Categories
Research

String Quartet Session #1 – April 20th 2018

This was the first time the quartet played together as a quartet. Most of the players have played together before in other capacities but never as a quartet.  This was our first rehearsal and it was therefore not held in a studio, not recorded and not filmed at all. The only piece that was rehearsed was Pierre Jodlowski’s 60 Loops

 

Session length: 2 hours

 

We tried at first to play the piece at once with the tape, but the musicians found this too difficult especially around bar 43 when they begin to play on off beats. Therefore we rehearsed the piece without any tape at first, and by using a metronome.

 

By rehearsing the piece part by part, it was much easier for the musicians. We often had to stop to discuss which sections are tutti and which sections are against each. After having rehearsed most of the section that use the second tape file, we rehearsed it several times with the tape. It was easier for the musicians with the tape after they knew exactly what they were going to play. Many of their reactions to playing the piece were in line with how they need to know the tape better. It was also commented several times how the musicians are screwed if they miss a single beat. However, in several playthroughs, the musicians might have fallen off in a few bars, but often managed to come back on the beat. Sometimes this was with my own help (as I would often mark the first beat of new sections) or by themselves.

 

The second section where the third tape part starts had to be at first played at a slower tempo since the 88 bpm is quite quick. It was interesting to remark here that they really struggled with the metronome, but one of them mentioned that we should try it with the tape quicker as “this section has a groove”. When we first played it with the tape, it went actually better than with the clicktrack.

 

One of the interesting aspects of today’s rehearsal was the way we used the click track. At first, I would count for them at show them where the one is, etc. This could quickly be stopped, although they still appreciated to be shown where the 1 is at the start of new sections to be clear. For the second part of the tape, they often found it easier to play with the tape AND the metronome. However, in certain sections, especially later in the piece they often found it difficult to hear the metronome. This is an issue that will be resolved especially with monitoring since we weren’t in a proper studio for this rehearsal. For the third section of the tape, it was more difficult for them to play with tape and clicktrack, while only the tape seemed easier for all of the members.

 

There was also a signalled difference in the type of click track wanted. Some members thought it was easier to have a higher pitch as the 1, while others thought it was better with a lower pitch. This was quite an interesting aspect which I had not expected at all. To me as a drummer and studio engineer, having a lower pitch as the one feels natural, as it is also often what is by default in DAWs like Reaper, Pro Tools, etc.

 

Another aspect which was mentioned earlier is if they wanted me to count or not. It was not clear if it was my counting, or my counting in French which was disturbing to them. I have also no training as a conductor, and therefore accented exactly where the 1 is, not anything else.

 

So far, the most problematic sections were bars 52, 81, 164, 168, 215, 219. There’s a clear correlation with two aspects that the musicians have found difficult: off beats and when they are not playing tutti.

 

During the session, we also discussed a few of the other synchronisation methods I have planned. I do not think they understood specifically what score following involves. It also seems that although they see severe limitations to the tape such as having to start from specific questions and that you feel as if you are on a train, unable to fall, that they still like the synchronisation method. It seems to give them a certain amount of insurance that whatever happens, it’s on them, not the electronics. They have control of what they are doing and the tape just continues no matter what.

 

The thought of one of them having to control a sustain pedal did seem a bit scary at first, but this might have been a false impression. We will test this out at the next rehearsal to see if it affects them.

 

We have also discussed making an app so that they can rehearse the composition with tape at home which does make things much easier. The first version of the app currently looks like this:

It allows them to practice at home by using the app and they can trigger the tape either by keyboard or with a MIDI sustain pedal. The GUI will have to eventually be improved.

Categories
Research

String Quartet Piece #1 – Pierre Jodlowski’s 60 Loops

Pierre Jodlowski is a well-known young composer that has won several prizes as well as gotten important commissions and has been performed by prestigious ensembles like Ensemble Intercontemporain and Ensemble Les Éléments. He was one of Philippe Manoury’s students many years ago.

 

60 Loops is a piece he wrote in 2006 which was commissioned by Compagnie Myriam Naisy. He describes the piece as:

the opportunity to approach the music world of Steve Reich and give to musical time a funny and relentless meaning. From Steve Reich, I borrowed the principle of repetition, but it is compounded by a stacking principle up to 40 quartets that play simultaneously.” (Jodlowski, N.D.)

His piece works on the concept of what is played by the physical string quartet is them looped by a prerecorded soundtrack. This results in a very playful piece with lots of rhythmical illusions and syncopation. Towards the climax of the piece, the texture created is incredibly complex and interesting.

 

In the context of this research, the interesting aspect is to first ask ourselves why Jodlowski made this piece with a soundtrack system. The electronics are separated into three different files. The first file is simply an introduction. The second file is the main section of the piece lasting from bar 11 to 147. The third file is from bar 152 until the end of the piece.

 

What is the main reason for cutting the tape into three different files? When trying to play the piece it becomes quite apparent. The first file is used as an introduction, after which the second violinist will start the piece. The second file is to be played as soon as the first loop (bars 6 to 11) is finished, from there on starting the looping process. At this point, there is a break of three measures of 4/4 before a new set of loops start in 5/8 at a higher tempo and the third file is started after this first new loop series (bars 147 to 151) until the end.

 

As I see it there are two main reasons to have separated this into three files. The first reason is that a single file would have made the piece even more difficult for the performers. The whole duration of the second file is over 6 minutes of playing perfectly in mainly 7/8 (except for the last section which varies between 3/8 and 6/8 but the tape does give a clear sense of the downbeats).

 

The second reason I imagine is a minimization of risk. Because of the chosen synchronization method, there is a rather high risk of problems. If the musicians come out of time with the tape, there is nothing the sound designer can do then and there. Separating the tape into three files minimizes the risks to a certain extent, especially for the two main sections that change from 7/8 to 5/8.

 

When discussing this research project with Jodlowski, he showed skepticism to other possibilities than the tape. He thinks that other methods won’t work rhythmically with the ensemble. This is also the exact reason I chose this piece as the first example for the string quartet. There is very little of the repertoire of string quartet and electronics which is so rhythmical in a Reich-sort of way, yet still very interesting. It presents different challenges than many of the other pieces that rely more on for example processing or loose temporal events and density. If something doesn’t work in this piece, everything falls down rather quickly since it is composed as two build-ups. This is the exact reason why I thought it would be a great piece to start off the string quartet with. It provides us a completely different challenge than most other pieces, and it’s a very fun piece to play.

 

Way Forward / Synchronization Possibilities

At this point, I have thought of the following possibilities for this piece. Please note that this list is not exhaustive, and neither do I believe that anyone of them can work. However, exploring which strategies make the musicians more comfortable and that work temporally will be very interesting. It could also be interesting to analyze the final recordings between these techniques such as Wing et al (2014) have done with a short part of a Haydn string quartet to evaluate asynchrony in the playing of two quartets.

  •             Original method: tape separated into three files triggered by the sound engineer.
  •             Tape + pedal: use the same three files, but they will be triggered via a MIDI pedal by one of the musicians. I’m thinking that we can also switch who would have the pedal. Who leads the piece rhythmically also varies throughout the composition making this method very interesting to try out.
  •             Score following + files: The score following will be done by using Antescofo and will follow only a single voice at a time since the polyphonic possibility is rather limited.  However, switching which voice to follow throughout the piece is not a problem. With this method, the computer will play the files automatically in the correct section.
  •             Score following + live generation files: By combining Antescofo with some physical modelling software to do the loops in real-time. The software used is the SWAM engine created by Audio Modeling. This method will also allow a bigger number of other parameters to change from performance to performance, such as the amount of pressure on the virtual bows, etc.

 

The rehearsals with the string quartet will be starting this week as well. It will be highly interesting to see which strategies make them most comfortable and uncomfortable. These rehearsals will be writtena bout in-depth on this blog. Hopefully it will also be possible to post video and audio snippets.

 

I would also like to take the time to thank Pierre Jodlowski for being positive about this project. You can download the score and parts at his official website. 60 Loops is also available on the excellent album Cumulative Music (2011).

 

Bibliography

 

Wing, A. M., Endo, S., Bradbury, A., & Vorberg, D. (2014). Optimal feedback correction in string quartet synchronization. Journal of The Royal Society Interface, 11(93), 20131125–20131125. https://doi.org/10.1098/rsif.2013.1125