Technology! FTW?

The internet thinks my husband would be enticed by a reasonably priced security system, with an iPhone app and that cool black new-tech look. The internet is correct.

We now have access to our home even when out of town, and get regular “activity” updates on our phones, our iPads,  our emails, really everywhere. Of course, some of the “activity” is kind of small scale.


We got alerts about this lighting change in the dining room this very morning. Granted, seeing it on a loop is kind of hypnotic, but I imagine that the whole experience will pale soon. It will become “the tech that cried wolf.” But at least Davy can check on things like the power going out (or, can he?).

Not that I’m against technology – I’ve been editing the new piece for ensemble mise-en, which has not only some prerecorded electronic sounds, but also a vocoder for the pianist to use. Based on a poem by Miriam Gamble, “Introducing the Nissan Jet-Pack,” the tech sounds fall into place fairly naturally, I think. We’ll see how tricky it is to put together, with the necessary cueing and all, when the piece gets played in November in Brooklyn.

I’ve also been editing some demo tracks from the opera I’ve been working on with Jennifer Moxley. The recording sessions we had in May went very well, and I’ve been adding the electronic tracks impost, as they say. As with the mise-en piece, in real life there may be more or may be less of the electronic sounds. Everything will depend in the venue and placement of the sound system, who will be assigned the sound cues, etc. For now, the demo track has a bit less electronica than I originally planned, but the editing process has made me more aware of having the singers remain front and center. We hope to be able have these scenes workshopped in Maine next summer, so this was a good prep for that theatrical version.

The last bit of tech that’s part of this summer is a set of speakers that I (not the internet) enticed Davy into purchasing – a Sonos system, which was demonstrated to me by Jennifer Moxley. Thankfully, this technology does not send alerts.

Starting a new piece..

IMG_0233So, 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.

Wait, snow already?

What about the rest of autumn?

Screen Shot 2014-11-02 at 3.19.06 PM

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.

IMG_0545 Of course, my eyes had to adjust to the lighting – that part of the experience has not improved over time.

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.

Do you want to keep the bird sounds out of your recording?

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.)