It’s not fair for me to say that I haven’t had any experience with electronics; I grew up playing electric guitar, an instrument that relies on amplifiers and expects a degree of fluency when it comes to effects; I wrote and recorded a planetarium show for the Royal Observatory Greenwich and a theatre piece for Hijinx Odyssey; I wrote an orchestral piece for the Orion Orchestra and Dyson; I wrote a piece for Astrid the Dutch street organ; I frequently mess around with audio recording and editing software; and I have taken courses on MAX MSP and, with Trevor Wishart, electroacoustic music. Even so, when CoDI Sound started I was green about live processing and its relationship to amplification. The closest I’d come to something like this was playing the opening to ‘Sweet Disposition’ by The Temper Trap (cracking song, surprisingly old).
Trevor Wishart's Imago, made from the sound of two glasses clinking.
As far as I see it, the biggest difficulty when writing for electronics is figuring out what you actually want to do. There is so much that is available to anyone choosing to use programs associated with live processing that you really need to know what you want; triggered samples, complicated delays, pitch processing, and any significantly more complicated combinations or advancements of any of these… The sky’s the limit. So, what did I actually do?
Firstly, I sat down and composed until something seemed to stick (shock!). My initial idea was to make a piece of music using audio samples as a kind of metronome. Live processing would initiate a delay that sat in time with this metronome and everything would tick along aggressively with the rate of delay changing over time, altering the feel of the pulse. I made some scores and tried this idea out in the first session. What I realised immediately was that the specific layout of the microphones and the setup of the processing worked more effectively with different sounds - broader sounds with a greater degree of flexibility. So, in response, I decided to try a different idea.
A kind of metronome....
I started trying to create large blocks of sound. My idea was this: the microphones will capture the sound but it will not be amplified, gradually, as the sounds build up, they will be amplified and will emerge covered in reverbs and delay. As the volume of these sounds increases, this wall of sound eventually overwhelms everything. Excellent. Again, I put my ideas down on paper and tried them with UPROAR in our second session. This was much closer to what I was after – I could shape this idea and control it on the score much more securely and I think the flexibility of this type of sound generation gave the performers much more to work with. Perfect - now I just have to write the rest of the piece!
One of the hardest parts of this project so far has been finding a way into a composition via sounds that are relevant to me. You can use all sorts of programs; MAX MSP (complicated but not outrageously so, will take about 2-6 months to get going with it comfortably), Integra (I think this is the easiest, prone to some crashing), PureData (I know lots of people use this to create really good music), Super Collider (I’m not a coder so this was very hard for me), or more standard affairs like Ableton and Logic Pro (I am trying to find ways to use these). I think directness and quality of sound are key. So, with that in mind, I am going to prepare 2 versions of my piece. 1 for Integra (possibly Ableton) and 1 with sampled sounds instead of live processing – I will use Logic Pro for this.
Bristol-based Poisonous Birds use PureData as part of their setup.
The gut feeling that I get when it comes to electronics is that you should just jump in and mess around at your laptop. Working with UPROAR reminds me of setting up for gigs with a large live band; microphones, the quality of the room, feedback, monitors, and all that sort of thing are ubiquitous. I felt much safer and confident when I was surer about what I wanted from my piece – I would advise just working on getting some basic sounds that you think will work well in a musical context.
Anyone who has heard UPROAR already knows they’re fantastic, patient musicians. Writing effectively for them is something that is extremely important to me in the process of creating this piece. But, above all, I still feel my biggest responsibility is making the best piece of music that I am possibly able to with the electronics at hand. Bring on the many hours of messing around with delays in Logic!