Thursday, May 7th @ 7pm

Project Theory and Development:
Today – in real time – that is September 23, 2020 there was a piece on NPR about a new movie – The Secrets We Keep – staring Naomi Rapace. In the interview, she gives a brief plot synopsis that mentions that the plot revolves around her character hearing a specific whistle – one that she instantly recognizes from her past. This is exactly the sort of thing I was thinking about when structuring this project – the calls of the community member – that you could know them without seeing them – that the calls are personal and unique.

Technical Stuff:
On this day, I decided to switch microphones from the AT2035 Large Condenser to the AT825 which is a Stereo Mic more suited to field recordings. The results were much better – better rejection of the in-house sound and better pickup of the community. Also, the crowd was much more active

This is what my setup in Reason looked like for this recording and the day prior.

All NYC Data on this day from WolframAlpha:

Weather on this day from WeatherUnderground

6:51 PM66 F20 F17 %W16 mph25 mph29.69 in0.0 inMostly Cloudy
7:51 PM64 F21 F19 %SW14 mph23 mph29.71 in0.0 inPartly Cloudy

The News of the day from one of the local New York City papers

This piece was in the NYTimes that day

Wednesday, May 6th @ 7pm

Today’s recording uses a different process – Process D – the raw signal is both compressed and expanded before any processing in an attempt to get loudness of the inside sounds more in balance with the outside sounds of the rest of the community. This is going to be an ongoing experiment. After that I am splitting the signal into two effect loops, one using Output’s Movement which has figured heavily in the earlier pieces and then on the other loop, it is mostly delays and flanging that come with Reason.

Special call out to Lucas White who gave me some great feedback today. This included telling me to give a bit of a peek into the sound processing “black box”, which I am trying here today. His input was super helpful. Thanks!

Tuesday, May 5th @ 7pm

This one was recorded with way way too much noise coming form inside the house, so I took a stab at compressing and EQing to make it less annoying – the pinging and the hooting are just too much. There is a little pitch shifting and auto-tuning in there. Actually, if I recall correctly now, I forgot to put the Mic outside the window, as opposed to just near the window opening. So, yeah not great listening, but some interesting little moments in there.

Monday, May 4th @ 7pm

This one was created using a lot of the same plugins, but with a different way of organizing them (internally known as C-Series setup). Also, during the recording, as you can hear in a lot of the previous recordings, I am playing some simple little synth bits, the fox hunt call, a marshy polysynth – these were played by me at the time – had a speaker pointed out the window. I figured, why not play electric/electronic instrument to make my “cheer”. The bongo, tambourine and some of the shouting came from our house as well. Happily in this recording, the in-house sounds are not sooo much louder that the rest of the community. I will be working to address that as the processing gets more sophisticated.

7pm – The Clappy Hour Project

There is music in everything we do. With unstructured collaboration over a sustained period, a community forms, even when words are never spoken. Unique personalities emerge from the din.

As the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the globe, shelter-in-place orders were given in many locales, New York City included. As a native New Yorker, the notion of telling everyone (or almost everyone) in the City That Never Sleeps to stay home and isolate, stop going to work, stop pretty much everything was inconceivable. And yet, as they do over and over again, New Yorkers adapted and did it with grace.

Then there were those who had a much more challenging assignment – the Essential Workers and Frontline Workers. Without people doing these jobs, the city would simply not function. They are common people and some with high profiles. They work underground, in the shadows, on the streets and in the air. The stark realization that so many of these folks get no recognition for the critical wok they do everyday emerged among those at home.

Beginning back in late March of 2020, New Yorkers began a new ritual – one that seemed to be happening in cities around the world. At 7pm each night, people would go to their windows to clap and cheer in appreciation of the work that the Essential and Frontline folks were doing. To say the least, it was heartwarming and cathartic. The NY Times reported the story on April 6th. My family participated each night with great enthusiasm, as did our neighbors. For a few days I would play my electric guitar or synth out the window – just making noises to see how the community would react. Oddly, it just seemed to get incorporated with no distinct response.

For the first month of the 7pm phenomenon, until April 29th, I was all about participation in the celebration. During that time, I began to notice certain things:
– For starters, I live in an apartment that does not face the street, it faces other buildings in the complex. So, we had a very small isolated group of participants – king of like a Galapagos Island in Manhattan.
– People had shifted from clapping to using some sort of noise maker – for me a tambourine and my voice.
– Some people had very consistent and distinct “calls” like bird calls – you couldn’t see them, but you certainly could recognize them.
– For the most part, people didn’t discuss what they did at 7pm with other neighbors, there was no planning, no formal collaboration, each apartment/family practiced in their own way.
– Most importantly, it seemed like a moment in time when all of NYC pulls together.

Unfortunately, we New Yorkers are too familiar with these sort of events blackouts, terrorist attacks, hurricanes and flooding. The clapping had been going on for about a month and I was really unsure about how long it would last. So, I set out to capture as much of it as I could.

Beginning on April 28th, 2020, I began to record the clapping from the window in front of the desk I am sitting at now where I have been camped out with all my work stuff and my audio gear. I simply stuck a microphone out the window and hit record.

Now I’ve never really done any field recording like this. I decided to take a complete Beginners Mindset and a DIY approach and just learn a bit each night.

I also pondered how this collection of recordings could be used by others. I imagined:
– analyzing the recordings and generating a dynamic map that would approximate the location of each of the “calls”
– I thought of using some sort of machine learning – like they have done with bird calls – that would allow for identifying the participants each night – not by their human identities, but by their “call” What days were they there, what days not?
– I also started thinking about how this is a data set that could be plugged into a nascent knowledge graph of shared experiences during the pandemic globally. More on this when I announce the Context Capture Project.

One of my concerns was when will it end and how will it end. On May 23rd, the NY Times reported a story from the UK where the person who had started a weekly clap was calling for it to stop. “I think to maintain the positive impact that it’s had so far, it’s best to stop at its peak,” she told the BBC. In a statement, Ms. Plas said that those who want to continue clapping should feel free to do so. Needless to say, the clapping continued here in NYC.

Come July, my family decided to take a break from the city and I rigged up a remote system that would record the happenings automatically everyday at 7pm. On July 10th, the system failed. When we returned later in July, the clapping had stopped. I am truly saddened to have failed to record the final days, especially “the day the clapping died”. I’ll never know for sure when it actually happened.

The first day back, I did nothing but listen to the silence. The second day I started shaking my tambourine and a few people responded. I faced a dilemma. Should I prod the community to continue, thus injecting myself into sustaining the ritual? I chose to be more of an observer, even though I had been a whole hearted participant. However, I didn’t start the phenomenon, so I decided to let the community decide.

So, what to do with all these recordings? I decided that doing some sort of analysis would be interesting, but I didn’t have anything to prove.. or did I? The notion of examining a data set with a very different set of tools would be interesting. That is, looking through lenses that I have never used before, being naïve, the beginners mindset.

The raw recordings have a sound like some sort of unruly Gamelan orchestra. Using digital audio tools, with their inherent analytic capabilities, could I create a soundscape that was unlike anything else and in that process capture the mood and spirit of this one little spot in the globe at a time when everyone on earth shared something in common.

And so I have just begun to process the recordings day by day beginning with April 29th and ending on July 9. With each day, I am making small and occasionally radical changes in the processing applied, so while some may sound very similar day to day, rest assured they will morph over time. As I mentioned before, this is a naïve approach – I am learning by doing, so it is expected that what May 2nd sounds like may be completely different than June 12th. And because this is all digital, it will be possible to apply a given “process” to any day’s raw recording. The the long term goal – to build an interactive experience that will allow for endlessly mixing the “days” and the “processes”. Who knows what it will reveal.

You can follow the progress on Soundcloud – That is where I will be posting each day when completed.

I will also be posting them to Instagram –

I will also try and add commentary to each day in posts here on the blog – the ones that are up there now don’t have any commentary yet – but they will. This will be a mix of observations from the world at large and my personal experiences on that day as well as the technical trials and tribulations.

If anyone is interested in the raw recordings, I will make them available under creative commons (as are the processed recordings). Contact me if you are interested.