On Friday I’ll be performing a set of all new material for the first time at BSP Lounge in Kingston, NY. This will be my first performance in over six months, which is a long time for me to go without playing live. The reason I took this break was partially to write new material, but also because of some technical issues that I encountered after updating my performance computer to OS 10.6.8, a seemingly innocuous software update. The update created instabilities and glitches in my system that forced me to begin using a second laptop for my live performances as opposed to the single computer setup I had been using for several years. At the same time, I reconfigured the interactive switches on the mutantrumpet and began working with a new video program, Resolume. A couple of months was spent sorting out connections between the various hardware and software and developing new performance techniques.
As I was working on stabilizing the system I started creating some simple, open-ended presets to test it out. I didn’t really have a sense of a shape for a new project, but I was interested in taking a more improvisatory approach. (see the essay Inevitable Improvisations in the “writings” section for more details on that idea) While in the past Logic has always been my go-to software for music creation, I shifted my focus to Ableton Live, which previously I had only used for performing the music that I created in Logic. Ableton’s Session mode enables a non-linear approach to creating music, which appealed to me. I was interested in getting away from the timeline based structure of Logic.
For video, I decided to use still images as source material, something that goes back to my work in the 1990’s with Jim Conti on Downwind and Conti/Chrysanne Stathacos on Green Machine, both of which used interactive MIDI-controlled slide projections. While triggering and manipulating moving video is exciting, my hope with returning to animating still images was to make the connection between sound and image clearer. One of the big issues with interactive audio/visual performance is challenging the expectations of cinema. As Michel Chion points out in his book Audio Vision, “Cinema is ‘a place of images, plus sounds.’ We classify sounds in relation to what we see.” When combined with visual imagery, sound recedes to a secondary, accompanimental role. This powerful archetype which informs the interface of time based visual media with sound is a challenge to audio/visual performance, which inherently relies on a more equal balance between sound and image. Instead of narrative elements, synchresis is frequently used, “the spontaneous and irresistible mental fusion, completely free of any logic, that happens between a sound and a visual when these occur at exactly the same time.” Chion
A few years ago I had seen an exhibition of paintings by my old friend Andy Moses, a painter who lives in Los Angeles now. We used to be neighbors in SoHo back in the ’90’s. I found the paintings very compelling, a great balance of reductionism and dynamics; the slightly curved canvases create a very subtle three dimensional effect, and the use of limited color palettes connected with the timbral structures in my music. “Monochromatic” from Night Science was titled after my reaction to one of the all-white paintings, such as this one:
As I worked with the new system I was attracted not only by the idea of using still images, but also by keeping the visual vocabulary very simple to try and create a balance with the music rather than following a cinematic formula. This led me to develop the series of 7 compositions that I’ll perform on Friday, each which uses two of Moses’s paintings, dynamically animated by the sound and MIDI controls of the mutantrumpet. Each piece grew organically from a series of improvisations, gradually some beats and sub bass lines made their way into the mix, but the music is predominantly created by the live sampling, processing and triggering of the mutantrumpet. The project is as yet untitled, but I am excited to have opportunities to perform it in several different venues over the next few months. It will be interesting to see how it evolves in various performance settings.