expectation and break it. If you think about it, that is the precise definition of humor.

One more thing: The kind of support I get from the SoundCloud community makes me want to write and release more music.

Wow! Thanks to Stretta for such an insightful interview. If you’ve made it this far without listening to Stretta’s tunes, it’s definitely worthwhile to spend some time on his profile, and if you’re a musician who uses samples in your work, check out his samples page!

David CC Interviews Part III – London Sound Survey

This is part 3 in a series profiling SoundCloud users using Creative Commons licenses. to see the whole series, click here.

The London Sound Survey is trying to make the job of future historians a little bit easier. Setting out with a few microphones and small recorders, the Survey is attempting to document all the different aspects of contemporary life in London and preserve the contemporary soundscape. While many of the recordings are truly extraordinary moments in the life of a city, there are also plenty of sounds that manage to capture the remarkable in the mundane. We caught up with the London Sound Survey’s Ian Rawes to talk about the project, and how it uses SoundCloud and its Creative Commons license support.

London Sound Survey bullseye logo

Hello, Ian! Can you breifly describe what the aims of the London Sound Survey are? What are you doing to accomplish those?

The main aim is to build up a big collection of sound recordings of all different aspects of life in London, and to give someone in the future a good idea of what it sounded like to live here in the early 21st century. That means going out with recording equipment and trying to beg and borrow recordings from other people. I also dig up old historical accounts to find out what everyday sounds were like in the past and how they’ve changed between then and now.

What is the actual process of field recording like? Who are the people submitting tracks, and why are they doing this?

You have to put yourself in a listening frame of mind when you’re out and about and pay close attention to what you’re hearing. It’s usually a slower, more patient experience than going around with a camera taking pictures. But it’s a great feeling when you do come across some good sounds. For example, I’m always pleased to encounter street preachers holding forth, and I must actually look happy, because they often home in on me and go into overdrive.
South London street preacher by London Sound Survey
Only a few others have shared tracks with the London Sound Survey, probably because there aren’t many people purely into field recording. Those that do send in their recordings are of course the best people in the world, in my opinion.

When in the project did you start using Creative Commons licenses? Why did you start, and how have they been consistent with your larger goals?

I went for Creative Commons at the very start, and I wish it had been around 50 years ago. It’s very hard to use any old recordings you might come across thanks to copyright issues, which are a total pain. Now and again I hear of people using some of my London sounds in their own tracks or mixes, or embedding them in their websites. So long as they give due credit I take it as a real compliment: someone liked my stuff enough to make use of it. Creative Commons provides the framework for that kind of sharing and re-use.

How do you use SoundCloud? How have you incorporated it into the project at large, and how do you engage with the SoundCloud community?

I began using it just for the DropBox facilities, as it looked like an easy way for people to send sounds in. But that was based on an old-fashioned view of how the internet works, from when people had a website with a guestbook. Then you could just put up some interesting content on your geocities site about UFOs or whatever, and wait for people to come along and leave comments or link to you. That’s not how things work now. Content is still king, but you have to go out and engage with people. SoundCloud provides lots of ways of doing that, all in one package, and I’m starting to explore and make more use of them.

Do you have any tips for aspiring field recorders, or people who may be interested but not really familiar with the practice?

First off, don’t just think of field recording as an end in itself. Field recordings are also a good way to complement photographs and writing, to add original content to blogs and podcasts, and of course as part of making music. The good news is you don’t need really expensive equipment. There are capable little recorders made by Sony, Edirol and others which cost much the same as a compact digital camera.

The next thing you should do is make or buy a fluffy windcover to go over the recorder’s built-in mics – the supplied foam covers will be next to useless. An unprotected mic can pick up wind noise even in a gentle breeze, and it sounds bad on the recording. Rycote make fluffy windcovers for a wide range of recorders. Be quite tough editing down what you record as well. If you’ve recorded fifteen minutes of ambience, what’s the best single minute?

When uploading sounds to a blog, you’ve got some attractive-looking options with audio players made for WordPress and other platforms. But also consider using the SoundCloud player. It provides more information to the listener, and you can enable embed code on it for more widespread sharing.

What are some of the most interesting sounds you’ve put up on SoundCloud? Do you have any great stories behind any of the sounds up there?

There’s better stories about the sounds I didn’t get. To make the dawn chorus recordings meant having to get the night bus at 4am to get to the recording spot. At that time in the morning the buses are often full of drunks, and you’d hear some amazing arguments, people singing, others getting thrown off the bus for being sick on the stairs, and I now wish I’d recorded some of that. The happiest time was making my first recording of bat sonar. When I first heard the clicks on the detector, I didn’t imagine an animal could make such sounds.
Leislers bat sonar Barnes by London Sound Survey

Thank you to Ian for providing such an interesting insight into the world of field recording. Stay tuned over the next few days for more posts about different SoundCloud users using Creative Commons licenses.

SoundCloud CC Interviews Part II – EardrumsPop!

This is part 2 in a series profiling SoundCloud users using Creative Commons licenses. to see the whole series, click here.

As the second part of our ongoing interviews with SoundCloud users utilizing Creative Commons,  we sat down with EardrumsPop, an independent netlabel based in Norway putting out fantastic indie pop music from all over the world.  Their latest compilation, Between Two Waves, is based on one of our favourite themes – collaboration – with artists and artwork designers working together virtually to deliver a wonderful three disc set.

Let’s go…!

Hi EardrumsPop! Can you describe what it is you do for us?

EardrumsPop is a netlabel focused on warm and melodic music in genres like indiepop, folk pop and electronica. We release free, digital singles, EPs and compilations in packages that include good artworks from our favourite illustrators and an informative booklet with info about the bands. We want to spread the word about bands we love, and since we also love artworks, we want to present good illustrators to our audience. By releasing this for free, we reach a lot more people than if people had to pay for these releases. It’s more fun without the money. Money changes everything.

How do you decide what to upload to SoundCloud? Is it just some of your material?

At the moment we have all 40 tracks of our latest compilation “Between Two Waves” on SoundCloud and when we start our next project, the new songs will also be uploaded there. The reason why we chose SoundCloud was because we needed an effective system for sending digital promos out to blogs and websites, and an easy way to share teasers from the album before it was released. After the release, SoundCloud has been perfect when we want to tell people about a specific band, or when we want to add streaming songs to our websites. We love the embed-widget option, and especially the ability to embed artwork into it.  It allows us to show our great cover artworks while we stream the music.

Baffin Island – You Make Two Weeks Two Days by EardrumsPop

How did you start releasing material with a Creative Commons license?

One of the main goals for our label is to spread the word about new and  interesting artists. CC encourages sharing, and at the same time, it takes care of the artist’s rights. In our case, we want as many people as possible to listen to the music, so we want to specifically allow sharing of our releases. At the same time, we want to take care of the artists’ rights, and restrict what the listener can do with the songs without the artist’s permission. We want to be free’er than regular copyright, but not without any rights at all. “Between Two Waves” was the first of our releases where almost everything (39 out of 40 songs) was created especially for us and we could control the type of licence used.  We always encourage the bands to use Creative Commons, but the decision is always theirs to make.

So, how are the licensing working out for you and the bands involved?

The songs have been shared, a lot, and the people who have used the music publicly have always (as we know) linked back to us and the artists. The songs have been used on several podcasts and been played on several net-radios. For us as a tiny label, it’s also much easier when people ask if they can use the songs. We can say yes, without going through managements, other labels or the artists because we know the songs are meant to be shared.

How has SoundCloud helped you? Do you engage with the community and are you able to use your SoundCloud page as a showcase for your audio?

It has helped us a lot, especially in the work to promote the release. We used SoundCloud to send out “secret” links to the songs before the release, and we also made genre-specific sets to showcase the music to special blogs who only write about one type of music (folk-blogs, indiepop-blogs etc.). The embed-option made it really easy for blogs to play the music to their readers, even if it wasn’t available for download yet. We still use it to showcase the album and specific songs for our followers on Twitter and Facebook, and we embed tracks on our sites when we write about the “Between Two Waves” artists. We do engage with the community, follow other “SoundClouders”, and especially the last few months, bands have sent us demos through SoundCloud. It’s a wonderful tool!

What does the future hold for EardrumsPop?

In October we will start releasing a series of monthly, digital singles. The singles will feature two new songs by the bands + a cover of a small indie-band they think deserve more attention. The covered band will also be featured in the booklet. The release schedule is firming up and there are some really good bands that we are excited to share! You will of course be able to listen to and download these singles on SoundCloud from the middle of October and the months after- start following us on SoundCloud so you know when they are out!


Great, thanks to Knut and the team for sharing the love!  So, now you’ve read all about them check out a selection from their Between Two Waves compilation and follow them for the next batch of sunny tunes.