Thursday, November 15, 2012

coLABoratory: Lab 1 - Judith Sainte Croix: After the Lab

I was encouraged by the response of orchestral musicians to the invitation to create timbrel variations on given pitches based on synth sounds. As per Derek's suggestion in the next workshop I will expand on this exploratory process.

Some of the revelations that were especially great for me were...

Gail, countrabass, shared her favorite sound in relation to the synth sound as bowing the tail piece and also placing that sound with the low brass in the orchestration of the opening chord.

Lanny and Sarah, cellists, felt good about the pulsations in one of the synth sounds and liked the addition of  bow pulsations to their string section chordal progression.

Eva, 1st violinist, suggested adding trills and an octave displacement in response to the synth sounds.

Veronica, violist, suggested adding ponti cello to the the viola section bar 1- 18.

I am going to make use of Morton Subotnick's suggestion to work out a way of making these variations through the string section leaders to facilitate the rehearsal process.

Wayne DuMaine, trumpet came up with a trumpet sound that featured 6 tones at once inside an opening chord as per the synth sound and Kyle Turner, tuba immediately suggested dropping his part an octave.

I found it generally hard to hear Andrew Bolotowsky's Native American flute and will put it in front of the orchestra in the next rehearsal and make sure he has a microphone from the beginning of the rehearsal, as well as open up the orchestration surrounding various phrases that he plays.

We got wonderful photos of the musicians playing their instruments and hence inspiration for how the digital images will be created that will backdrop the orchestra during the performance.

Next workshop we will shoot with a flash during set up to avoid flashes during rehearsals. Thanks to all!

coLABoratory: Lab 1 - Troy Herion: After the Lab

For yesterday's workshop I brought in three sketches of music and video, each portraying the first thoughts of what will end up as independent movements of "New York City Symphony." I was hoping to get a sense of how well the audiovisual combinations worked and a general feel for the orchestration. But only seconds after the first downbeat it was apparent that this was information overload. How could I possibly pay attention to so many things at once? My orchestration was full of miscalculations. I couldn't hear the thematic material in the oboe. The percussion was too thick. The strings were buried beneath the brass. Then in a few moments it was done. I don't think I even watched the video. In my semi-bewildered state I looked over to the mentor composers and to my relief, they were right on top of everything. Derek and Morton delivered their gut reactions one at a time. We made some changes and started again. The video was in nearly perfect synch, the orchestra balanced out a bit, and I looked beside me in the audience to see a group of elementary school music students beaming at the projection screen. That brought some relief.

I have loads of feedback to process, not only regarding orchestration but also impressions on the filmmaking. For the next workshop I plan to bring new movements that will sound very different from what I have so far. I also hope to introduce a new level of narrative with some actors and dancers.

coLABoratory: Lab 1 - Ray Lustig: Before the Lab

I'm really excited and grateful that ACO is giving me the chance to indulge a nagging little curiosity of mine.  I've seen some really interesting concerts where musicians have played together with other musicians in faraway places via the internet.  It's always a huge feat of technological wizardry, cutting-edge equipment and software, and enormous expense, and, despite the brilliance of so many who worked so hard, there are often still glitches, mishaps, and outright connection failures, and the musical statement sometimes suffers under the strain of technological limits.

So I wondered what would happen if you just embrace the limits of technology, and even try to make them the most interesting part.  What if instead of using highly specialized cutting-edge technology, you used really basic, but more-or-less-reliable, videoconferencing software like Skype, Google Chat, or Facetime?  Consumer level stuff.  Free, and easy to use.  Yes, there are those unpredictable delays, and mismatches between sound and picture, freezes, and catch-ups, but what if instead of trying to eliminate them, or write music whose texture isn't disrupted too badly by them, one decided to make these mishaps the very thing that makes the work interesting?

My new work for ACO, Latency Canons, uses these unpredictable problems as "canons" (rules).  When we sing in rounds, or canons, there's that time delay between two or more versions of the same music:  "Row, row, row your boat.  Row, row, row your boat." Composers have always enjoyed riffing upon this simple game of making "rules" for musical self-similarity--two or more versions of the same thing set apart by some strict law--the second one follows the first by one measure, or 5 measures; the second is like the first but higher; the second one is upside down, or backwards, etc. etc. etc.--but still sounding good.  Different keys, flipped, flopped, multiplied, stretched, compressed, and so on and so on. So, I decided to use the bi-products of technological limits--unpredictable delays, picture-sound mismatches, freezes, and more--as unpredictable canonic "rules," to make highly unstable canons.  Music that would otherwise be fairly simple, and perhaps even uninteresting, becomes interesting because of the technological limits.  What if you're playing online with musicians uptown who are delayed by 1 second at the same time that musicians in England are delayed by 5 seconds?  And what if those times are constantly changing around?  What if the musicians are trying to follow each other but the visual cues and the sound aren't aligning?  What if an onscreen conductor suddenly freezes on beat 3, but only for some of the players?

For me it's about embracing imperfection, or at least questioning how perfect we really want or need our technology to be.  The mighty supersonic jet Concorde, which once made it possible for the general ticket-buying public to cross the Atlantic in under 3 hours, was once seen as the way of the future. But it went broke. Not enough people needed it badly enough to shell out the huge bucks for the flight. The technology existed, but it was more than we needed or could afford, at least for now.

Could the zero-delay, crystal-clear, perfect internet video connection be an ideal that we might eventually give up on too? Maybe we'll be okay with the delays. For now at least, I am. 

Your guess is as good as mine how this will turn out, but it should be great fun to see what happens.  Will it be soaringly free polyphony, a musical train-wreck, or some gorgeous combination of both? A risky experiment like this is something that would scare off any sane orchestra. So, many, many thanks to the whole fantastic team at ACO for their incredible sense of adventure, unrelenting enthusiasm, and great creative spirit!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

coLABoratory: Lab 1 - Judith Sainte Croix: Before the Lab

 At this first reading of “Vision V” which I’m writing for the April 5th concert of American Composers Orchestra and the Sonora Trio  we will explore balance, timbral meeting points and contrasts between the music of the orchestral musicians and that of the Sonora Trio.
The Sonora Trio is Andrew Bolotowsky  on Native American Abenaki flute, the music of which explores ancient wisdom pointing toward essential radiance; Oren Fader on electric guitar whose music divulges the experience of the contemporary individual; and my synthesizer music  seeking to capture an animating life force. The orchestral music forms alliances within and across instrumental family groups articulating the behavior of the fabric of humanity as the composition unrolls its aural story.  
In this reading the synth sounds will be prerecorded to free up my participation. 

Claudia Miranda will be present to photograph the musicians for her digital imagery projections which serve as a metaphors for the energy bodies of the musicians in the process of performing music.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

coLABoratory: Lab 1 - Troy Herion: Hurricane Sandy Video

Come check out composer Troy Herion's composition process on Tuesday November 13 during the first coLABoratory workshop. Troy is looking into what happens when a composer becomes a filmmaker and when the elements of music—phrasing, counterpoint, rhythm, harmony—are made visible. Troy recently did a short video on the effects of Hurricane Sandy to lower Manhattan with this same concept.
Check it out HERE!

coLABoratory: Playing It UNsafe Composers

We are just days away from the first of five FREE and open to the public laboratory workshops as part of the coLABoratory: Playing It Unsafe program, the first and only research and development lab for cutting-edge new American orchestral music encourages composers to do anything but "play it safe." A season-long collaboration will allow composers Du Yun, Troy Herion, Raymond J. Lustig, Judith Sainte Croix, and Dan Visconti, to create new music of no-holds-barred experimentation. The first of five free public lab-workshops is Tuesday, Nov. 13 at Mannes College for Music. The project culminates April 5, 2013 at Zankel Hall. You can read more about the program and make your reservation by clicking HERE. Also check out the coLABoratory video and audio excerpts from each of the composers on the page. To give you a little tast of what these emerging, experimental composers will be doing I wanted to post their short program descriptions. Enjoy! 

Du Yun:  Slow Portraints 
In today’s world, a massive amount of products are digitally altered, our senses are over-loaded, hyper fast, and hence, altered and mutated. For this project, I would like to challenge myself to investigate a frozen point for the orchestral sound, a gradient palette underneath a hyper slow movement.

In summer 2011, I made a sound design for visual artist David Michalek’s “Portraits in Dramatic Time.” It is a video installation that used ultra-high-speed, high-definition cameras to record several well-known theater and film performers in a scene. In other words, the visual sequences were not digitally altered. The project slows the frames to display each emotion in larger-than-life detail as it is projected onto a screen that’s 85 feet wide and 45 feet high. The work was presented as part of Lincoln Center Festival, utilizing the façade of the David H. Koch Theater as a media canvas. 

While the music, mostly as sound design at the time, was broadcast over wifii to the public, I was hoping I could write for an acoustic chamber orchestra to truly investigate the detailed nuance relationship between the acoustic world and the visual processing image, that both are not digitally altered a bit. For the music, I wonder what I could do to showcase a frozen phrase, elongated gestures elongated, without any digital aid.  Like a glacier, things are never quite frozen. Within these constraints, dramatic narratives were condensed down to an essence.

Michalek’s Portraits are 40 shorts, I’m choosing two shorts to write for ACO. Months ago, someone took the Alan Rickman’s short off from David’s website, uploaded on YouTube, without consent. The shots were reached beyond 10, 000 hits over night. The said person took music from the movie Inception and it seems that people loved it. Now things get particularly interesting for me.  I decided to choose that same short again, diffusing the boundaries between to the viral and the real world. The first short featuring the Chinese Kunqu Opera singer, Qian Yi. 

Troy Herion:  New York City Symphony 
What happens when a composer becomes a filmmaker? The elements of music—phrasing, counterpoint, rhythm, harmony—are made visible. 

New York City Symphony is a visual-music film and composition that unites contemporary orchestral music with images of New York’s urban landscape. Inspired by synaesthesia—where one sense becomes intertwined with, even indistinguishable from, another—this composition invites the audience to see sound and hear images.

As composer/filmmaker, Troy composes music with images in ways similar to composing with sound. Colors are organized as chords, shapes move as melodies, and visual dissonances strive for resolution. Compositional ideas travel between orchestra and film in perceptible ways, achieving a larger canvas where music can play out visually, aurally, and sometimes as a new, combinative element. Finding inspiration from early 20th-century city-symphony films, New York City Symphony will treat the living, breathing organism of the city as its subject. Seen through the eyes of a composer/filmmaker, the metropolis is transformed into a multi-sensory musical symphony. 

Raymond J. Lustig:  Latency Cannons
Ray will create a new project that explores the indefinite time-interval and incremental canons that can arise from latency–the slight, and often unpredictable, delay in signal transmission. Though musicians today are certainly using videoconferencing to play ideas for one another, it hasn't yet taken off as a way for musicians living apart to actually play together because of the lingering problem of latency.

For musicians remotely playing together via videoconferencing, and responding to both visual and audio cues, each of which may have its own unstable degree of latency, it would be impossible to stay together. Ray's piece will capitalize on latency, using unpredictable delays experienced through ordinary videoconferencing as its canonic time intervals. The cycle of lateness would be ever-increasing, as each musician tries to play along with the delayed version of what their remote counterpart has played, in an unstable feedback loop.

This will work with parts of the orchestra onstage while other parts are offstage on camera, possibly even in another city, country, etc. and possibly, with a sister ensemble or players in a faraway place. The piece would require two or more laptops (depending on the number of "voices" in the canons) equipped Skype or a similar videoconferencing application, microphones, amplification, and AV projection to an overhead screen that would allow the players and the audience members to view the voices of the canon. 

Judith Sainte Croix: Vision V
Vision V by composer Judith Sainte Croix will integrates three non-orchestral instruments into the orchestra - the populist electric guitar, ancient pre-Columbian flutes and the non-ordinary sound palette of the synthesizer. “Events” containing textural freedom will contrast with moments of rhythmic and contrapuntal precision.

The development of the “events” envisions musicians, conductor and composer as a collaborative community designing musical equivalents for terms like “infinitude” and “joy.” Abstract digital imaging suggesting the auras of the musicians photographed during rehearsal, will play along with the music in the concert. The music will literally extend into the audience in the penultimate moments when concert goers will be invited to participate. 

Vision V is the fifth in a series of compositions by Ms. Sainte Croix that combines traditional classical instruments with indigenous instruments of the Americas. The Sonora Trio  - Andrew Bolotowsky, indigenous flutes of the Americas, Oren Fader  electric guitar and Judith Sainte Croix, synthesizer will perform with the orchestra. The abstract digital images will be derived from photography by Claudia Miranda with design support from Marcelo Mella. 

Dan Visconti:  Glitchscape
My new work in collaboration with experimental filmmaker Simon Tarr will blend instruments of the orchestra with sounds from obsolete analog technology. My earlier compositions have been inspired by the artifacts of sound production, but this new work for the American Composers Orchestra will explore the interaction of live acoustic instruments and technology on a much larger scale, featuring parts designed to be performed on modified vintage Speak & Spell and Speak & Read toys and an old 50's "noisebox" that will integrate with traditional orchestral parts and video. The piece will explore the audio/visual interactions of these electronic devices with extended orchestral techniques informed by the same affectingly crude electronic timbres.

The composition will employ a visual element allowing me to express ideas in a new way leading me to new sonic landscapes. The new work will create a unique texture through reimaging familiar, nearly-forgotten sounds: an exploration of the expressive power of obsolescence.