Posts tagged ‘sean’

January 9th, 2009

Hungry like the Wolff

Release early, release often. Such is the mantra of software engineers (well, some) and keepers of hounds, and strikes me as good advice. As such, Dave, Sean and I are gigging our current efforts with For 1, 2 or 3 People at the risk-free-yet-sonically-challenged Forest Cafe this Friday (9th Jan) in front of a variably interested audience.

In the meantime though, the three of us have had two more sessions, this time down in the practice room with the modular synths.

December 12th, 2008

Wolff: First couple of sessions

A bunch of us met up a couple of times this week to get started on Wolff’s For 1, 2 or 3 People.  Here’s a brief report of how we fared.

First Session (Owen Green, Dave Murray Rust, Sean Williams)


Sean was playing his Korg MS-20 (monophonic, subtractive synth)

Owen was using Abelton Live with a keyboard controller to trigger samples and another channel that spewed out the laptop microphone input via some effects.

Dave was using Abelton Live, with a trigger finger pad controller to trigger samples, as well as a fancy three-dimensional controller thingy that he has doing arcane auto-mapping things in Live. He also had a channel feeding back his laptop microphone input.


A fair amount of time was spent getting to grips with the notation. We decided to concentrate on a single page (page VIII) that had some fairly gnarly symbolic clusters to get through. We proceeded by ‘decoding’ a line, playing a bit, deciphering a bit more, etc.

Some floating dynamic symbols were dealt with as wildcards, where anyone could use them (once) and would have to signal that they hand done so with comedy hand gestures. Not in the score, but hey.

We then had a couple of runs through the whole page, and finished off with some free play to let our brains cool down.

This session was quite tiring, as we were getting to grips with the symbols, and encountering a certain degree of ambiguity between the given explanations and some of the more complex aggregations of instructions. There were some cheerful arguments about interpreting these ambiguous cases.

DMR and SW expressed some concern over the point of a composition that contains such ambiguities that are open to interpretation, yet everyone professed to have enjoyed themselves and agreed that the experience was a fruitful one.

We did also saw a mouse.

Personal Observation

It became quickly apparent that the sample triggering worked less well than manipulation of the feedback channel. Partly this was down to a poor choice of samples, but also due to the difficulty of affecting things like simultaneous changes of timbre and ‘other aspects’ of the sound when called for. This is partly a function of the phsyical topology of my controller (in relation to the number of available limbs), with pitch and volume controls being too distant to manipulate with one hand. Also difficult to acheive the desired flexibility of manipulation, esp. in the absence of fancy auto-map features.  DMR also remarked that a different approach may be called for, suggesting that he too found the sample triggering less than ideal.

The feedback channel worked particularly well as it afforded more direct physical manipluation (tapping scraping etc.)

Second Session (Owen Green, Sean Williams, Dave Murray Rust, Shiori Usui)


OG, SW and DMR as above. SW brought an additional foot pedal to modulate synth parameters, and took a foldback from the desk to allow him to ring-modulate other players.

Shiori came equipped with voice and microphone.


Refreshed and ninja-fit, we definitely felt the benefit of regathering after such a short interval (48 hours), as the notation hadn’t had a chance to fade from our memories, making progress much quicker.

This time we went through page II, deciphering the symbols all in one go, and explaining them to Shiori, before launching in. The ambiguities seemed much less frustrating this time round (now that we weren’t as bewildered and tired), and the point remains (I suggested) that however they might be interpreted one is still listening intently, which would seem to be the object.

Despite there being four of us, we agreed that at this stage we were engaged in getting used to the way of playing, rather than slavish adherence to the work, so divvied up the page between the whole group instead of having someone sit out. It worked just fine.

It dawned on us all that visual contact is extremely important in the piece, as certain instructions require coordination (in effect) with the moment that someone is just about to do something. This requires not only looking, but a certain amount of hamming up of one’s gestures.  This feel like generally good habits to get into.

Playing was considerably more fluent than first session, unsuprisingly. Everyone seemed really chuffed with how it’d gone. We finished off with a free play again, which we all observed was interestingly marked by the attentiveness we’d been practising. Which was nice.

No mouse.

Personal Observations

Whilst I retained a similar set up to the first session, including a bank of samples, I chose my samples rather better and also had another channel with a basic synth patch as this page had specifications as to pitches. I fed this through a simple filter to make timbral changes, which worked pretty well. However, such an approach gets further away from anything specifically laptoppy in that one could just as well use any old synth (with rather less faff), so I’m still inclined to come up with a better approach.

One thing that was striking was that using a smallish palette of sounds was not only helpful for reducing descision-making-cognitive-overhead during play, but also helpful in being able to identify who was making what sound. I noticed that DMR seemed to be using a smaller range of sounds this time round also.

In this session I had my first experience of what DMR has dubbed the piece’s ‘reverse causality’ structures, where one is to wait for some number of sounds to occur before playing or pausing. This seemed to engender a wholly different mode of attentiveness than I’d experienced before in playing sound-based (rather than note-based) stuff, superficially similar  to the counting that real musicians have to do, but that also afforded a completely engaged period of not-playing-yet-being-ready-to-play-or-stop-at-any-moment (there’s something we need a word for). These structures can also give rise to long periods of silence in a rendition, depending on the graph of dependencies at that moment, also inflected by such engagement, but also infused with a total comfort that you may not get in a totally free play (as observed by SW, I think, afterwards).

So far, so exciting. Living up to billed expectations for me, and providing interesting food for thought w/r/t to compositions I’m just starting and that I intend to score. Looking forward to more of this…

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