Back in April this year I attended the Instrument Lab at STEIM, this was my first visit to the institute and a welcome opportunity to focus on my electro-acoustic work. I’ve been focusing on integrating different electronic sound processes into a live Saxophone and electronics set-up with a particular focus on not actually processing the natural sound of the saxophone but rather drawing from the “non-standard” instrumental sound, blending the acoustic and electronic sounds or colliding the two aspects to generate new sounds. My current set-up is fairly simple, I use no input mixer to generate most of the electronic sounds I use and contact mics to draw from the acoustic sources (mechanical sounds, acoustic feedback, breath and the natural Saxophone sound). I like the flexibility within this simplicity though, it’s easy to add additional sound sources and when colliding the electronic and acoustic sounds within the mixer incredibly diverse results can be found.
What I was particularly keen to develop during my STEIM visit were the control aspects of this set-up. I’d already experimented with adding touch points onto the saxophone to control devices like the CrackleBox (pic below) or the Ciate-Lombarde instruments. But I wanted to take this further, increasing the integration between the physical aspects of playing the Saxophone (mechanics, movement, pressure, vibration) and selected variable aspects of the electronic sounds generated. I used a series of pedals to control many of the sounds while my hands are busy playing the Saxophone, but I wished to somehow transfer these controls onto the saxophone itself by utilizing actions that are already present when I play my instrument.
Of the many interesting lectures we attended during the course, the work on sensors and Arduino devices were the most useful for my project. Using the Arduino I could draw from any number of analogue sources and then use that information, by converting the analogue information received into resistance within an electrical circuit, to control different electronic variables. For example, using a contact mic as the analogue source, I can map the sound information received to a certain variable with my electronics (lets say amount of feedback being sent to channel 1 on the mixer) therefore allowing me to now control this electronic variable with my acoustic sound on the saxophone (play louder = more feedback). The same can be done with any number of sensors and variables within my set-up, currently I’m using pressure pads and contact mics and I’m working on using accelerometers and photo-resistors in the future.
My work has leapt forward thanks to my STEIM visit, I found it such an inspiring place to be, all the staff are incredibly dedicated to the work they do and this creates such a great atmosphere at the center. I’d particularly like to mention Jonathan who help ease us into the STEIM mentalitly, and Marije who fielded all of my idiotic Arduino questions with much patience. It was equally rewarding to be around the other participants, it turned out that we all had our focus in quite different areas, and therefore had much to learn from each other. It wasn’t all work though! Me and fellow labber Iris snuck into the synth basement one night to have a crazy jam (results below) and we all enjoyed exploring the many and internationally themed restaurants in the area (obviously we didn’t venture more than a couple of blocks from the STEIM building at ay one point).
Lastly there was a performance at the end of the week where we all presented our work, it was great to see everyone on stage performing after all the intense discussing that had been prominent throughout the rest of the week. I don’t have any photos of my post STEIM set-up as yet, I will post again when I do. I wish all the best to everyone who attended the instrument lab and everyone who works so hard to keep STEIM such an innovative and inspiring place. I hope to visit again sometime in the future.