Fish Out of Water

__A friend of mine (let’s call him Jimmy) wrote a play which is in rehearsal now. He’s an actor and I was reminded of when we met, when we were both in a play nearly ten years ago. This story concerns music-theatre, which is going to be a focus of mine for a while, and one example of the audition process and of crossing disciplines.
__Jimmy had auditioned for R. Murray Schafer, the composer, for a music-theatre show, probably one of his large-scale outdoor promenade operas. When he finished his monologue, some text from straight-up dramatic theatre, the panel asked him to make some weird sounds and to use his body and voice in a grotesque, expressionistic manner.
__Jimmy dug deeply into his soul and his psyche, to root up those experiences that haunt him when he’s not consciously keeping his demons locked in the cellar of his mind. He uttered forth some expectorant, toxic, gurgling, half-strangled scream that ripped through his shuddering body and spewed into the theatre, leaving him panting and nearly sweating with the effort.
__“That’s fine,” said someone, unseen. “But could you please do that again, only this time louder and longer, and maybe go from some low notes to high, then back again?” Continue reading

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Arduino variable types

Happy New Year, Bonne année, and Frohes neues Jahr!

2014 will see me fooling around with an Arduino microcontroller. I made a rudimentary ‘light organ’ using photosensors and Max/MSP. You play music by covering the sensors with your fingers, and allowing various amounts of light to shine between them. Darkness for low notes, brightness for high notes.

First problem: the Arduino code could be more optimized by using the right type of variable to hold the sensor values. The code that I downloaded uses ‘floats’ for each sensor but I think that that is overkill. Float is the nickname for floating-point number, i.e., a number with a decimal point that can move to the left or right to show more or fewer digits. They are complicated types of numbers in computing and, hence take up more memory and power. On the Arduino, like old-school 8-bit computers of yore, memory and power are precious!

The result was that my organ could only respond to movements of my fingers three times per second. Much too sluggish for a tocatta & fugue. There could be other problems dragging down the code execution too, so if I find them I’ll post ’em here.

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Spectropol Records

Many thanks to Bruce Hamilton for including one of my works on this album! I am happy to be heard amongst my colleagues.

Possible Worlds Volume Two continues Spectropol’s showcase of contemporary microtonal/xenharmonic music and sound art from around the world.

“There are many approaches to pitch use outside non-12-tone equal temperament on display here, conveyed through a wide variety of musical styles. Artists in this collection, which include well-established experts in microtonal practice, explore just intonation, the harmonic series, free & mixed tunings, extended playing techniques, invented instruments, and an emphasis on various equal divisions of the octave.”

About the scale used in Fifteen Short Pieces:
Banff scale 15 short pieces
There are different ways to describe this. It is a 15-note, symmetrical subset of 30ed2 (30 equal divisions of the octave), or a 15-note, symmetrical subset of a 1/5th-tone scale. The pattern of small and large scale steps is ssLss ssLss ssLss, where ‘s’ is 1 fifth-tone and ‘L’ is 6 fifth-tones. I arrived at this by taking the augmented triad of D-F#-A# and transposing copies of it by 40 cents and 80 cents higher and lower.

The scale approximates exotic, 13-limit just intonation rather well. The cleanest group of intervals, within 5 cents’ accuracy, includes 13/8, 15/7, 13/9, 5/3 major sixth (and 6/5 minor third), 9/7 and 11/10. Although there is a minor third there is no major third, nor perfect fifth, so one cannot write a triad unless it’s a diminished one.

The next group of intervals deviates from just from between 7 and 9 cents—still an excellent approximation! Among the more exotic intervals there are also a few from the same harmonic series: 7/4, 11/8, and 15/8. (13/8 was in the first group and the most accurately represented of all.)

What I’ve learned from this experiment in 30 EDO is to not be pulled in by the gravity of more obvious choices, such as the venerable and distinguished 31 EDO scale. With some imagination and an open ear one can make do with unusual harmonic materials, and express something seldom ever heard.

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Bayreuth Composers’ Commune

I travelled down to Bavaria last August to participate in the inaugural Composers’ Commune, a new initiative of the venerable Festival Junger Künstler Bayreuth. The host organisation has always had a political mandate to bring artists from the ‘east’ and the ‘west’ together to make music. There were ensembles from different corners of the world and I was encouraged to attend many of their concerts in some very sublime venues. I especially liked a show of blistering drums, movement and electronics by Joss Turnbull, percussionist, and Kaveh Ghaemi, a contemporary dancer from Iran. Originally, I think, east & west meant post-war Germany; today, it means the Middle East and Western culture. My colleagues were from Serbia, England, Palestine and Syria. Helmut Erdmann had brought us together and we introduced ourselves by playing a sample of our music, live or recorded. Continue reading

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For the spring 2013 semester I spent many hours piloting an EMS Synthi AKS analog synthesizer. It’s a solid machine, still made in Cornwall, England, invented in the ’70s, and was a robust instrument for electronic music pedagogy. It was also used in music by Brian Eno, Jean-Michel Jarre and Pink Floyd, as well as for the TV series Doctor Who. My sessions on this vintage instrument took me to the European Live Electronic Centre in the charming village of Lüneburg.

The machine comes in a handy suitcase and can be set up within minutes. There are dials on the face, a pin matrix instead of a patch bay (i.e., using pins instead of wires, as in the American synthesizers by Moog and Buchla). Inside the suitcase lid is a keyboard that responds to the fingers’ natural capacitance.

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The Stone Harp

__A month ago I was invited to Munich to perform Canadian composer André Cormier‘s hour-long work En parenthèses. It is a quiet, minimalist piece for variable ensemble. Our rendition included viola, percussion (we chose small cymbal, woodblock and cowbell), two voices mumbling French-Canadian text by poet Herménégilde Chiasson, and one “undefined instrument,” in this case a stone harp.
Klang im Turm, München__The concert was held in the round and spacious living room of the organizer’s home in a renovated military tower, Klang im Turm, and attended by about thirty people. The concert organizer, Christoph Nicolaus, is a sculptor and a friend of the Wandelweiser composers’ collective.
__He has collected several stone harps and plays them occasionally in concert. They are substantial objects, both as sculptures and instruments. Continue reading

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Theatre in Luebeck

Stadttheater Lübeck Since returning to Germany I’ve been able to see a few plays, despite not understanding the language yet, and I would like to describe them to you. These are not reviews or criticisms, merely observations by someone who loves theatre and had to get out and see what was on offer in town. Continue reading

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