Caffeine is a multichannel electroacoustic composition composed for the Allosphere.

This composition intends to sonically re-synthesize a real-world space. It was inspired by the subway train in San Francisco called the Bay Area Rapid Transport (BART). The loudest part of the journey is when the train takes the underwater tunnel to cross the bay from Oakland to San Francisco. Screeching drone-like sounds, in addition to the shifts and creeks of a large, fast-moving train make for a very unique soundscape.

The piece can be split into two movements. The first goes through the distinct bouts of confusion, shifting focus, and haphazard urgency. The second goes into the slow and deliberate revelation of the train’s soundscape.

Source Material:

Most of the sounds from this piece come from field recordings. These were then mixed using musique concrète techniques. Some notable sources include:
⟞ Caltrain track-wheel sounds
⟞ BART train announcements in San Francisco, CA
⟞ Voice recordings of my friend saying coffee (with a New York accent)
⟞ A shower
⟞ Brushing teeth
⟞ Coffee maker

Other sounds were obtained from the modular synthesizer at Studio Varèse. Modules used were Echophon, Phonogene, Piston Honda, Clounds, and Deflector Shield.

The noisy drone-like section was created by feeding the Echoes from Echophon back into the input of the Phonogene thus driving it’s input amplifier into distortion. Then this sound was further sculpted by the other modules.

Mixing for 54.1:
Tape techniques like splicing, varispeed, and reversal were used, but were reimagined for a multichannel sound system. This was done by treating a multichannel mix as if it were an n-track tape. This helped create highly coherent and complex spatial textures without needing to specify positions for each sound.

The mix for this piece was made in Studio Varèse at UCSB, where an 8-channel speaker ring was available for monitoring. Thus it was created as three interlocking 8-channel rings, each ring mixed separately and then finally up-mixed into the Allosphere’s 54.1 channel system by remapping the channels to speakers. This turned out to be a fairly efficient strategy for dealing with a large number of speakers while still being able to do last minute tweaks in the DAW.

Additionally, a custom effect called a Spatial Echo was used. In this effect, a sound and each successive echo were spatialized such that the echoes trace a path. The resulting sound could be controlled by changing either the temporal overlap or the spatial distance between each successive echo. This, when combined with the multichannel tape-like effects, proved to be effective for producing movement in the soundscape.

Played on:
2016.Feb.18 | Allosphere Concert, Elings Hall, UC Santa Barbara.

Mixed at Studio Varèse, UCSB during Sept 2015 – Feb 2016.
Listen on: SoundCloud (stereo remix)

The CREATE Teaching-synth – a part of the modular setup in Studio Varèse.


Strategies for mapping rings into the 54.1 system. Some rings lay cross as shown in the diagram on the right.


Channel mapping for another ring.


An early sketch showing the idea of the Spatial Echo effect.

The_First_AlloSphere_Concert _

Allosphere concert poster

Concert poster credits: Designed by Juan Manuel Escalante for CREATE. (Also used in thumbnail)