When I was visiting San Francisco recently, I discovered the Wave Organ, an amazing walk-through sound sculpture. Built in 1986, the Wave Organ has an array of pipes that extend down into the water. As the changing current moves against the submerged pipes, all kinds of strange and wonderful sounds emerge from various places around the site, where the pipes open into the air. Glugs and sloshing noises, pops and drips, droning and whooshing sounds, resonant bassy thuds and thunks…the creator of this place has designed a wonderful collaboration with nature.
Although it’s a stone’s throw from a busy marina, the Wave Organ is actually rather isolated, because the only way to get there is by walking to the end of a mile-long jetty. People often go there to sit and meditate to the sound of the ocean overlaid with the strange yet organic sounds generated by the sculpture. As I discovered for myself, it’s become a tradition to write an inspirational letter to a stranger and leave it stuck in one of the cracks between the stones, for anyone to find.
While I was there, I recorded about an hour of all the various sounds, and used them to create this Live Pack. I collected audio at 48kHz/24 bit with my trusty Zoom H1, sticking it right into the mouth of one of the pipes to get a good isolated recording of the effects.
There are four instruments in this pack…first is the star of the show, the Wave Organ drum rack. It’s got 32 of my favorite short sounds, with macro mappings for some interesting effects. There’s a reverb effect, which I’ve tweaked to make resemble the natural reverb happening inside the pipes. Next, there’s the Wave Bass created from a single pitched sample, one of those resonant bass tones.
Thirdly, the Wave Drone: it’s created from a longer looped recording of one of the pipes that wasn’t getting much “action”…so the only thing you hear is the drone of air humming in the pipe, sort of like the “seashell to your ear” effect. Even though the drone is fairly ambiguous in pitch, it’s set up as a pitched instrument, so you’ll get different tones transposed along the keyboard. Make sure you try the frequency modulation, too!
Rounding everything out is another looped sample of the ambient sound at the site, for the Wave Ambiance instrument. You’ll hear the waves against the rocks, combined with the occasional typically strange Wave Organ noise, now at a much more subtle volume than when I stuck my recorder right inside the pipes. Like the Wave Drone, the starting point of the sample is randomized, so the same loop will sound slightly different every time you hit a key. Although the sound of the ocean doesn’t ever carry a note too much, this is also a setup as a pitched instrument, so you can get a wide variation in tonality, especially in conjunction with the macro-assigned low pass filter.
Take a look at the demo video, and click the big orange button to download a free copy!