Saturday, November 6, 2010

Unbalanced Connection concert - thoughts on diffusion

Last night at the University of Florida, we presented Unbalanced Connection 46 - yes, the 46th concert in a series dating back 14 years. You can see all of the old programs here.

We decided that this concert would focus on diffusing fixed media works (though it also included two live-electronics works). For those who may not know, sound diffusion is a performance practice in electroacoustic music, where a "sound projectionist" (usually, but not always the composer) will move a stereo piece to different speakers in the concert hall. This is different than works mixed in the studio for surround presentation (5.1, octophonic, etc.). Diffusion and "multi-channel" works both have their advantages. I prefer diffusion myself because I enjoy the performance aspect and the fact that I can more readily adapt a piece to fit a given space.

Last night I presented my 2008 piece Obedience School. This is a stereo fixed-media piece, which I have diffused twice before - once at SARC and once for the Electronic Music Midwest festival. Each place had a completely different speaker configuration, so it is always a new challenge to determine where sounds should go at what times.

Last night, the GATOR system (Great And Thunderous Octophonic Resonator) was expanded to 16 channels, plus subwoofers. We had two pairs of speakers ("narrow" and "wide") on stands on the stage, plus a pair of wedges on the floor. Additionally, we had a pair of speakers backstage. We had pairs of subwoofers and a stereo pair on the sides, and two pairs ("narrow" and "wide" again) in the back.

My diffusion was largely improvised, though I did have some ideas from my previous performances. For instance, at EMM I played one part about 3/4 through the piece where the original dog sample is most apparent through the single speaker in front. Last night I played this through the front-narrow only. Much of the rest of the piece has some sound going through most of the speakers, so hopefully the change was dramatic. Due to the stadium seating of the room, the rears were very high compared to the stage speakers. However, this was very effective for some of the high-frequency clicking and "bird sounds" in the piece. I also liked the "distance" provided by the backstage speakers and used them in several points, using them exclusively for the very end. I used the wedges (nearly) alone for a portion of the piece where I had low buzzing noises, attempting to emphasize the vertical aspects of the room again.

Being so focused in the performance, I don't know if all of the strategies worked as well as I hoped, but I felt happy with them. If only I had a binaural microphone so I could listen back!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

sax quartet beginnings


As mentioned previously, I had been toying with the idea of writing a sax quartet. Now I'm not just toying with it, I'm actually working on it.

Unfortunately, I keep "flip-flopping" on whether I like my ideas or not. This piece is basically a process piece, where short ideas wedge themselves in the middle of other short ideas, creating ever-longer, palendromic phrases. I like the idea in general, and I think "Wedge Issue" would be a great title.

Somehow, though, there just doesn't seem to be "enough to it." Now I'm thinking through what I've drafted so far (about 3 minutes of a 5-6 minute piece) and pondering what I can alter to keep the interest up. Pondering what I can do to subvert the process just enough that it is still perceptible but not so damned obvious.

As I brought up in my composition lesson today, there is kind of a pressure (98% internal) that I make each work "the greatest thing I've done so far." I mean, I'm a PhD student now. But in any field of research there has to be some trial, and with it, some error. As long as I don't parade this piece around like it really is "the greatest thing I've done so far," I guess it won't hurt anyone if I work on it and see what happens!