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Welcome to the Machine: An explanation of the website and research

Welcome to this website created by Nick Lacroix, with photography by the artist Eivind Nakken (http://www.eivindnakken.com/). The portrait photography was done by Mikkel Walle at Berre Foto. Thanks to all for your time, skill, energy and feedback towards the creation of this website.

What is the point of this website? It is in many ways an online portfolio with updates about current projects and such. However, it also serves a more important function of documenting my current research which is being done at NTNU in Trondheim, Norway with Andreas Bergsland, Trond Engum and Ståle Kleiberg as thesis advisors.

The main point of this research is to analyse the different methods to incorporate the use of electronics within contemporary mixed music, and how they affect both the composition process and the performative aspect.

Therefore, the research can be thought to be split into three different categories. The first one being the analysis and understanding of mixed music and its different methodologies. The second is the practice of writing mixed music. And the third is getting this music performed and analysing how the musicians react to the different methodologies. An important point of the third category is that I am hoping to be able to assemble a string quartet at NTNU that will play through some of the 20th’s century repertoire such as works by Philippe Manoury, Kaija Saariaho, and of course the works that I am currently working on as well.

One of my main areas of interest is specifically the different systems that have been used to incorporate electronics, starting with tape music in the 60’s. The rigidity of tape was often described as tyranny, and the musicians had to simply follow the tape like slaves. Later on, digital technology allowed composers and technicians to use things like MIDI instruments, and pedals to be able to trigger different electronic processes or sound files. This is a process still popular today, being used among others by Kaija Saariaho. A performer in one of her pieces will often have access to a MIDI sustain pedal, and when it is time to change different settings (which are organized in scenes), one must simply press the pedal. Another method that rose out of digital technology is score following which has become quite sophisticated in its current incarnations such as Antescofo made at IRCAM by Arshia Cont. However, what it allows in a much easier manner than before, is to be able to write code in a musically relative time instead of absolute time.

Why is the change between relative time and absolute time so important? Because it allows the electronics to be a part of the musical dialogue in a way that was not possible before. Instead of writing that a process called X1 must start after the performer plays a note Z and have a duration of 1000ms, it is now possible to program that X1 will start as note Z is played, and last for a full bar. The important part in this is that the process will stay the same whether the performer is playing at 60 bpm or 120 bpm. The time written becomes musical in a way that absolute time cannot be. This might sound like it is unimportant but when one understands that it is not only time-wise but for any other performance parameters that can be mapped, it creates millions of new possibilities. In these possibilities, electronics can now become part of the interpretation, just like the musician. This is something that was referred to as being the virtual notation (partition virtuelle in French, coined by the composer Philippe Manoury that worked extensively on score following with the mathematician Miller Puckette). This brings composers to a new paradigm with a lot of territory that is still completely unexplored.

This blog will be used as a diary to present many aspects of my research on these themes, as well as present new compositions and ideas to share with the community at large.