Sound Alchemy w/ Ableton Live: ‘The Singing Dunes’ – Advanced Instrument Racks

Dubspot instructor, composer, and producer Raz Mesinai kicks off a brand new Ableton Live video tutorial series, focusing on creating Effect and Instrument Racks in Live based on natural sonic phenomena. In the first installment, Raz explains and demonstrates how to create an advanced Instrument Rack inspired by the Singing Dunes.

I heard about the Singing Dune phenomenon years ago from several friends, all from the Middle East. After searching online I found a few recordings, but none really clear enough to capture the experience. Later, I contacted Chris Watson (formerly of Cabaret Voltaire), who is now one of the most exquisite field recording artists I’ve ever come across. (I highly recommend his recordings on the UK-based Touch label). He told me that he had been trying to record the dunes but had had no luck as of yet (this may have changed since then). After more digging I eventually discovered this site which has some very good recordings of the phenomenon. I suggest you check them out prior to watching this tutorial, but use headphones or speakers with plenty of sub — you won’t hear a thing on your laptop speakers.

From there I set off to experiment in a little sound alchemy. Using Operator and Analog, I first focused on the main elements of the ‘landscape’ where this is taking place. There is a base drone, representing the dune, a layer of noise, representing the sand moving, and modulation as a way to make the sand ‘blow’ in the wind at different rates.

From there I looked for a story to latch onto. The story is based off of the description that Marco Polo wrote down in the 13th century during a stay in the Gobi Desert. He described this phenomenon as being the voices of evil spirits which “at times filled the air with the sounds of all kinds of instruments, and also the drums of clashing arms.” This image of Marco Polo, perhaps sleeping in a tent in the desert, suddenly being woken up by these strange sounds, which to him were completely mysterious as his quote suggests, conjures two things for me. Firstly, it allows a lot of freedom for me to conceptualize this Instrument Rack, and secondly, it affirms my beliefs that bad things happen when white people go to the desert.

The intention of this tutorial is not to imitate the Singing Dune phenomenon, rather, it is to use these sounds from the earth as a source of inspiration, allowing me to conceptualize a soundscape that goes with an imaginary story that is seen through sound.

I hope you enjoy it! – Raz Mesinai

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