‘Dissolve: Rooms’ presented by STEIM in collaboration with Ensemble MAE

Report by Stan Wijnans. Photos by Theo Howard.

The first edition ‘Rooms’ of the concert platform ‘Dissolve’ explored how to re-conceptualize the performers’ presentation and audience experience of musical space. MAE researches the possibilities to create new sound environments using a combination of live electronics and acoustic instruments exploring the creation of innovative listening experiences. In an unconventional approach to space in musical composition, including how technology can be used to break open the conventions of space, the ‘physical’ as well as the ‘musical’ space are re-conceptualized (http://ensemble-mae.com/site/). The ‘Dissolve: Rooms’ premiered compositions by Hugo Morales: ‘Cavities’ and Ezequiel Menalled: ‘NN’. The pieces were rehearsed and partly technically researched at STEIM in advance to the concerts. Additional compositions such as ‘(Amsterdam) Memory Space’ by Alvin Lucier, ‘Nocturne for BJM’ by Matt Wright, ‘Pea Soup II’ by Nicolas Collins and ‘Big Blue Blazer’ by Teodora Stepancic, that highlight the earlier mentioned conceptual elements, were also rehearsed and presented (fig. 1.).

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Figure 1. Ensemble MAE.

Morales explored his design of a ‘meta-instrument’ within his new compositional development ‘Cavities’. He designed an innovative sound processor that responds to different simultaneous vibrations and resonances generated by 8 acoustic instruments. The aim was to create an interaction between an inner and outer musical space. To achieve this, contact microphones were attached inside the acoustic instruments to be able to process the inner spatial behaviour of the resonating instrument. The derived feedback resonances of double bass, bass clarinet, trombone and electric guitar put 4 big spirals (fig. 2.) in a vibrating motion (each instrument has its own spring allocated).

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Figure 2. ‘Cavities’ Spiral instrument.

In this way the springs were controlled by a ‘block of activity’ generated by the allocated instrument. The ensemble sat in front of the instrument to be able to concentrate on the control and creation of the resonating sounds coming from the inside of their instruments. ?Attached to each of the 4 springs are two small ‘built in’ speakers, one at the bottom that reproduces the sound from the acoustic instrument and sets the spring in motion, and one at the top that acts as a microphone to register the sound produced by the spring. The sound from each spring is amplified by one of 4 speakers that are set up around the audience. In this way, the inner spatial sounds are reproduced in quadraphonic outer space. Morales describes the spatial exploration of the meta-instrument as ‘the creation of confluence between the distinct internal resonant spaces or “rooms” of the acoustic instruments and the actual performance space as the piece unfolds’. The imaginary inner spaces were artificially recreated to ‘outer’ space by various reverb processes that progressively change during the piece.? Additionally, the sounds from keyboard and the inner spaces of the violin, recorder trigger and vibrate two aluminium plates that are balancing on two small speakers on a table (fig. 3.).

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Figure 3. Two aluminium plates balancing on two small speakers.

The sound of these vibrating plates is additionally played with the sticks of the percussionist, who also occasionally puts little paperclips on the vibrating spirals to change the generated spiral sounds. Morales had also built a pre-amplifier with volume faders that are operated by Yannis  who controls the feedback and resonances coming from