I'm pleased to share onanonano, a five-track ambient-alternate-reality music album, available now on the App Store. onanonano builds on ideas I started to explore in my previous release, sound space, an alternate-reality music app experiment which uses the microphone and earbuds connected to your phone to create a warped, spatialised version of the audio environment around you.

onanonano is a more 'composed' developement on this theme. It has five discrete sections, totalling around a 35 minute runtime, which will loop infinitely; because all sound is sourced from your environment, every run through is somewhat unique, and different spaces will elicit different outcomes.

Neutral vs. Opinionated

I wanted sound space to be largely neutral; as a listener, you certainly have some degree control over the sound you hear, but your experience is primarily dictated by the environment in which you listen and your movements through it, rather than through user- or machine-smartness.

With onanonano I wanted to move away from that neutral stance, and explore 'composition' in a musical experience with endlessly variable source material. The result is a series of five 'scenes', totalling around 35 minutes of music, over which the listener has no manual control. Each scene has a varied and distinct personality, and each will sound different in different environments. For example, the first scene (which had a working title of Chainsaw Factory) is based around a deep, slightly metallic resonance, which is as bold as the low strings of a piano when walking near traffic, but is bright, crackling, and percussive when typing at a keyboard.

What listener control does remain from sound space is their movement through the environment. Walking closer to road works, listening to a stairwell, and waiting through three busses to listen to the traffic are all unusual navigational choices I have taken in the development of the album. (Having been created entirely in the city, I look forward to listening to it for the first time in the countryside.)

As an experiment in rhythm, I have included a kick drum track in one of the scenes. As simples as this is, its effect on the sounds around it can be quite strong; given a four-on-the-floor, I find myself picking rhythm from the sound environment much more automatically with the centring presence of the kick. (The boundary between semi-organised, organised, and 'free' sounds is very interesting.)

Prototyping & Process

In the creation of onanonano I settled into a process somewhere between sound design and software development. Musical sketches were more like prototypes, and production notes were similar to change lists (or bug fixes). I started the process by recording raw audio on my phone in a few scenarios: at my desk, in a coffee shop, in the street, on the bus, on the tube. Dumping this into Logic Pro, I created a long list of filters and sound treatments that achieved some interesting results with my 'test subject'. Of course, listening 'in the wild' would (and will) always yield different results. These DAW prototypes were then ported to the Mac using the wonderful AudioKit framework, where I tweaked settings further to match and improve on the initial sketch.

I developed 'The Pink App' as a testbed for listening to these prototypes in the real world. The printouts of the processing chains on screen enabled me to create quite detailed change lists / production notes for the next round of development. The crossover of software development and design processes into the music making and compositional aspects of onanonano were very interesting to explore: what are 'edge cases' in music; and what are people's expectations when they are both 'users' and 'listeners'?

What's Next?

I've embedded some 'performances' of onanonano below, and the application is available here. I think that my next experiments in this space will be to bring the compositional aspects of onanonano and the emergent structures and rhythms of sound space together with a more traditional electronic music creation process.

Audio samples

The full 34 minute run-through of onanonano, recorded wandering around a London market.

Chainsaw Factory (part 2), recorded on a busy street.

onanonano track 3, a drone that sounds best on the bus, at night.

Track 4, a pulsating resonant and rhythmic scene.