The Commuter Challenge

1 June 2014

The June 2014 Challenge

by CC @ 22:55

Compose a piece of music without using musical instruments. The sounds can come from any object that is not built for the purpose of making music. Feel free to use samples of sounds made by other people, as long as they aren’t samples of people performing music (or, at the very least, not intending to perform music).

Objects which are not nominally music instruments but have become standard items in musical performance (e.g. the brake drum) should be avoided.

Singing, chanting, rapping, sprechstimme, etc are all off-limits. Other uses of the human voice, however, are permissible, as long as they are not musical per se.

The Results

Ryan Finholm


Brian Raiter

Noise Study


  1. My piece is pretty much a failed experiment. The bright side is that I learned a few things about what doesn’t work in a project like this. The original ideas I had for this were much more interesting, but they were pretty elaborate, particularly for someone like me with little native skill. Several of the samples that I collected this month were unusable due to wind noises. And I didn’t realize how hard it would be to balance various things (e.g. the way the rhythm track completely disappears behind some of the other sounds, due to not having any bass range). I went through several different stages of paring down my original ideas, trying to get to something workable in the remaining time. In retrospect, I should have taken more of an iterative approach, maybe taken some raw materials early on and shaped them into a couple of rhythm loops, and then tried building up from there.

    The bell sound was the only one that was really manipulated. I used looping and reversing to continuously bring it in and out. All the other sounds were used exactly as I collected them.

    by Brian — 1 July 2014 @ 12:45

  2. My piece is composed entirely of samples of my dog Buko growling and barking, with a bunch of sound wave stretching. I used no other effects, unless you call panning, layering or volume adjustment ‘effects’. I did not alter the pitch of any of the samples.

    All of the repetitive rhythm samples are Buko’s growls, and the higher-pitched noises on top of those are some of his various barks and yips, all stretched out. It occasionally sounds like there is some auto-tuning going on, but that effect was also turned off throughout the entire process – maybe when you take an eighth-of-a-second yip and stretch it out to 7 seconds the limitations of digital sampling rates in Garageband are on full display.

    I thought the constraints of the challenge were pretty hobbling, but that was probably a good thing. I’d wanted to explore sound wave manipulation ever since I went into an Apple Store for a Garageband class several months ago, and the person who tried to answer my questions about pitch changes did something wrong and ended up with a mess of weird dubstep noise.

    Brian suggested that the piece should be named Beaucoup Buko, which is just too damned good.

    I like Brian’s piece. It brings back fond memories of Ambient Industrial night at the Re-Bar. Holy crap, that was literally 20 years ago.

    by RyanF — 1 July 2014 @ 20:28

  3. Steve Reich uses time-stretching in various places in his piece “Three Tales”, and the effect is similar — there is a sort of sawtooth-wave quality that is a little reminiscent of auto-tuning (presumably because the algorithms for both are similar). I have to admit I like that side effect; it gives the stretched-out sample a certain rough texture that my ear just appreciates.

    by Brian — 1 July 2014 @ 23:37