Duo X: Laura Carmichael, Naomi Sato with Anne LaBerge

NOTES on STEIM residency 20 Dec 2008- 5 Jan 2009
For the STEIM projects blog
Duo X: Laura Carmichael, Naomi Sato with Anne LaBerge

1) For DuoX (Laura Carmichael, clarinet and Naomi Sato, saxophone/sho) to move our performance of Anne LaBerge’s composition “Urban Doldrums” forward via the use of wireless controllers; to rehearse and reflect upon the new dimensions these wireless possibilities can bring to our improvisation performances: technically, philosophically, emotionally, and theatrically.

2) To spend time researching and developing material for a lecture-performance we will give at University of California, Davis in April 2009.

Activities of the residency for Urban Doldrums:
Use JunXion 4 to connect controllers to the MAX/msp patch by Anne LaBerge.

Test various wireless controllers including OSC and MIDI controllers for both human interface considerations (i.e. ergonomic considerations, ease of use while playing our instruments), and reliability. Our objectives included finding a controller that is affordable and reliable and simple to use for us as performers. We considered Arduino controllers, but for now decided to go with pre-made controllers. We focused on tests with OSC on an iPhone and the Wii.

Rehearse “Urban Doldrums”, a composition by Anne LaBerge in which MAX/msp randomized generates a structure to facilitate improvisation. Each section of the MAX patch plays back electronics that contain noise, sine waves, and text.

Develop and test several strategies for incorporating movement into the performance now that we are able to move away from the laptop set-ups on stage. In particular we are considering how the two performers relate to each other in terms of connection and disconnection— and how this structure might be mapped onto the randomly generated sections of the composition. This includes use of space, distance, eye contact, physical contact, active and passive roles.

To identify different types of decision making—what are we thinking musically, how do we decide what to do, and how does the technology support/frame/challenge or limit us?

Outcomes and Conclusions regarding Urban Doldrums:
At the end of the residency we took Naomi’s idea of making a structure that could be followed in relation to the randomly generated section’s of Anne’s piece. The structure was:
every two sections we would change our relationship to each other. The sections are randomly generated, each section can last 2-5 minutes, and plays back a combination of noise, sine waves and text. The character of the music is determined by the electronics.

I. no connection. We each play totally separate musical material and do not react on each other; physically we are far apart and not looking at each other but relating ‘outwardly’ to the space.
II. Solo section A. Other player is totally silent and physically still. Active player can move anywhere in the space, and can relate to the passive player if she wants to, but gets no response. Only player A can manipulate the electronics.
III. Solo into Duo section A2. Now the passive receiver starts to be activated by the soloist, and they start to relate. The passive receiver only imitates or supports the soloist’s musical ideas, and takes the energy from her. Physically can interact, but again energy only goes from active to passive person. Only player A can manipulate electronics, still.
IV. Solo section B. same as II, but other player takes the lead role.
V. Solo into Duo section B2, same as III, but energy comes from player B.
VI. Result- Duo. Change together, creating one field of sound, ideas relate, comment, make a whole. Physically connected/relating.

Throughout we relate and incorporate text as just another musical sound. Awareness of breathing is a focal point. Musically we were incorporating noise, and taking small fragments of musical ideas and developing them into longer melodic ideas. We are mostly letting the electronics operate on its own, but now that we have the wireless controllers, we have the option to prompt the computer to change to a new section without interrupting our performance to go over to the laptops.

Questions for next time regarding Urban Doldrums:
Naomi: If we will use pitch material, how can we consider harmonic development within the structure? Consider allowing more ‘consonant’ relationships for character contrast.
The piece is about ‘doldrums’ or lack of movement; character-wise we would like to show this state and also explore the dynamic of how we get out of the ‘doldrums’. In other words, it is usually via relationship and energy from others that we change.

Laura: Can we consider emotional elements, such as struggle/fighting/competition/ease/harmony/frustration/appreciation/lonliness as a way to generate musical material with clear character and use it in structural ways? It could add another layer of musical character to the improvisation, which goes with the above structure of connection/disconnection and active/passive roles. How might this affect the use of the controllers?

Both of us discussed and asked: Would we ‘decide’ these strategies ahead of time, or would we each have our own thoughts and see what happens? At what point do we stop making decisions in advance and just go back to completely being ‘in the moment’? Are these ideas things we can try in rehearsals to generate possibilities, but not get attached to them as musical material that we should try to repeat?

————– Part II of the residency work, R&D for a Lecture————

While in our lecture we will talk about pieces written for us, and technological developments, we also want to explore the personal nature of our collaboration, and within this context examine our own East-West connection.

For our lecture recital we are researching Cage and post-Cage ideas, and Japanese philosophical systems. We are taking the music of Cage and Takemitsu as a kind of starting place to further explore our own relationship to the musical East-West dialogue. What does this dialogue mean to us? Where is it today? How has it influenced pieces created for us? How does it influence us as performers? What does this dialogue cause us to consider now?

One of the ideas we are attracted to is the connection of art and nature in terms of patterns that are recognizable but never the same. As Cage writes in Silence;
“It is easy to see again the parallel with nature, for even with leaves of the same tree, no two are exactly alike. The parallel in art is the sculpture with moving parts, the mobile.” (p. 11)
Anne LaBerge’s composition “Urban Doldrums” is a kind of mobile.

We are considering the idea of randomly generated systems and how we ‘insert’ ourselves into them; we are considering ‘energy’ where it comes from, what we do with it, what does it mean to make the ‘right’ choice in the moment?
We see that there are two primary ways to relate to a randomly generated system: 1) The process is set in motion after careful construction and consideration, and we accept whatever the outputs are. Or 2) The process is set in motion and then we ‘evaluate’ the results and process them again, thus creating an interface with conscious choices.

We (Naomi and Laura) both did a lot of writing on the themes of ritual, spirituality, grammar, nature, chi, urgency, cultural reflections of intimacy and distance. We shared our writings and had meetings to discuss our ideas during the residency.

Some points that arose: by living in a foreign country we have both become more aware of our cultural habits and character, and have had the opportunity to expand our ideas of ourselves. This is also reflected musically, in the music we have studied, and people with whom we have collaborated. We find many points of overlap in contemporary musical expression. Naomi’s study of sho and Japanese traditional music awoke more awareness of ritual and spiritual aspects of music, and their reflection in natural elements and Eastern nature philosophy. Laura identified dance as a central element in her musical development, and connected this to her long-term work in martial arts, mind-body connection and spirituality. As a western person, also practicing Judaism, Laura realized that text is also a core element in her spiritual practices. There is definitely a dialogue between us regarding words/text and silence, stillness and motion, nature and technology, mind and body. We are both looking for musical expression of these personal experiences, and musical forms that pushes us to take further risks in developing these ideas.

Practically speaking, at the end of the residency we are left with the goal of finding a graphic form which can randomly generate elements for our lecture-performance, so we can make an experiential performance, that shows our ideas more than tells about them.

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