What makes the Hottentots so hot?
What puts the ape in apricot?
What have they got that I don’t got?
So, now we’re really into winter. Which means some snow days. And although the beginning of the semester has featured lots of administrative tasks, these are just about under control. Which means that when we have snow days from now on, I can get working for real on a new piece, with my snazzy new gear that Davy got me. (See above – synth/vocoder with new speakers)
The piece will performed at an “acoustic+” concert by the ensemble mis en in Brooklyn. I’ve known the director of the group for a few years now, as I played in a piece of his at a festival in France. He’s a very good musician, with lots of organizational as well as musical skills, so I’m looking forward to writing for and working with his group. The piece will feature both an accompanying prerecorded part along with some live vocoder processing of the instrumentalists. Right now, I’m just playing with the vocoder myself, adapting patches and carving out the basic harmonic materials. The underlying structure will be a setting of a poem by Miriam Gamble titled “Introducing the Nissan Jet-pack” – parts of the poem will be heard as part of the prerecorded sounds, and some will be spoken by members of the ensemble. So, lots of possibilities for text-painting, as well as lots of logistical planning. But fun planning. Especially on snow days.
What about the rest of autumn?
Anyway, since the last post, the Vermont camp has been closed up, all of our outdoor furniture has been put away in Massachusetts, and the garage in Bangor has been reviewed for some patching before the long winter really takes over. I had thought I was doing this last task early enough in the year, but today could prove me wrong.
The fall season has certainly felt jam-packed, continuing on from the VSO Made-in-Vermont tour (and its Green Room appearances) to more driving to other concerts. I played in a full orchestra for the first time in a while, and then subbed in the SPA production of Little Shop in the pit, also for the first time in years. I had forgotten about the counting-many-bars-of-rests that is part and parcel of large ensemble playing, but this was really a minor distraction compared to the whole musical experience of being part of a big sound. It was particularly enjoyable to play with a mix of fellow faculty, students and recent UMaine grads on both occasions, all of whom were cheerful and sunny in what were perhaps less-than-ideal surroundings.
The next part of the semester features less clarinet playing on the schedule, but lots of concerts to attend and record. There are upcoming premieres of a few songs of mine on a couple of these concerts – one set of songs on poems by Rosalie Calabrese, and one single song on an old (really old) text by Robert, the Earl of Essex (When Silly Bees Could Speak). I am hoping that all of the performers involved in these concerts have the same good driving fortune I have had lately (particularly the performers driving up to Orono from NYC). We can also hope that the snow from today’s storm goes away quickly enough that we have a chance to forget about that kind of weather for a few more weeks. Or, for at least enough time for me make sure the Subaru and its tire treads are ready for the next few months.
Lots of miles on my car, but totally worth it.
My husband went a little crazy with the electronics sales this past year, and we now have a bunch of slightly different handheld video/audio recorders. Voila:
If you want to keep score, that’s a Zoom H4n, a Tascam PCM/HD, a Sony PCM/M10, and a Zoom Q2HD. They are arrayed on the mantle of the family house in Vermont, having just been used to record a new solo bass clarinet piece of mine. I tried to make the levels relatively similar, though doing this just using the visual meters wasn’t all that accurate.
Even before activating any of the plugins that come with these handhelds, the results were distinct. All of them recorded well, though. The sound on the Q2HD was very hot, and it picked up a lot of noise that I would rather not have documented – it was also a bright sound. The Tascam levels were the lowest of the bunch, but the sound was warmer as well. Out of the available files, I chose to upload the one from the H4n, and added a small bit of reverb.
The new piece takes off from some pieces by Scott Miller and Martin Gendelman that I’ve performed over the past year, both of which included multiphonic sounds. This is the first time I’ve really used them in my own work, and they are still not 100% reliable for me as a clarinetist – some work better than others. And many are so soft that traffic sounds from outside the house cover them up – hence the trial recordings in Vermont, far away from traffic, where you only have the birds to worry about. But I can live with the bird sounds for now.
(I think the H4n didn’t pick them up anyway. Key clicks yes, bird sounds no.)
plural noun: venues
LAW the county or district within which a criminal or civil case must be heard.
I know everyone mainly listens to music via headphones now, (or in my case, via my car’s speakers), but we still acknowledge that most music was/is intended to be heard in a space built for listening. Maybe not exclusively for music listening, but listening. This past “spring,” I’ve had the chance to play and listen in a pretty wide variety of spaces, and most of them didn’t get too much in the way of the music involved, which was heartening. But the fact that these spaces included two very different chapels AND two somewhat different cement-box buildings in two months tells a lot about where we play music for people.
During this year’s SEAMUS conference in Connecticut, I performed Scott Miller’s piece “Contents May Differ” for amplified bass clarinet and fixed media electronics – in a space that certainly was not built for such a piece. The old campus chapel did contribute a lot to the work, though, since the resonance of the building heightened the resonance of the multiphonics in bass clarinet part as well of the rumbling bass sounds (adapted from the same multiphonic resonances) in the electronic part. In fact, any more resonance and there might have been some real trouble – maybe some chapel fixtures shaking and the like.
Of course, there was a lot to look at while you were listening to the concert in this venue as well – not an insignificant part of the experience.
The other main hall for the conference was in a huge monolithic building – when I asked for directions to the space, people told me to “walk down the hill until you get to the Brutalist architecture”. Lots of cement, lots of grey, lots of mainly hard surfaces, and the performers seemed to be at least the length of a football field from the audience. The sound, which of course at this conference was mainly electronic, wasn’t really adversely affected acoustically, but it was hard to concentrate on the pieces in the space that was nothing so much as a stone cube. I’m happy that Scott’s piece was scheduled for the less minimalist church space, even with the smaller audience seating available there – even depressing pieces were more fun in the chapel.
Last week I experienced another cement box, though smaller, at a show by Gabriel Kahane and Rob Moose in my old hometown. I remember playing there myself in high school – it was sort of an intimate brutalist hall, again with grey concrete and a stage that seemed far away for the size of the room. It has been recalibrated, though, or so a local musician told me. Apparently Steve Reich has played there and described the room as an acoustic nightmare, so adjustments were made in response. The last time I played there was 5 years ago, when it was still in process, playing a bunch of multimedia pieces. Here’s a photo of John Sampen doing similarly last year in the venue. There’s more cloth now in addition to the cement and wood panels.
All told, even with the adjustments, it was not my favorite place to here Gabriel Kahane’s songs. The amplification necessary for the guitars and electronic sound processing was reinforced by the hall echo, and got in the way of the lyrics some of the time. The best sound balance happened when the singers faced the audience directly – but that may have been partly psychological, since then the listeners can read the performers’ faces better and get the sense of the text from more than just hearing the words.
The next time I actually performed after SEAMUS was part of an event for donors at the Ragdale Foundation. There. I just performed in my studio, which had high ceilings and good sight lines, but not much space for the listeners. I did two slightly different open studios that day – one in the afternoon for the other residents, and one at night for both residents and donors. Those who came to both were surprised at the difference in the sound between the performances. I explained that many people believe (for a variety of reasons, including lowered heat, lowered use of electricity, less activity in the general environment) that music sounds better after the sun goes down, and many of the residents hadn’t ever thought of that. I suppose that the more we all use headphones the less we think about sound in the actual air.
I was back in a chapel at the end of April, when some of my songs were done in Portland at the Back Cove Festival. This festival usually takes place in rooms at the Portland Conservatory, which have a basic auditorium feel. However, this year featured a bunch of organ music, so the large church next door was used. I think the audience had a better time at this venue than in the previous years’ auditorium, but the performers had a bit less fun. They had to worry about sight lines more, fitting around the altar steps, and most importantly, hearing each other through the pretty substantial echo. The audience had a lot to look at, though, and depending on where you were sitting/which ensemble was playing, you could hear fairly well. And when the organ kicked in, it was obviously worth it. If scheduled there again, I would think carefully about what kind of piece to bring to the Festival – probably something like organ music.