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Composition diary for “Anomie” #2

One of the first issues I have been thinking of is how to relate the electronics to what the pianist is playing and making both feel as a whole. I’ve always thought that this sounds easy, but it is clearly difficult and I often find myself disliking mixed music pieces as I find both entities to be too separate in negative way, or that they add little poetic meaning to each other.

 

Another issue related to this is to think about the production value of the whole piece. When one is mixing a piece of music, one has to make room for different elements, etc. This is also the truth in such music. Therefore, one of my first ideas that I will testing out is a relationship between the amplitude of the piano and the amount of modulation going on in the main electronics in the background. If the pianist is playing more mezzo piano instead of forte, there could be a bit more modulation to fill out the stereo image, etc. The time aspect here has to be an estimation as a direct relationship would probably be too close to “mickey-mousing”. The amount of time used to calculate the amplitude could also be changed depending on the sections and for example how quickly the musician is pressing the midi pedal (if one will be used) or by an envelope follower.

 

Another idea I have been slowly exploring is a delay that has a bandpass series that are pitch dependant. Another idea is to us a type of granular delay which could start playing grains before, and after certain notes to accent them. This process would have to be tightly integrated with the synchronization. A drawing might explain what I mean better:

 

Both of these will have to be tested more in context of the piece, as I play it myself or perhaps Bahareh to see what fits better. However, I do find that by working on these ideas of how to process the sound and test them out with piano sounds, it helps me have a clearer idea of how I want the piece to actually sound in practice, not only formally.

 

I have now come up with a few short motives and ideas to be used in the piece, as well as some harmonic evolutions for the form.

 

I feel a certain paradox in how frustrating it is to write this piece. I feel that I have too little material to truly make something interesting. However, at the same time I feel that I need much more than 8 minutes to explore several of the elements I’d like to explore in the piece.

 

Time is also being spent studying several piano scores of contemporary composers I respect. A special amount of time has been taken listening to Dusapin’s piano études. His writing is both fresh, yet anchored in tradition and all of these pieces are breath-taking in their own way. Dusapin often has an economy of material that is used in all possible ways, which is one of his strongest compositional aspects in my humble opinion.

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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.