The Raw and the Cooked

This page is meant to illustrate a point in an article Tara Rodgers and I wrote entitled “The Poetics of Signal Processing” — forthcoming in differences 22:2-3 (Fall 2011). In one section, we discuss the pervasive metaphors of “rawness” in discussions of audio that is going to be (or was) processed in some way:

[…] rawness is a relative condition, a readiness for processing and not simply the presence of sound in nature or sound in the world. This is an important distinction. As Sterne awkwardly types this sentence in the third person, he listens out the windows of his office. The whistling wind, birds chirping and murmuring expressway in the distance outside his window are not inherently raw. They could be meaningful in many different ways. They may, however, become either prospectively or retrospectively raw if he launches a sound recording program in his computer, captures them with the built in microphone and then processes them into an ambient music composition later on ( The car noises, wind, birds chirping and mouse clicking are all potentially meaningful sounds and will offer the standard polysemic cornucopia of potential interpretations depending on who is hearing. Obviously, the sounds mean differently to passersby, traffic engineers, deer, and birds–as well as meaning differently to different subjects within those groups. But in this example, their rawness comes from their availability for signal processing, just as raw food or raw material becomes raw by virtue of its availability for cooking or manufacture. A lettuce planted in the ground, a mushroom hidden in a forest and the tree nearby are not “raw” in the same way.

As promised, here is the raw and cooked audio. The raw is just as described, except rendered here as an mp3 for easier streaming and downloading, so I guess it is already somewhat processed. The cooked takes 4 instances of the raw audio and processes them with granular samplers (which turns time into a variable independent of pitch), and various kinds of filters, echoes and low-frequency oscillators (which add slow and faster rhythms).