Research Blog – III


The last months have a been quite busy (surprise!), with tours in Finland and Germany, exam season at NMH, travelling back to Canada for an artistic residency and some family time and now Portugal for another residency. While I’ve been playing a lot with my laptop setup, I haven’t developed as much as I planned to in the last months, but I have made some important developments!

The biggest breakthrough since last writing came in a lesson with Eirik Arthur Blekesaune. In discussing potential signal routing options for the mapping I have planned on the Monome, he introduced me to the Just In Time programming library, or JITLib. I had used parts of this library to build step sequencers for projects in the past, but Eirik introduced me to the Node Proxy Definition (or Ndef) syntax, and this was a huge revelation! This approach has many built-in convenience methods for routing audio and control signals, and I’ve spent a bit of the last few months exploring the capabilities of this approach in contrast to the server message approach I’ve been using in the past.

Moving forward, I think I’ll end up using a combination of both approaches – while the routing solutions provided by the JITLib are very relevant to my project, I like being able to generate multiple instances of the same synth when working with synthesized sounds (which can create very interesting textures, for example). I think this is better executed by using server messages or node objects that have a fixed envelope and are self-freeing…but perhaps a better grasp of the JITLib (Pdefs and Tdefs, for example) would suggest otherwise.

Other breakthroughs came through spending time this spring using the laptop in compositions. I went to Germany in June to work with the vocal duo Monsters For Breakfast, and each of us created new pieces for our short tour at the end of that month. The compositions ranged from loosely structured improvisations to fixed “traditional” musical material (e.g. rhythms, lyrics). Neither of the vocalists knew my musical vocabulary very well before I arrived, so it was interesting to try to come up with approaches to the electronic elements in their pieces. The process was frustrating at times – we would talk about what a sound could/should be, I would create something in the evening after our rehearsal, and then present it to them the next day. If it still wasn’t the sound we were looking for, I had to repeat the process…and this continued for a few days, working on several compositions concurrently. It was a nice challenge for me, and also pointed me in the direction of working with sounds I wouldn’t normally gravitate towards myself.

This experience repeated itself (to a lesser degree) in Campbellford, Canada during a residency/workshop I attended in the beginning of July. The residency was for musicians who identified as both composers and performers, and we were all tasked with presenting some aspect of our artistic practice to the group during the course of the workshop. I gave a practical demonstration on the potential application of using SuperCollider for generative composition. After this lecture, one of the other composers asked me to perform on his composition later that week. We had very limited rehearsal time, but the process was much the same – he would describe the sound he was looking for, I would come up with my idea of that sound, and then we would try to get closer to his intention. These two experiences working with composed material were very interesting for me; the rehearsal/development/prototype process is very different than working with instrumental music, and can sometimes be a bit frustrating. It has, however, brought up many interesting discussions about how we talk about sounds, especially when working with individuals whose first language is not English.

Another recent highlight came this spring on tour with Monsters For Breakfast. The three of us gave a workshop at the Institut für Musik und Medien in Düsseldorf, presenting our respective processes of composing and performing with this instrumentation, and I also talked about my approach to improvising and composing using SuperCollider. Before the workshop, I was a little anxious, as the director of the department we were visiting is Julian Rohrhuber, one of the developers of SuperCollider…I didn’t want to give the impression that I could teach his students anything that he wasn’t capable of teaching them himself! The workshop was on the weekend, so he wasn’t there after all, and though his students were at a very high level, it seemed that my approach to using this software was interesting and new for them. It was a great experience for me to present this workshop; I left feeling confident in the work I’m doing with this software, and I also felt like everyone involved (the vocal duo, myself, the attendees) had inspired thoughts to offer and share.

To sum up, here are the performances I’ve given with the laptop since my last blog post; most of these concerts consisted of improvised music, but some also included composed material:

25.5 “With|in” premiere @ Only Connect Festival of Sound, Oslo kl. 18

26.5 w/ Fennel @ Victoria Nasjonal Jazzscene, Oslo kl. 20

3.6 w/ Emil Brattested @Victoria Nasjonal Jazzscene, Oslo kl. 2030

18.6 w/ Monsters for Breakfast @  Café Duddel for LAB Days, Köln kl. 18

21.6 w/ Monsters for Breakfast @ Spektrum, Berlin kl. 20:30

22.6 w/ Monsters for Breakfast @ LOFT, Köln kl. 20:30

23.6 w/ Monsters for Breakfast @ Onomato Künstlerverein, Dusseldorf kl. 20

24.6 Creative Lab w/ Monsters for Breakfast @ ON Neue Musik Köln, Köln kl. 11

8.7-13.7 Westben Performer-Composer Residency, Campbellford

4.8 w/ Monsters for Breakfast @ No Noise Festival, Porto kl. 15 & 23

My plan going into the fall semester is to continue to develop flexible synthesized sounds, more processing algorithms, and to finish mapping the Monome with all of these tools and various ways of controlling parameters. Of course, I plan to continue performing, and will try to transition to playing with the Monome instead of the laptop as my interface.

A few days ago, I performed two sets at a festival in Porto with Monsters For Breakfast, and we played the second set with a local percussionist, João Pais Filipe. In addition to being a fantastic drummer, he builds his own cymbals and gongs, and as a result has a very unique voice when performing. We joined him at his workshop/rehearsal space after the festival to play again, and the music was something very special – the voices blended well with his percussion, and the gongs, bells, and cymbals responded in interesting ways to digital processing. We all agreed to work more with this quartet in the fall and into the spring (despite the logistics of living all over the continent), and I’m excited to see what this music can become!

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