Putting it all together

A grand turn out of only three today in the UWS small studio (Alex was working, Tom… well, slept in) but Ben, Blaise and myself worked fairly intensely on the structure of the sound-scape and consolidated our respective processes, insofar as formalising the order of events and working out dynamically how the final piece will come together.

The basic plan, or ‘score’ of sorts, now looks something like this:
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I decided to neaten up the layout of our ‘score’ in the last couple of days, as a handwritten A4 sheet was obviously insufficient if we were all to view it at the same time. This has been laid out in A3 (or two A4s stuck together anyway) and provides a clearer indication of sections, dynamics, and what each performer is doing. Although we obviously modified this as we went along, the basic plan will probably stay along these lines. I’ll update the sheet in time for next weeks performance, and hopefully after a brief run through on Thursday morning, we’ll be all set to go (fingers crossed).

A recording of today’s efforts below:

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Consolidation and a plan

Only a brief meetup for our group yesterday, but long enough to devise a plan, or a score of sorts for our soundscape (see photo). For the sake of simplicity, given the timeframe we have available to perform (approximately 10 mins), we’ve split the ‘piece’ into three sections:

• a quiet introduction in C# dorian mode, carrying over the E drone from the previous group into the minor third degree of the mode. Ban and Alex will establish the soundscape, using atmospheres from the uni environment, while I will provide short, fingered bursts on guitar. Blaise comes in shortly thereafter, followed by Tom, using evocative, hanging chords based on the C# mode, and the piano motif in the odd metre (5/8). This will build slightly, with Tom introducing an Am motif (still maintaining the E) to introduce the new section.

• a build in dynamics ensues once Tom brings the key back to C#, with Blaise introducing a hammer-on riff on his acoustic guitar, and I introduce delay sweeps with an analogue delay, varying the speed and pitch, with Ben and Alex contributing denser samples. This builds to a fff climax, Tom emphasising this with toms and cymbals, with an abrupt drop into almost silence

• from here, I make gentle volume swells, with Tom introducing bowing techniques on a vibraphone and cymbals – I echo this with a bowing technique employing a guitar slide high up the neck of the guitar, which gives an eerie effect. The sound builds and dies gradually, with Alex bringing a piano motif the Tom devised a couple of weeks back, with some evocative chords and the odd-metred motif, which has become and integral part of the soundscape, leaving Tom free to employ the violin bow to full effect. Image
This is a template for the time being, which I’m sure will change over the coming sessions, but at least we have something to work from now. We have another run through next Thursday, and then it’s presentation the following week – it should be interesting, at the very least!

Light Painting

Catching Lights – Light Painting. This is interesting, in the respect that instead of using pigment on a canvas, this artist uses pure light to effectively paint out of the darkness, something I’ve wondered about incorporating into my own work. I’ve often thought about the correlation between music and colour, which are after all, are just wavelengths at different ends of the spectrum. Some very beautiful images… kudos.

Getting very interesting…

Finally, after a few false starts, our weekly together yesterday resulted in what I believe we’ve all been striving for – some moments of sublime interaction, where all the disparate elements finally coming together in something we could feasibly call an actual ‘piece’.

Alex and Ben, our tech gurus

Alex and Ben, our tech gurus

Although still loose in a structural sense, our soundscape aesthetic is beginning to take shape and our respective roles have become more defined: Alex and Ben have taken on the mantle of being the ‘tech’ manipulators, with Ben’s role managing more of the sounds from the UWS environment, manipulated through Ableton, while Alex has taken on more of the musical elements, also employing Ableton but using samples taken from last weeks run through, looping the main piano motif that Tom devised, along with some evocative piano chords based on the C# dorian mode we seem to be working from, plus an assortment of cymbal crescendos, splashes and other audio manipulations.

Tom getting into bowing everything within reach!

Tom getting into bowing everything within reach!

Tom meanwhile has really come into his own; released in the environment of the percussion room at UWS and freed from the role of ‘pianist’, he has come to using a violin bow on cymbals and vibraphone to great effect, as well as augmenting this with tom rolls and accents, and occasional piano flourishes. Blaise has chosen to stay with his acoustic guitar, using an open tuning in C# and playing repetitive motifs and using the body of the instrument for percussive effects. Meanwhile I, instead of confining myself to percussion duties, have started to use an electric guitar, using techniques I initially employed in Expanded Practice: volume swells, bowed techniques using a bottleneck slide, using excessive analogue delay to create atmosphere and sweepable echo feedback loops.

It's basic, but does the trick - Boss blues driver through an Ibanez analog delay

It’s basic, but does the trick – Boss blues driver through an Ibanez analog delay

The overall effect is inspired and on occasion sublime – after plugging in, we freely improvised for about 20mins on the spot and achieved a gorgeous layering of sound, incorporating natural sounds from the university environment and manipulating them by way of pitch, repetition, reverberation and other effects. Tom’s piano motif was particularly effective as an element that would surface here and there as an identifier – we also discussed the idea of each of us having a signature ‘sound’ for each performer that was ours alone. We also discussed visuals for the project, and although the idea of using a projection screen with video footage was floated, we’ve decided instead that using an audio visualiser that reacts to our soundscape would be almost as effective – to that end I have purchased a visualiser called White Cap, that can run from a laptop and be projected onto a back screen.

If this is an indication of what we can achieve by pure improvisation, I’m quietly confident of the success of this subgroup. We still have 3 weeks until we present our part of the project, and at our present performing level we could easily present now. A very productive session indeed.

A process in evolution

Alex, Ben and Blaise getting a groove on...

Alex, Ben and Blaise getting a groove on…

Although only a brief get together today, it was first at which we were ALL in attendance,  and we managed to get some musical work done. Part of my mild frustration with this exercise was up until now, there had been no process per se: this is now beginning to change as certain individuals are putting their ideas in. As the token percussionist in this particular ensemble, my role in directing the tonal areas of our ‘piece’ so far has been limited – fortunately today Tom took the reigns a little and starting directing a few ideas in shaping the overall direction of our soundscape, with Alex and Blaise putting in as well.

Tom sketches out the shape of things to come

Tom sketches out the shape of things to come

Ben has been keen to get into the sound manipulation of our experiments so far, and brought in a portable Zoom digital recorder to capture some of our sounds – to my knowledge he’ll be manipulating these for use next week. Alex also has the intention of bring in an interface so we can use Ableton through a p.a. system and make use of its live potential. This side of thing I have little idea about – I posted a quick audio experiment last night from my own sound manipulation in Pro Tools, of which no-one seemed to take a great deal of notice, and young Alex derided some of my audio manipulations as ‘old school’, so this older guy thinks perhaps let the young guys have their head and I’ll just stick to what I know…

The plan thus far

The plan thus far

At the very least, we now have a rough plan of how the piece will evolve and have some notions of tonal centres to explore (see photo), so we’re not entirely in the dark as to how this will eventually unfold. I am quietly confident at this juncture that the whole thing could turn out, well, rather good actually…

A rough demo of today’s efforts: