Musical Idea 11: Snail Envelope

12.17.2013 § Leave a comment

One day I was listening to a favorite metal band of mine and I was focusing on the guitar tone. There was some intense distortion going on — so intense, actually, that pretty much no matter what notes the guitarist was playing, there was just this set howl-shriek that matched them, along the rhythm. Listening very closely, I thought I could hear fluctuations in the sound of the howl-shriek that were independent from the main part of the voice. Perhaps I was just imagining this, but my expectations about the nature of this distortion were to be broken, say, if it were to introduce itself in this limited way, then reveal itself later to in truth be free from, not bound to, the main part of the voice, and in fact, then, not actually to be distortion, but simulated distortion which is being experimentally expanded upon, then, well, I would think that was great.

Maybe, even, the distortion could evolve into taking over expressive responsibilities, becoming much more dynamic and central and orderly than the voice which supposedly spawned it. The original voice could become flat, marginalized, and noisy, reversing their roles.

If the distortion became less distorted and revealed its own distortion which in turn took over, this effect could repeat indefinitely, like an infinite nesting of voices inside distortions.

This is just one of many possible examples of what one might call a “polytimbre”, wherein an entity boasts multiple timbres operating together but independently — both vertically and horizontally. More of this, please!

For you see, I am bored with contemporary timbral envelopes. These days you basically have two things going on:

  1. amplitude envelope — attack, decay, sustain, release — ADSR

  2. spectral envelope — basically the same pattern as above, except usually the journey through attack and decay is referred to as “onset”, and as far as I know there are not really specific terms for the spectral envelope during the sustain nor what happens to it during the release

And usually the spectral and amplitude envelopes match each other on each note, that is, it is rare for the spectral onset to continue far into the sustain period of the amplitude.

(Vibrato — or fluctuation in the fundamental — could be considered part of timbre, but considering how much crazy stuff we do with pitch here, like, this is way beyond the territory of attempting to consider pitch nothing more than note names, I’ll focus on these two elements, those which are most fundamentally timbre.)

Basically this amounts to a note coming out of nothingness, moving toward a point of maximum intensity, then moving toward a point of sustainability, then toward a point of conclusiveness, then back to nothingness — three points: and thus a total four stages of transition into, between, and out of them.

But it seems to me that there is no particular reason why necessarily every time an entity makes a sound, it has to go through all of the above exactly once, or in that order!

  • Why can’t sometimes a note make it to sustain, but then rather than proceed to release and then nothingness, turn back, turning into perhaps its own attack but backwards?

  • Or, why are we limited to those three points?

    • What if I wanted to design a timbre which featured not a simple sustain, but something like secondary attacks, say?

    • Or which necessarily did something more complicated and funky each time a note ended, like a second, equally intense, but completely different sort of attack, as if whatever was being done to the instrument to make it make the sound it makes necessitates a wild backlash?

    • Or what if the attack doesn’t necessarily come so early in the sound — if your timbre first must reach smoothly into a stretch of stability which it must hold for some time before the attack can squeeze its way through? Almost like there’s some threshold to be overcome?

    • Or if the attack is broken down into multiple parts, almost like there is a separate sustain inside the attack, like a crater on top of a volcanic mountain, which may or may not have an attack to conclude itself?

  • What if each timbre featured a sort of tree of these nodes, and each strike of a note could take one of a multitude of paths through it, but considered together formed a distinct instrument — something like if a violin’s entire suite of timbres such as pizzicato, col legno batutto, sul ponticello, etc. could magically flow from one into the next?

  • What if the spectral envelope did behave independently from the amplitude envelope?

  • What if timbral features operated partially by chance?

  • What of polytimbres — and their ken across these trees, their minds?

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