Anne La Berge reflects on her visit in Denmark
During the month of October, the Dutch-American flutist/improviser/composer Anne La Berge joined Edition·S as artist-in-residence.
During her stay in Denmark, Edition·S composers had the privilege of taking part in a seminar led by La Berge that dealt with making Max patches accessible to a wide range of users.
Here she reflects on her visit in Denmark and the seminar with our composers.
Anne La Berge appeared as artist-in-residence with Edition·S – music¬sound¬art in partnership with SNYK and supported through the DIVA Programme under the Danish Arts Council.
Interacting with electronics: the voice of the instrumentalist.
Anne La Berge
23 November 2011
I just returned to Amsterdam after spending the month of October as an artist-in-residence in Copenhagen where one of my responsibilities was to work with the local composers and Rudiger Meyer at Edition·S on the nuts and bolts of publishing computer patches. Another task of mine was to attend to my own work as a composer/performer using computer programs and interactive electronics in my compositions.
On my return to Amsterdam I had the opportunity to present the fruits of my Copenhagen days in the form of the premiere of my work SCARP on November 12th in the Orgelpark in Amsterdam with a subsequent performance in Boston on the 19th of November.
As I was working on SCARP and meeting up with composers, concert organizers and publishers, a few issues regarding how performers relate to computer patches and electronics persistently emerged. The one that really grabbed my attention was: What do acoustic instrumentalists need in order to rehearse and perform a work that uses a computer program or a patch?
Before I tackle that looming question, a bit of background would be useful.
On October 24 a few of us gathered for almost a whole day to make a comprehensive list for the composers of Edition·S to consider as they prepare their patches for publication. We were all composers, including Rudiger Meyer from Edition·S. We delved into the issues that Edition·S is faced with when publishing these patches both today and in the far future. The two programs that were looked at were MaxMSP and Ableton Live. Our list included:
1. Performers need an efficient way to get a patch. Providing a version on the Edition·S website that could be downloaded would be the best. That means that the patch would also be available if the performer lost or corrupted it or forgot to bring it to the rehearsal or performance.
2. The composers and Edition·S need to provide instructions in clear and relatively straightforward English regarding how to install the patch and get it up and running. The patch interface and presentation also need to be clear and straightforward.
3. A few handy items that all published patches should have are:
An easy way to turn noise on to check if the computer audio is working.
Meters to see the sounds going out of and coming into the computer and at what volume levels.
A way to monitor what the patch is doing in the form of blinking lights, text, meters, sliders, dials or whatever is appropriate.
Clearly marked buttons that turn various parts of the patch on and off.
This turned out to be a very exciting meeting that brought everyone closer to a concept of how to make an effective “publishable” patch. Our collaboration included some pondering and collective brainstorming regarding graphics, a house style, updates, composition, programming and collaboration. Everyone contributed by drawing on their own experiences in both the programming, the performing and the publishing domain.
The folks that I missed at this meeting were the instrumentalists. These are the performers that would be downloading, rehearsing and performing with the patches. They are the artists that, in the end, have to bring these pieces to life. It would have been fantastic if we had been able to hear about the many hurdles they have encountered while preparing and performing with computer patches in the past and it would have been beneficial to hear what they see as important for future developments. In retrospect I regret that I didn’t have the opportunity during my residency to meet with a few Danish instrumentalists, conductors and sound technicians to talk about their needs and wishes and to hash through their experiences.
As a composer/performer I sit on both sides of the musical fence. I have performed works using computers since the late 1970s by my composer colleagues and will continue to do so. And, as I mentioned above, I also make compositions that include computer patches for myself and for others to play. I have dedicated a considerable amount of professional energy outside of the academic environment supporting players who are interested in performing with electronics and that includes computer patches.
As a closing to my Friday plea, I would like to put in a good word for those of us who are performers of interactive computer and/or electronics music. My plea is:
Interacting with electronics: the basic needs of the instrumentalist.
The first thing to look out for is a good microphone. A high quality microphone functions like an extension of the instrument and because players sense their instruments as extensions of themselves, the microphones are, on some level, extensions of the players too. Each instrumentalist has a highly developed style of playing. Therefore it is an art in itself to find a microphone to suit the player and the instrument. It is impossible to find the perfect microphone to meet all musical and technical needs. One important tip is to consider if the player will be moving and out of the microphone for volume and timbre reasons. For instance a DPA lavalier microphone is well suited for string instruments unless the patch or other electronic interactions demand that the performer has to use different distances from the microphone. Believe it or not the old reliable SM58 vocal microphone (the one you see in almost every club) may even suit the situation best. The most expensive microphone is not always the best solution. Performers need to practice with the microphone they will be using. If they regard the microphone as an extension of their instrument, then it goes without saying that microphone technique is a must. They need to learn to make it part of their physical world. They need to embrace it as an intimate extension of their acoustic world. They need to practice using it.
The next step is to develop a basic understanding of how computers and any other necessary devices work. The basic devices in addition to the computer would be USB or firewire audio interfaces and some kind of controller to send data to the computer. It would be helpful if players owned this basic audio interface and controller equipment. That way, they would have a set up consisting of a microphone, a computer, an audio interface and some kind of controller device that they would use for rehearsals and performances.
It is very useful if composers and performers spend time working together developing and refining the various patches in a composition. That doesn’t mean that each time a patch is created a long and involved collaboration needs to exist. It means that at some point down the line the composers and the performers need to have spent some time understanding one another and understanding how the patch works both technically and as part of a musical composition. Composers should expect their performers to invest the time it takes to learn how to run the patch, to relate to the sounds and to play the composition.
Once the patch exists, how does one learn to interact with it? To perform with it? There are many ways to develop these skills. One important tool is old-fashioned fantasy. Performers should imagine that they have a collaborative relationship with both the patch and the machine running it. Understanding a bit of programming can be very helpful. Spending time working with the behavior of the patch and becoming acquainted with the extremes of what the patch can do is always useful.
Last but not least, an instrumentalist needs a true passion for performing with interactive technology if they are going to embark on this journey. This has to be more than just a casual interest. It is a commitment. A burning curiosity for sound and how one’s instrumental playing style interacts with the various technologies. This includes a willingness to learn and collaborate with composers and sound technicians and an aesthetic and musical decision to intimately relate to a machine. Welcome to the modern world.