Until 2007 every live performance I had given had been either for spoken word (myself, solo - nice and simple!) or for an analogue electronic feedback system (more fun but a hassle to set up). I decided finally it was time to start playing gigs with a laptop computer.
I've already discussed the first experience of working with a laptop as a live instrument on the page about String Quartet No.2 (Canon in Beta). The second piece composed for live, computer generated sound was The One Who Was Neither Or Nor, made in late 2007 using Ross Bencina's program AudioMulch.
As touched on before, analogue feedback systems are fun to play with, but unwieldy to set up for live gigs. Typically, I need to drag along at least one large case full of various electronic devices, lots of cables and connectors, and a consignment of matching power adapters to run everything. Also, the venue should have a table or other working surface large enough to hold the rat's nest of cable and interconnected doodads I need to assemble on site. The system then needs to be carefuly checked over to make sure eveything is patched together correctly and, of course, dismantled and packed away again after the gig has finished.
The One Who Was Neither Or Nor was my first attempt to create a piece which operated according to the same principles of my feedback music, in the convenient, portable package of a laptop computer. In essence, it is a more thorough and sophisticated development of the ideas used in Real Nightingales.
Three virtual recreations of feedback loops were constructed in AudioMulch. The three loops are nested, so that the output of the two outer loops may be fed back into the first. The output of the first loop is always heard mixed with and modulated by at least one of the other two loops, the subsequent loops may either be modulated by the others or heard plain.
There are five critical control points which affect the overall result produced by the loops: each of these may either be controlled manually, or automatically by an external random MIDI signal generator.
As well as emulating the process of feedback oscillation, TOWWNON enables me to use the same performance approach I use with the real, hardware system. My role in playing the piece has less to do with determining what sounds are made, than with engaging in a heightened act of listening, responding to the sounds generated and guiding the system from the known into new, unexplored areas of sound.
At this stage, the virtual setup is still much more limited in range and potential than its analogue model, but it is showing promise for its future developments. Both the performances recorded below have a similar overall compositional shape, beginning with the simplest configuration of the feedback loops, then becoming more complex, with the middle section being determined entirely by the computer, before I resume control to wind the system back to a simpler state.
About the recordings
The recordings were made by the file-save function in AudioMulch, so there's no room ambience, background noise, breaking glasses, people asking if it's started yet etc. I haven't decided if this is a good or bad thing.
Both of the mp3s below are unaltered, unedited recordings of complete live performances, and so may contain technical flaws and interperative longeurs which would not exist in a version made specifically for a recording.
One Who Was Neither Or Nor (22'52", 16.11
Live at the Make It Up Club, Bar Open, Melbourne, 13 November 2007.
For over ten years, the Make It Up Club has been presenting improvised and experimental music in Melbourne - thanks to the organisers for fitting me in at short notice! I played last on the bill, at the end of a long night, so I suspect this performance may have been a little rushed and perfunctory. Sitting alone on stage on a small stool, crouched over the computer resting on a smaller stool, I managed to postion myself so I was looking directly into a spotlight and couldn't see the audience.
I began to imagine people checking their watches and, one by one, slinking away in the dark to catch the last tram home; so this take was made with one eye on the clock, attempting to move things briskly along without entirely discharging an entire live set in under ten minutes. This actually may be an improvement for home listening.
One Who Was Neither Or Nor (26'58", 18.48
Live at Bowerbird 7A, somebody's house, Brisbane, 25 November 2007.
Bowerbird was a new music and performance event held every two months in Brisbane, and just before I arrived in town the orgainsers lost their venue. Luckily, someone volunteered their share-house as a host environment at the last minute. (In fact, the new venue wasn't confirmed until the day before the gig took place.)
Because I came to Brisbane via a week's holiday in New Zealand, I was mistakenly listed in the publicity as a Kiwi musician. This led to me briefly being befriended by the guys from Pumice and Armpit, whom I had seen playing the night before at the Other Film Festival.
I had made some revisions to the piece since playing it in Melbourne. Unlike the Melbourne show, I was playing with no sense of urgency and no conscious sense of time. It felt very civilised to be able to play a gig while sitting on a couch with my girlfriend in someone's living room.
Being a house party, there was no PA. I had to borrow an amplifier off one of the locals and reroute AudioMulch's output to mono. The amp was a small, battery operated unit which gave the music a slightly muzzy, mellow sound, fading away on the shriller high frequencies and muting the more severe bass tones. The mp3 is a full stereo capture of the output, with no post-production to compensate for the expanded frequency or dynamic range.
The One Who Was Neither Or Nor © Ben.Harper 2007. A Cooky La Moo production.