Ryan Brazell

Found sounds

I love listening to sounds that are rhythmic or percussive in nature. I fell in love with drum corps during marching band in high school; for many of the years I studied and then worked in Ohio, I was in a steel drum band (that’s me near the back of the band, grooving away on the iron); in Oakland I joined a Taiko drumming group (I’m near the middle of the frame, next to the woman with the short gray hair). Even in my general music-listening habits, I tend to primarily gravitate towards songs and artists that are rhythmically interesting, regardless of genre or what else is happening in the song. For example, here’s a playlist that represents some of my favorite songs, all of which I’m drawn to in part (or in full) because of their rhythmic sensibilities:

Lately I’ve also been looking to my environment for interesting sounds and sound patterns, and recording them when I have the opportunity. (This is actually one of my favorite uses of my smartphone.) Some of the recordings are short form, like the construction sign I found blowing in the wind near a train stop in San Francisco. Others are much longer, like the time I recorded the last two-thirds of my homebound commute, starting with the arrival of my train at the Civic Center BART station.

One of the most amusing, and perhaps unexpected, times that I find myself enjoying a rhythm is when I’m working on something server-related. If I need to do something several times in a row, there is almost always a way to do things in a batch, or several batches. Sometimes, though, doing things in a batch means greater risk; with just a few keystrokes, you can mess up a WHOLE LOT of things, as opposed to just one thing or just a couple of things (flash back: it’s early 2007, and I find myself changing the permissions of every file on a server to something very, very wrong because I used “/” instead of “./”). So sometimes it’s better to just do the one thing, several times in a row, and sometimes that can bring its own unexpected rewards, the kind that far outweigh efficiency or speed.

Tonight, I got home to discover that the WordPress Multisite installation that powers this site, as well as 9-10 others, was unavailable thanks to a database error. In a nutshell, around 4:30pm today, the database crashed, taking the sites down with it. A quick restart of the database and we were all back in business, but I obviously don’t want that to become standard operating procedure, so I went looked for answers. Based on the error logs, it’s possible that it was an automated attack, and one of the ways to prevent that particular attack is to change the default name WordPress uses for the tables inside its database.

There are plugins that will change these names for you automatically, if you’re using just a single installation of WordPress, but they don’t work for Multisite installations like mine. I thought for a moment about looking up the right command to change all of the table names at once … and then I thought again. Given my aforementioned experience, plus the fact that there weren’t THAT many tables to update (only about 100), I decided to make the changes manually. (If you decide to do this, PLEASE read the first comment below for a couple of technical notes.)

Regardless of the extra work this took, I’m glad I did it manually. After making 4-5 of these table name changes, I started to feel a fun pattern naturally forming in the keystrokes I was using. And being the rhythm geek that I am, I wondered if the internal microphone on my laptop would be able to pick up the sound of that rhythm. Sure enough:

I found myself having far too much fun, constructing tunes in my head to the rhythm of my keystrokes. For the record, I’m working on a MacBook Air, and here are the keystrokes you’re hearing, with each repetition of the pattern being a single database table being renamed:

Enter, Left Arrow, Right Arrow x 2, Delete x 2, (Six letters), Enter, (palm swipe), Down Arrow

As you’re listening, the first keystroke — Enter — is the strongest downbeat you hear, with the last keystroke — Down Arrow — serving as a pickup into the next repetition. (For the musically-inclined, each repetition is two 4/4 measures, with the syncopation happening in the first measure.) My favorite part of all of this in the palm swipe noise. It reminds me of the sand blocks found in most kids’ bands, the ones at preschool or maybe early primary school that boil down to “give every kid something they can bang together and try to prevent complete chaos.”

Anyway. I was probably way more excited about this than I should be (did this little two-minute recording really deserve an 1100-word blogpost? Probably not, #YOLO I guess). But really, I love finding the creativity in failure, in these little moments where I am focused on doing one thing, and because I chose to do it in a way that’s not particular elegant or efficient, something else unexpected and fun is created.

I am also grateful for the reminder about how much I love making music, even if it’s just a silly little rhythm on my keyboard. At this point, I’ve gone three years without making music as a regular part of my life, and that’s the longest stretch since I first picked up a flute in the fall of 1994. Damn, I need to get on that.

2 comments for “Found sounds

  1. November 20, 2013 at 11:28 pm

    Technical note to others, and to myself for future reference: if you decide to do this manually on a Multisite installation, know there is more involved than just changing the table names and updating the wp-config.php file. You also need to:

    1) go into [newprefix]_usermeta -> meta_key and change all of the cells starting with wp_ to start with your new prefix instead. There will be several of these for each blog you host via Multisite. This will make sure each blog understands which users can access it.

    2) go into [newprefix]_options -> option_name and change wp_user_roles to [newprefix]_user_roles. This will make sure each blog understands what role each of its users have.

    In all of these instances, both the table name updates mentioned in the post and the two I’ve listed here, you’ll need to make sure you maintain the number that comes after the prefix … so a table that starts with wp_3_options will need to be come [newprefix]_3_options. There may be more places where the old prefix needs to be changed, and if I run into those I will update this comment.

  2. November 21, 2013 at 10:20 am

    Pretty cool sounds. There is a genre of music that the name is escaping me right now – you probably know what it is – but its basically an offshoot of industrial and noise and it uses found sound. Of course, I believe that the found sound is often manipulated and layered to make more harsh music, but its still a fascinating way to look at rhythm, noise, and the world around us.

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