Performance day

Set up in the Playhouse

Set up in the Playhouse

Wow, what a buzz! Despite some last minute preparations and a rush to the finish line, the Music by Degrees group as a whole brought everything together beautifully – a very smooth operation from beginning to end, and some truly inspired performances. All groups went well beyond what was required of them to bring about a final production that was eminently worthy – we can all be quite proud of what we have achieved.

Last minute preparations

Last minute preparations

To our credit, our soundscape group pulled off the performance magnificently – the weeks of preparation for this performance certainly paid off. Alex and Ben did some sublime work with their audio samples up front of stage, Blaise held down some tasty grooves and licks, and Tom and myself had some great interplay between parts, synchronising beautifully for the key change into A minor and then back to C#. It was very, very good, I couldn’t fault the performance at all – the acoustics of the Performance Space at UWS probably had a great deal to do with the openness and subtlety of the performance.

Blaise getting ready

Blaise getting ready

The entire show was recorded for the UWS broadcast unit TVS, and will be used in promotion of the Bachelor of Music for the university, so I’m keen to see how everything panned out – being backstage for almost all of the production, I hardly saw any of it, but it certainly sounded great!

This will be my last post for this category, but I look forward to posting more news on my university studies, and sound and video experiments in the future… stay tuned.

The Music by Degrees team

The Music by Degrees team

Recording the soundscape

A quick entry, only because I have so much work to complete this week: as well as the final preparations for this project, to be performed on Thursday(!), I also need to submit a ‘Statement of Intent’ for honours next year, which is proving more difficult than I thought – try to distil your entire reason for playing music for the last thirty years and how you intend to incorporate this into an intense final year of study in 1000 words, and you’ll see what I mean!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe group as a whole decided we would need for our final portfolio presentation a recording, as a document of our process this far. I booked the small studio at UWS for Thursday, and though several of us arrived early, we were beset by technical issues for most of the morning; by the time we were actually ready to record, it was about 11.30am and as there was another group following us, we had to get the soundscape right first take. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFortunately, I believe we largely pulled it off – apart from the occasional suspect gesture (keeping in mind this is a soundscape, so there are no ‘bum’ notes as such) it hung together fairly well. Again, I believe we’ve pulled better versions in rehearsal, but we’ve had to make do with what we have. I mixed the recording the following night, taking care to  clean up the studio sound (there was much spill through the piano and percussion microphones) and I think the soundscape came up fairly well – although there’s an elements of hit and miss, there are certainly sublime sections which I find are not dissimilar to some of Eno‘s early ambient work and some references to Pink Floyd, no doubt from the slide techniques I’ve been using. You can listen to it here:


The guys in the band  - from L-R, Blaise Parnell, myself, Tom Hodson, Ben Turner, Alex Salazar.

The guys in the band – from L-R, Blaise Parnell, myself, Tom Hodson, Ben Turner, Alex Salazar.

It’s been an interesting ride, but I’m exhausted: I’m also designing the program for Music by Degrees, which has taken up much of today to put together and design. It looks great, but I need to get on with other assignments, and especially need to finish this Statement of Intent which is due in on Tuesday. At least we now have an interesting document of this entire experience, rambling and chaotic though it’s been at times, and I’m quietly proud of our little group – not a bad bunch of fellas either. 😉

Music by Degrees – the brand

Here’s the idea I’ve had in mind for a while, as a possible brand for the project, which I’ve submitted to the group as a whole:

music_by_degrees_brandYes, there’s a bit of a visual pun going on here, but it’s a not a bad one – the temperature analogy suits the progression of events (from novice students entering at the ‘cool’ end of the spectrum, to experienced students departing at the ‘hot’ end) and as we’re leading into a hot summer here anyway, it would appear to be appropriate. Visually it works too, I can see this easily working as possible projections in between performances. As yet, I’ve only heard from a few fellow students, but feedback so far is positive.

I’m hoping we get consensus on this soon, as we’re performing in a little over a week: rehearsals start this coming Friday, so we need to get cracking!

Presentation day

At last the day arrives – a relief to have the presentation finally out of the way, and thankfully well documented, though the proof will be in our final performance on October 17, barely two weeks away: time is flying before our eyes…

The 'final' score - for now.

The ‘final’ score – for now.

After a couple of run throughs in a final rehearsal this morning, the soundscape appears have taken form, and in referring to a ‘final’ version of the score (updated by Alex to reflect last minute changes, see above), we were ready to go. There was some discussion following run throughs between Tom, Alex and myself over some details of structure, which was followed by an impromptu improvisation, purely for enjoyments sake – I believe we were getting such a kick out of the sounds we were generating that we just needed to keep going!

The performance in itself was perhaps a slight letdown, as I believe we had performed better versions in rehearsal: nonetheless, it was still entirely capable and well received. I made a minor blunder in forgetting to locate my guitar slide beforehand, ensuing in a unsuccessful rummage through my backpack mid-performance (not a good look) but in any case, no-one appeared to notice and I carried on the performance regardless, albeit in a somewhat modified fashion.

We will reconvene next week and decide what aspects need tightening up, and in the meantime I’ve devised some graphics for the overall project, which I’ve run past the larger group as a whole – rehearsals for the entire project begin next week, so we need to get things happening pretty fast. Music By Degrees is underway… to some degree at least!

A demo of todays recording below:

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:
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:

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!

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.