Sound sampling and Sao

5 Apr

Googling something tonight that was related only in the sense it involved the arts, I happened upon a link to The Knights’ Found Sound Project – WQXR (WQXR being the main classical radio station in NYC).

The Knights, WQXR’s ensemble-in-residence, want your help for an upcoming performance of John Adams’s composition, Christian Zeal and Activity.

In this hymn-like piece for string orchestra, Adams encourages performers to place “sonic found objects” into the composition. The composer’s original recording from 1973 included a recorded sample of a preacher speaking. But over the years, performers have incorporated all sorts of recorded sounds from their lives. We want you to approach using all your powers of imagination.

The Knights don’t actually want our help anymore, because the deadline for sound submissions was March 16 and the performance was on April 4. But being always on the lookout now for how New York and dreams interact, I thought (before I noticed that deadline) about who among the dreamers I know works with found sound.

That took only moment, because the late Shawn Allen O’Neal (also known as Sao) has been on my mind, and the subject of quite a few of my emails, recently.

Shawn Allen O'Neal (Sao)

Shawn Allen O'Neal (Sao)

I and my friends knew Sao only through the online bulletin board and annual online PsiberDreaming Conference (PDC) of the International Association for the Study of Dreams (IASD). Sao was always a source of profound and creative thinking and stunning digital artwork (he managed the PDC’s online art gallery for the first several years of the conference). Less well known within IASD, I think, was Shawn’s creative endeavors with sound sampling. As a sound artist, he did installations in various venues in his hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Some of his sound work is online at his site Sidereal Drive. (Don’t be misled by the huge and annoying “Oops” text; the background image of the site is missing, but the links to Sao’s work are still there, along with poetry and at least one piece of art. Scroll down and find it among the camouflage of the error message.)

Sound sampling; John Adams

NPR has some background and a complete performance (not by the Knights) of Christian Zeal and Activity. And Tom’s Hardware has what appears (at a glance) to be a clear and practical article about what sound sampling is and how to do it.

Composer John Adams (photo by Deborah O’Grady)

Composer John Adams (photo by Deborah O’Grady)

Oh, and hey, this is just too good to be true. After fixing the typos and checking the links on all the above, I clicked through to the Explore John Adams’s full NPR Archive page on NPR, and from there to John Adams: ‘Grand’ And ‘Gnarly’ In Concert. The article begins:

Celebrated composer John Adams says that some of his best ideas for pieces come out of his dreams. Like the time he dreamt he was driving up Interstate 5 in California and was approached by two black stretch limousines, which turned into pianos and blared arpeggios from their windows.

“The image of the limousines that became grand pianos stuck with me,” Adams says. “And, of course, its absurdity was part of the generating idea of this piece called Grand Pianola Music.”

In a performance at Walt Disney Concert Hall, some of his dreams — involving clarinet, banjo and a sampled cow — come to life. The American composer conducts the L.A. Philharmonic’s New Music group in a concert celebrating his 60th birthday.

Hey, John Adams, come visit us at IASD 2012!

Update: Correction?

I started this post by saying, “Googling something tonight that was related only in the sense it involved the arts, I happened upon a link to The Knights’ Found Sound Project – WQXR.” That may or may not be true; I can’t remember for sure—so this is either a correction or an interesting new twist. (I try hard to keep myself honest about cause-and-effect in the face of temptations to consider many events synchronistic—although I wasn’t considering landing at WQXR synchronistic when I wrote the original post.)

My recollection is that I saw the ad for the WQXR Knights’ Found Sound Project when looking at a page that came up in the Google results for “Padre Jose Pinto.” Pinto was a priest interviewed on a DVD I watched tonight about community visual art in Salvador, Brazil: Colors of a Creative Culture. Butthe URL on the DVD is, and I had also typed that into the address bar at some point—or some typo of it or misremembered version, given that I landed at a generic Time Warner Cable Road Runner page. If Project Found Sound got me to WQXR, then “Googling something tonight that was related only in the sense it involved the arts” is untrue; Project Found Sound (a documentary film project) obviously has subject matter in common with the similarly named Found Sound Project (WQXR’s composition/performance project).

If my recollection is correct, though—if I saw WQXR Found Sound Project because of Padre Pinto and not Project Found Sound—then getting there was indeed a synchronicity (meaningful coincidence).

Clarification: Found sound, sound sampling, wild sound

Found sound and sound sampling aren’t the same thing, although maybe they overlap. Wikipedia says, “In music, sampling is the act of taking a portion, or sample, of one sound recording and reusing it as an instrument or a sound recording in a different song or piece… Often ‘samples’ consist of one part of a song, such as a rhythm break, which is then used to construct the beat for another song.”

Another article on Wikipedia explains: “The term found art—more commonly found object…[—]describes art created from undisguised, but often modified, objects that are not normally considered art, often because they already have a non-art function. Music composers use found sound in their compositions.” The sermon incorporated into a performance of Christian Zeal and Activity would be an example.

A related concept is “wild sound.” Wild sound, as I know it from the context of broadcast reporting, is the sound of the surroundings of what’s being reported on, recorded separately to give an added dimension of place to the reporting. explains it in the context of video and film arts:

Wild Sound means audio that is recorded without accompanying pictures. Technically it is “unsynchronised sound”, meaning not synchronised with video footage.

In film and video production, wild sound is recorded so that it can be inserted into the video in post-production. This is desirable for a number of reasons, including:

  • To help keep the background noise consistent between shots.
  • To help set the mood of the scene.
  • To accompany any new audio that is added to the scene.

One Response to “Sound sampling and Sao”


  1. Spring color quest (2): Pluralistic color « - June 1, 2012

    […] now, I previously mentioned this DVD  and the company’s Project Found Sound in my post “Sound sampling and Sao.”) Rhodadendron at NYBG(photo by […]

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