Suspended Mirrors for solo oboe & electronics (2015-2016)

Suspended Mirrors is a piece for solo oboe and electronics with an octagonal speaker set-up which was commissioned by Veronica Isabelle Stubberud for her bachelor’s examination in Aarhus. I had come up with an idea of what a soloist plays being sent around the public by using an eight speaker array. This was the basic premise of the composition, and I was lucky enough to have had some experience with an eight speaker set-ups, once in a school concert with Natasha Barrett at Rockheim in November 2014, and another concert with Nils Henrik Asheim and a few other musicians in Klæbu Kirke in March 2015. These two concerts had given me enough experience using SPAT for spatialization that I understood what was possible creatively.

The main compositional material for the piece is based on three elements: multiphonics, circular breathing (ie long notes) and space. As the oboist plays notes in most sections, the note (and all previous notes as part of that harmony) are repeated and move around the speaker array, exploring the space surrounding the musician as well as harmonically accompanying what the oboist is playing. By doing this the electronics play the role of accompaniment, addition and transformation at the same time that it anchors the piece in its form and harmony while adding something new that could not be achieved by the solo musician (exploring the space). Although the electronics play perhaps the biggest part of the poetics of the piece, it is still clearly within the centripetal model as it is still the performer that is the center of attention and everything in the electronics is done in relation to how the performer is playing.

Since the piece was to explore space and how it relates to the performer, it only seemed natural to use ambisonics as it allows for more envelopment and a clear 3D sound such as described in Barrett (2010). If the piece had been in stereo or other more “locked” multichannel encodings, then I do not think the piece would have worked as well. The encoding was done inside of SPAT and uses HOA2D of the third order (limited by 2n+2 for a horizontal array where n represents the order, Ibid.). The use of the HOA2D encoding made it easier for me to also give the illusion of a space.

In this piece, it felt important to go away from traditional bar notation with a time signature. There are no bars, only a few ticks to notate where harmony changes, and when section changes. The soloist is free to take his or her time as he or she sees fit to create the proper atmosphere. The writing is also far from being the typical virtuosic instrumentation that a final examination concert would normally have, but performing all of these multiphonics one after the other is actually incredibly taxing on the performer. As the composer Hans Peter Stubbe Teglbjærg remarked after hearing the piece at the premier, it is in many ways a study on the use of space in a room around a musician.

The main elements of processing within the piece are spatialization of sound and some extra colouring through the use of a short delay. The delay is a stereo delay called Timeless 2 by FabFilter which is connected to pairs of the output speakers, all of the pairs being processed exactly the same way. Although this should negatively affect the spatial organization of the pieces, while testing it out I found it to be a very pleasing sound. The eight speakers are completely decorrelated, using the delay in small portions created an interesting parallel movement throughout the array giving a new breath to the work. In many ways, the delay destroys part of the spatialization done within SPAT, but as Lossius (2007) notes, it is possible to have very interesting effects and still have a better resolution than just normal stereo while damaging the spatialization that was created. The delay was originally added because of problems faced during the rehearsals which will be explained in the next section. In the final version of the MaxMSP patch as presented in this project, the delay system is made by myself and uses small delay time differences between the speakers to create additional movement within the composition.

Schematics of the MaxMSP patch

Recorded at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Aarhus with Veronica Isabelle Stubberud in March 2016. Recording, editing, mixing and mastering done by Mathieu Lacroix in 2016. This recording is a binaural reduction of the piece, therefore it should be listened to with headphones. An example of the movement in the piece can be seen here:




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