An anniversary to look back on

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival

Edinburgh’s festival season is fully underway again and the return of the Edinburgh International Jazz and Blues Festival last week marked the passing of a whole year since the solo bass clarinet and live electronics performance I gave there last July. A twenty minute support set for the Haftor Medbøe Group at the Festival Theatre Studio marked the beginning for me of a journey into the as yet uncharted territory of extended, freely improvised and technologically augmented solo performance.

I chose to create a very loose, 4-part structure by personalising settings within a software system by Martin Parker called gruntCount. It was an example of ‘going with what you know’ in the face of the unknown; one which provided me with a small amount of new technical learning within a by now familiar and fluent musical environment.

The gruntCount system is highly configurable and designed around the musical personality and style of individual musicians. It responds to the input of the performer with what Martin calls ‘nested dynamism’, using a combination of sampling, distortion, reverb, harmonisation and various types of sound synthesis. In this instance I had the ability to fade in or out (or cut completely) the output from the computer, in order to maximise the spontaneity of the unfolding improvisation—so even the loosest of plans could be altered along the way.

I’d used similar set up on sessions with guitarist Haftor Medbøe for our album Bitter Together (fabrikant records, May 2015) [available here]—effectively hacking a very dynamic and sophisticated digital co-improviser to behave more in the manner of a flexible effects pedal, albeit one with a useful degree of unpredicatability.

Sketching, reflecting

In the intervening twelve months I’ve been exploring some different approaches to creating music that combines traditional instruments and computers. My focus has been on creating ‘sketches’ of my own electro-instrumental music, as well as performing with software created by others. The computer plays different (although not mutually exclusive) roles: either that of a bespoke, configurable digital effects unit, or a dynamic system that creates a fluid response—or, more ambitiously perhaps, creating one or more virtual agents, designed to improvise back with the performer in a musically plausible and ‘intelligent’ way. Examples of these approaches can be heard in the links below.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be writing in more detail about these various performances and studio experiments and reflecting on the process to assess what’s been learned, as well as working out where to go next.

I’ll be addressing questions such as:

  • what does the additional technology contribute?
  • in what ways can it be restrictive or provide obstructions?
  • how easy is it to set up this work with acoustic instruments?
  • how can differently sourced sonic elements be blended or complement one another?

and with particular relevance to my own research interest:

  • how do I hold onto a sense of my own sound in an augmented sonic environment?
  • how much control is it desirable to have over these augmentations to our instruments?
  • how can this work inform one’s overall practice as a musician?

Links

Edinburgh Jazz Festival complete performance (new mix)

gruntCount

A detailed account of performing with gruntCount and of its aims can be read here [1st edition, published 2nd edition forthcoming] and a full description of the process used for this performance will be posted here soon.

Examples of approaches

A more detailed look at 1 and 2 will appear shortly, as well as a more in-depth discussion of Andrew May’s Ripped Up Maps with additional recording examples.

1  This sketch features some digital effects

2  In this extract the software creates a dynamic, fluid response

3  Here the software is designed to create other ‘virtual improvisers’

 

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