Over the years I have had many wonderful discussions with people whom I have never met. Either through emails, forums, or even chatrooms I have talked about all manner of things with people scattered around the world. Sometimes these virtual friendships manifest in the physical world and a thing is born. An art thing. This is one of those times.
The Black Box project is a project that involves Pierre Alexandre Tremblay on bass/electronics, Patrick Saint-Denis on robotics/electronics, Sylvain Pohu on guitar/electronics, and myself on drums/electronics. It’s a four-way collaboration that has gone through two residencies (in Montreal and Huddersfield), to work out the finer details of putting a large-scale show together.
It looks and sounds something like this:
I was very young when I started learning music. My household was a musical one, with my mother playing piano and grandmother and great-aunt being being piano teachers. Growing up, I had 3 hour piano lessons every day, which I rarely enjoyed. I did not look forward to the lessons because music was a chore, it was something I had to do. It wasn’t until I picked up the guitar as a teenager and started developing a personal relationship with music, that it became something I wanted to do.
I then embarked on multiple (at the time unrelated) strands of learning music. I carried on with classical piano, solfege, and 4-part writing through university, while playing guitar, bass, and drums in all kinds of bands. Previously, I had learned to work with wood and metal in shop class, and later learned to solder and make my own guitar pedals. I didn’t know it at the time, but these unrelated strands of my life would eventually come crashing together.
I have recently completed a PhD in music composition from the University of Huddersfield. The experience was life changing in many ways and I am thankful to all the people that were there for me along the way. Through the PhD (and thesis) I developed and refined my thoughts on composition, improvisation, memory, interaction, mapping, and openness/sharing. You can read about all of this in my thesis which exists as a dynamic web-thesis (I am very proud of the thesis, and consider it to be an art object in and of itself).
I was sitting in a cafe with a few friends and we ended up talking about how “just making it up” was often used as qualifier when talking about shitty music. Like seeing someone perform, it sucking, and thinking “it sounds like they’re just making it up”. I couldn’t completely disagree with this, as I have heard my fair share of shitty improv. But after seeing a close friend (Richard Craig) give a talk about performing with flute/feedback, and how adaptive/reactive he has to be, I couldn’t help but think that this was also a way to describe the sublime in performance. That shimmer/glimmer of transcendence. “Making things up” means it fucking sucks, or touching god. The stuff in the middle is composition.
Improvising is a big part of what I do, as a performer (whatever that means), composer (whatever that means), and just about everything else. And as such, I’ve thought a lot about improvisation, specifically things that I don’t like about it, in my performance as well as in others’. Many of these [shitty improv] tropes have inspired me to find ways to overcome them. Sometimes just being aware of the trope is enough to avoid it, but other times it’s taken a more deliberate reprogramming. What follows are a bunch of the tropes/ideas/problems and, where applicable, what I’ve done in order to overcome them.
Here are a couple of performance videos using an approach I’ve just recently started calling Light Vomit.
What you see in the video is a combination of automated processing (via The Party Van/Cut Glove) with a variety of DMX light interactions and behaviors. Everything is controlled from a Max patch I made specifically for the gig (and specifically to test these behaviors), most of which use audio analysis to dynamically record/play/process incoming audio and trigger a variety of light behaviors. (Click here to view my moment to moment analysis of the performance using my Making Decisions in Time improv analysis framework.)
dfscore 2.0 is here! dfscore 2.0 is a much improved and completely rewritten version of dfscore that I started working on a couple of years ago. The dfscore system is a realtime dynamic score system built to display a variety of musical material over a local computer network. The primary motivation for building the system was to allow for a middle ground between composition and improvisation.
But before I get into all of that, here is a video showing the latest version along with its premiere at the Manchester Jazz Festival:
This is what it looks like:
Some of the core ideas in the patch are based on sampling and processing modules I developed in The Party Van, another piece of software I’ve written. However, in Cut Glove I rebuilt everything completely from scratch, with tons of new features, more options, better overall sound, etc…. At the core of Cut Glove is karma~, a Max external I recently put out which can you read about in detail here.
Before I go into detail about what Cut Glove does, and more importantly, how the mappings are implemented, here is the first of three Cut Glove performance videos in this blog post:
The rest of this blog post will go into detail about the background, development, and technical implementation of Cut Glove.
Something that I’ve alluded to in various blog posts, and is present in the whole of my webpage, but I’ve never specifically talked about, are my thoughts on openness, sharing, money, and capitalism. Ever since Ray Evanoff prodded me to write something more about the ‘magic’ stuff that him and I have talked about, I’ve really gotten into the idea of doing these kind of blog posts, in between my generally technical/informative ones. So this is another one of these posts.
I’ve always been a quite open, helpful, and sharing person. I suppose it’s in my nature to be that way, but increasingly, I’ve made a conscious effort to act in this manner. Even if it is difficult or embarrassing. You do what you think is right especially when it’s hard to do, otherwise it doesn’t matter. “It’s easy until it’s hard”. I strongly believe that acting in this manner can (and will) change the world. Kindness is contagious, and openness/honesty is viral. That sounds real hippy-dippy, but read on.
And here is a tutorial video showing some of what karma~ can do:
karma~, has been in somewhat active development since September 2014, when I first contacted raja to see if he would be interested in writing the C code for it. Thankfully, he was interested and able to. From that point we’ve exchanged hundreds of emails discussing the feature set, implementation, and bug fixery. I am eternally grateful for his programming wizardry and endless patience with me.
Title as prophecy. The art and muck that you are involved with bends around you, is bigger than you, is smarter than you. It points in a direction that you could not conceive. That you could not imagine. It becomes the truth, out from under you. It is an arrow. It is a line.
<as point on line>
You’ve named a thing. It becomes your future.
You name the thing. It becomes a fictional present.
You have to name a thing. Do you give, to become the art?
Which future does the arrow point towards?
You are the single point at which the Universe will crease.
</as point on line>
Title as bound poetry. You become the filament. The rod. You are honest. And you touch god, the bottom. You can see everything. Naked, you channel truth into a list of things.
You extend yourself. All of the way.
Nothing is more important than this moment.
Title as arc. There is a beginning, with its end built in. It starts before you are paying attention, and finishes after you’re ashes. It is made up of everything around you. It is a resonance through multiple points of time, folded over each other.
<righting, writing rites>
You become aware of it happening. You make a note.
You live the life required of you.
You are becoming the art.
Your life and the art, are folding together.
It makes sense.
The end is here. The end was always (t)here.
</righting, writing rites>
pǝʇsᴉxǝ ɹǝʌǝ sɐɥ ʇɐɥʇ ƃuᴉɥʇʎɹǝʌǝ oʇ sʎǝʞ ǝɥʇ ˙III ‘uoᴉʇuǝʇuᴉ uɐ ‘uoᴉsoldxǝ uɐ ‘ɹoɹɹᴉɯ ɐ ‘ɹǝᴉɟᴉldɯɐ uɐ ˙II ‘ɯoɔ˙(pǝɯɐuun)/ɯoɔ˙ʎssndɹnoʎʇoƃɹoɟʎpɐǝɹlɐᴉ/ɯoɔ˙lɹᴉƃɹǝɥʇouɐɥʇᴉʍǝʌoluᴉɯᴉ ˙I
Table of Contents
It started with a simple question: “Why compose at all?”
At the time I was working on what would later become iminlovewithanothergirl.com and was trying to figure out how to deal with composing for myself as an improvising solo performer using a new/invented instrument which is difficult to reproducibly control. This marked a big shift in my compositional thinking. I began moving away from precomposing discrete gestures and started focusing on pure improvisation. I carried on this line of thinking through multiple compositions and projects over the next three years and eventually produced a framework for thinking about improvisation – making decisions in time.
Before I gib gab about it, here is “Everything Everything at once. Once. (3a)”:
The idea for these pieces is to focus my creative process and energy on the curatorial act of choosing the instruments I will improvise with. This has now extended into the choosing of the location, look, and visual approach used in each video. Each video in the series has had its own distinctive look, and has also come to include new collaborators alongside my long-time collaborator Angela Guyton.
Going into this third video, I knew I could try something different, because of the acoustic (and battery powered) nature of the instruments chosen. A melodica (which I bought over 15 years ago at a flea market for $5!), and my trusty ciat-lonbarde Old Mr. Grassi. I first thought about using some kind of outdoor location, but after seeing David Pocknee and Michael Baldwin‘s basement, I thought that it would be a wonderful place to film.
The original idea was to use some dripping paint, with David and Michael each having a squirt bottle, and then adding some vertical glitching artifacts similar to the language Angela had explored in her latest video. But after doing a take with the paint, and seeing how amazing the lighting by David and Michael was, the paint/glitch idea was scrapped altogether. Angie thought that with David and Michael enacting two tasks, what their role meant within the work changed. It created a different context and gave the work a different character, but one that didn’t seem as complete as when they were focused completely on their dispassionate navigation of the space as they sensitively manipulated the lighting.
I was initially hesitant about this change, since I was quite excited about the paint/glitch idea, but I trusted Angie’s judgement on the matter. And in the end, the videos came out better.
The choice of instruments for this particular version of the piece is far smaller than the other versions, with just two instruments:
1 x ciat-lonbarde Old Mr. Grassi
1 x Artist Ltd. Pianica
That being said, this particular combination of instruments is one of my longest standing ‘pairings’, going to back to when I initially started performing solo improv. In that sense, it served as an almost proto version of this creative thinking. Some of the language in the third video (3c), particularly the near-unison sustained pitches, diatonic-y material (Gminor?!?!), is something I strongly associate with this particular combination of instruments.
Even though the combination of instruments is quite old for me, I wanted to incorporate that specific pairing into this compositional framework, where the choice of instruments defines the piece.
I am still, however, surprised at the endless source of inspiration these instruments provide. It almost feels like cheating, at this point, given how interesting the instruments sound, but I felt I found lots of new and fresh angles on them. My work on the Battle Pieces, .com pieces, and dfscore system has given me such a fluid understanding of form, gesture, and pacing, that I can really focus on multiple formal levels while attending to the micro/developmental nature of the sounding materials themselves.
The visual identity of these pieces is becoming something that is increasingly important, which in this case specifically involved dynamic manipulation of light. This tendency has been apparent in all of my work over the last few years, but each one of these videos, particularly, has a very considered visual identity and approach. I am curious to see where this will go, and if the general idea of these pieces (to draw a metaphoric circle around the part of the creative act I want to focus on) will explicitly be extended to the entire ‘art object’.
When asked, after filming the videos, to describe what we thought was important using only three words (Michael had asked David this question before), Angela and I shared two of the three words: creativity and love. We disagreed on sharing vs freedom for the third word, but what can you do. I am comforted by the fact that I’m right and she’s wrong.
Very happy to post this full-length version of iminlovewithanothergirl.com. Even though I’ve talked about the piece several times, and have posted multiple versions of it, I didn’t have a full-length ‘studio’ version of it. Until now.
It was an interesting experience coming back to a studio version of the piece. The very first version of it (that existed before the idea fully coming together as a composition) was really just a document of the snare/friction/feedback ideas I had been playing with. The lights only really joined in for that document, and then were incorporated into the actual piece, once it started congealing.
Since that video, I’ve performed the piece live numerous times, and each time I discover new facets to the feedback playing, and general language/syntax of the piece, but these generally happen as one-off events. Leading up to the initial composition and studio version I did a boot-camp type working process, where each day I would compose new material, record myself performing it (and previous days materials), improvise freely, and finally listen back to everything. That really helped me refine the language and discover new playing techniques. When I’ve performed the piece live, I did not have that luxury of a long period of prep (at the venue), so I would draw on my existing knowledge, as well as exploring the sonic characteristics of that venue and space. The most recently live performance (at Kammerklang) had some very unique and interesting feedback properties that I hadn’t experienced in other venues before. You can see/hear that video here.
Leading up to this studio version, I prepared by doing daily boot-camp like practice of the materials. In doing some I developed and explored some new sounds and syntax which bring a fresh life now to this now nearly 2-year old composition.
Seeing what came before, and what came after, this piece definitely marks a massive shift in my creative thinking, and still stands as one of the best things I’ve done creatively. (this is still the best)
The dfscore system is a dynamic score display system built to function over a local network to display a variety of musical material. The primary motivations for building the system were to allow for a middle ground between composition and improvisation, and to be able to dynamically restructure and reorchestrate material on any given instrumentation.
The first performance utilizing the system will be on the 18th of September at The Noise Upstairs.
You can read more about the project here:
I’ve been working on a relay-based hardware repatching instrument for quite a while. The idea being that I could use my computer (running Max) to control a bunch of my weird (ciat-lonbarde) hardware synths.
Here is a video using attack-based random repatching of an Old Mr. Grassi using my drumset.
-makes music and art
-lives in Madrid/Manchester
-is a crazy person
Learn from me (for free!)
Want in on this?!
Read my PhD Thesis!
and Making Things,
sitting in a tree :
- 5 May: Student Performance - York