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Anatomy of a sound
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Sound artist Mike Hallenbeck has long been interested in sound for its own sake. His new CD features straight ahead and digitally manipulated recordings of water in its various forms. (MPR photo/Chris Roberts)
Digital technology has allowed artists to go much, much further in drawing inspiration from nature. One Minneapolis artist uses digitally generated sound designs to create a kind of hypnosis on headphones. The source of the sound? Water.

Minneapolis, Minn. — A couple years ago, Mike Hallenbeck recorded raindrops pummeling the metal back porch roof of his home in Minneapolis. He called it "Splat on a Not-Tin Roof," and it's become the third track on his new experimental CD, "Immersion: Water Works." For some, the sound of rain hitting a roof is a familiar, comforting refrain of summer. For Hallenbeck it represents a world of infinite possibilities, waiting to be revealed.

"What I'm interested in is exploring the qualities that are located within a sound itself," he says. "I'm not that interested in manipulating things, I'm interested in unlocking the potential of a certain sound, and sort of being able to excavate what's already there."

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Image The tools of the trade.

Hallenbeck is better known for his songwriting and music making than his field recordings. He was a founding member of the defunct Twin Cities acoustic rock band, "Pimentos For Gus," and is taking a sabbatical from his group "Mike Merz and the Can 'O' Worms." But he's also had a growing fascination with sounds and the ways humans hear them. His trusty Sony mini-disc recorder and stereo microphone have almost become additional appendages.

Hallenbeck's friend Bryce Beverlin operates Insides Music, an experimental record label in Minneapolis. Beverin is a fan of Hallenbeck's sound montages and wanted him to put together a full length CD on any subject of his choosing. Hallenbeck picked water.

"Water really appealed to me as a subject, because for me it contains all the musicality within it in its various forms," he says. "You have melody, you have harmony, you have rhythm, you have various tonal qualities, you have different movements as the water moves into different forms, you have the seasons that facilitate all the changes in it. And within all those sounds you have an amazing variety of textures and different sorts of movements occurring. So it just seemed like really rich subject matter for me."

Some of the tracks on Hallenbeck's new CD are straight ahead recordings of water in its various manifestations. There's lake water lapping under a dock, snow being crunched like styrofoam underfoot or being scraped off a sidewalk by a shovel. Hallenbeck also digitally dissects those sounds and makes long form abstractions out of them, transporting the listener to new sonic environments.

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Image Performing live.

"The processes that I use are really not all that sophisticated, and that's intentional, because I'm not looking to mess with the sounds, I'm looking to draw out of them what is beautiful, Hallenbeck says. "So, a lot of the methods that I use have been around for a long time."

"My favorite method is slowing down the sounds to reveal what's in there that you don't hear on the surface," he says. "Then there's the idea of taking a very small sample and just examining it microscopically. You know folding the pitches over sort of combing back and forth over it and creating an entire sound field out of a very small instant of sound."

"I look at this kind of a project as a way to have a dialogue with the world musically," Hallenbeck says. "It seems to me that the roots of music may lie in human beings wanting to talk back to what they're hearing in nature, in the world, and these days in technology, in machines. So the idea of using the actual sounds, or imprints of the sounds, now seems like a logical extension of that, as far as making music goes."

Mike Hallenbeck doesn't profess to being a sound artist pioneer, nor does he have any bold ambition for his new CD. He hopes whoever listens to it gets more enjoyment from the world around them, and perhaps joins him in the realization that every aural experience is unique.

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