Fingers revived

Performance: Finger Reunited from richard windeyer on Vimeo.

Cameron McKittrick (theremin, laptop) & Richard Windeyer (drums, laptop) at ‘Wired’ (Laurier Music Festival, Wilfrid Laurier University, January 31, 2016)

Last January (2016), Cameron McKittrick and I revived our digital performance project ‘Finger’ for an alumni reunion concert at the Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty of Music. Once upon a time, Cam and I were both composition students there. More recently, we both worked there as sessional instructors in composition and music technology — which is essentially how the Finger project came to be.

In this performance, Cam’s instrument consists of theremin-controlled piano samples which are activated and organized through MaxMSP software. My drum kit uses acoustic MIDI trigger data to manipulate a granular synthesis engine containing a vocal improvisation recorded by longtime friend, collaborator, and spoken word artist, Angela Rawlings.

Although our improvisation was brief, it seemed to succeed as a performance — or so it seemed based on post-concert conversations with audience members. This was (I suspect), partially due the fact that we intentionally chose NOT to focus our attention on the screens of our laptops, something which has become a persistent condition of so many laptop-based performances. Instead, we focused on anticipating, interpreting and reacting (sonically) to each other through our respective physical (especially facial) gestures.

It seems to me that one primary consequence of any performance that employs computers is that it renders far too much of the actual ‘work’ of performance invisible to the viewer. Our solution here, simply put, was to transfer the perception of that work to the interplay of two human bodies struggling to formulate — and then exchange — informational cues in realtime.

Much more to be explored here (I think, I hope).

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The Hunger at Harvest

The Hunger – a multimedia installation by interdisciplinary artist and designer Margaret Krawecka was recently adapted for presentation in the heart of a forest at the (ever-inspiring!) Harvest Festival (Autumn Equinox Arts & Music Festival) held every September at Midlothian Farm, Burk’s Falls, Ontario.  While technical limitations forced a scaling-down of my sound design for it, all went very well. You can find more photos and full production credits here.

 

Sound design for ‘The Hunger’

Immediately following the DANCE MARATHON performances I dove straight into completing the sound design work for a performance installation by Margaret Krawecka / Uncanny House Collective – The Hunger.

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The Sea Museum

Entrance to the tunnel at Atlantic Ave. and Court St., BrooklynA little while ago, Bluemouth associate artist Daniel Pettrow was invited by the French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF) to stage the first English reading of French novelist Marie Darrieussecq’s play Le Musée de la mer [THE SEA’S MUSEUM] during its annual Crossing the Line Festival of inter-disciplinary contemporary arts, presented this month in New York City. Daniel subsequently recruited Bluemouth Inc to help realize this staging in – of all places – the abandoned subway tunnel at the intersection of Atlantic and Court  Ave in downtown Brooklyn. Thanks to Dan and FIAF, I was able to fly down to NYC last friday morning and help prepare the sound design for the play’s readings on saturday and sunday afternoon.

Down the tunnel

Although New York designer Omar Zubair and I had already generated a nice collection of sonic gestures and textures over the past few months (including a generous donation of Icelandic soundscape recordings by Toronto poet Angela Rawlings) , the incredibly focused acoustics of this half-mile long tunnel steered us in a more austere direction. As over 70 people descended the ladder one at a time from street level down into the tunnel, I mashed up vintage Hawaiian music with the soundtracks of Jean Painlevé’s early aquatic documentaries. A large video projection of Jean Painlevé’s films spanned the tunnel’s curved brick ceiling and enveloped the waiting audience.

Pettrow reaches the endWith the actors leading the audience by flashlight, the play unfolds  down the entire length of the tunnel. Long, deep and slow moving wedges of sound slowly rise and follow the audience as they move towards a dead end. In setting and adjusting sound levels I would leave the mixer station and walk halfway down the tunnel, only to discover that volume level of the music was not changing at all. Higher frequency content would naturally disappear with distance, leaving only a juggernaut of low end to continue soaring down through the tunnel. Speaking and Ciara Adam’s singing at one end of the tunnel were clearly audible at the other end. We hardly needed amplification at all.

The Centre for Sleep and Dream Studies

The Scream Literary Festival 2010Last Wednesday night I returned to The Centre For Sleep and Dream Studies by way of Levack Block’s front room bar in Toronto. This version of “The Centre…” took the form of a late-night, 4-hour interactive audio-lounge surreality event curated by Angela Rawlings for The Scream Literary Festival.

I first entered The Centre almost 5 years ago as part of a creative team assembled by Angela to help investigate how her book, Wide slumber for lepidopterists, might translate from page to stage.

Here is Angela’s own “Report on The Centre for Sleep & Dream Studies, + Somniloquixotic Questionnaire” from last week’s re-visiting.

… and here is an excerpt from the night’s audio highlight – an improvised performance by Angela Rawlings and Ciara Adams (vocally improvised sounds of breath, fricatives, song, and orgasm) and Richard Windeyer (live electroacoustic processing)

While the event ended well, I have to say this was a crazy (but insightful) gig.

Angela and I had met the week before to plan out what “The Centre” would sound like over the course of its 4 hour performance. We used the different stages of NRem sleep to create a loose temporal structure, collected a variety of audio sources (live interviews with audience members on the subject of their dream experiences, the nocturnal utterings of Dion McGregor, excerpts from Gordon Jenkins classic recording “Seven Dreams (A Musical Fantasy)”, pop songs of sleeping and dreaming and so on.

Now, we were expecting to perform this in the back room of the venue to a fairly captive listening audience. However, upon arriving at the bar, we found our gig re-located to the front room bar, which was now waist-thick in a very frantic and hungry post-reading chatter party vibe. Suddenly the room for the kind of sonic detail and nuance we had emphasized in our planning was gone. Obliterated by a crowd starved for party.

The sound system was basic and the overall noise level in the room intense. In retrospect, what would have really helped me take control of the room, was a free-standing DJ set in my back-pocket, with all tracks fully beat-mapped, warped and indexed – just to keep the party bouncing while our well-made plans started to self-combust. Unfortunately I had come prepared with something very different. So after dashing back and forth between my prepped tracks and stuff on my iPhone, I let the groove settle on a very stripped down texture of beats (built gradually by hand/mouse), oscillating low-end bass patterns, randomly looped and  vocoded fragments from the dreamer interviews happening at the back of the room. In the end, this approach seemed to work, largely by establishing a rhythmic framework or counterpoint, through which, all the party chatter (and the surreal dreamings of Dion McGregor and audience members) could be heard. The trick was in knowing to leave (a lot) of space for every other sound in the room, working with it as a foregrounded texture, rather than pick a fight with it. I know many other artists and DJ’s who would have handled the situation with much more assertion (even sonic aggression). But this seemed to work – at least for this (nicely niche) crowd – evoking mostly positive responses (thanks everyone!)

I would love to try this approach again sometime.

(though I still resolve never to show up to the gig without something in my back pocket!)

rEDwIREaRCHaNGEL

rEDwIREaRCHaNGEL (2010-2011) is a conducted freepolyfunk big band project conceived and directed by Toronto musician Nilan Perera. It’s musical subject is the early electro jazz recordings of Miles Davis – ‘Bitches Brew’, ‘On the Corner’ etc.

Simeon Abbott- Keyboards/tapes
Bryant Didier – Electric bass
Jeremy Strachan – Sax
Dan Gooch – Trumpet
Rebecca Hennessy – Trumpet
Jesse Levine – Keyboards
Germaine Liu – Drums/Percussion

Nian Perera – Guitar/Conductor
Jeremy Strachan – Woodwinds
Richard Windeyer – live sampling/dub effects
Mark Zurawinski – Drums/Percussion
Ronley Teper – voice

I joined this band a little while ago, not as a drummer, but as a live dub and sample artist. My function is to loop, sample and process (filters, echoes, modulators) the band LIVE (!), in ways that mirror the great producer Teo Macero’s studio manipulation techniques, which he used to (literally) construct these classic (and pioneering) albums. The basic idea is that my activities should complement Nilan’s activity onstage as a ‘conductor’ – steering the individual musician’s output in ways that emulate the ‘tape edit’ aesthetic of the original recordings (It’s similar in spirit, I suppose, to the ‘jump cut’ techniques John Zorn employed in pieces like ‘Spillane’). I was attracted to this project initially because, at the time, Miles was listening not only to Jimi Hendrix, but also the electroacoustics of avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. At the same time, the pioneering dub producers (King Tubby, Lee Perry…) were also digging into the very same territory. In the context of my own work (ambient/dub/psychedelic/live electronic performance), all of this represents (for me) a critical and vital intersection of influences and sonic territories.

Hear rEDwIREaRCHaNGEL on Myspace

Finger performance (an introduction)

Since 2002, I have been collaborating with Cameron McKittrick and Leslie Wyber under the name of FINGER, a live electroacoustic performance trio creating new work and re-interpreting old works by mixing fresh compositional approaches with new performance technologies. We have become increasingly interested in the impact of electronic mediation on live performance – especially where it concerns the perception of physical gesture, interaction and issues of scale. In our recent work we have examined the role of mediatization in performance forms.

A common obstacle in creating convincing electroacoustic performance concerns the use of laptop computers as instruments — their computational (and compositional) power hugely outweighing their corresponding visual appeal as instruments in live performance. The traditional instrumentalist’s large and culturally familiar gestures are in stark contrast to the visual component of a typical laptop computer performance:  In a laptop performance, the audience regularly reports frustration resulting from their inability to ground the sound they are hearing in the actions they are seeing. Past FINGER performances have often evoked experiences similar to that of sitting in a live radio audience watching the small physical actions of the sound effects artist become transformed into much larger, sonic images. For example, how the tapping of coconut shells comes to represent horse hooves in the mind of the listener. More recent FINGER performances – focusing specifically on the intense amplification of small, manually performed aural and visual gestures – have made us aware of the audience’s need for a larger performative context.  At the same time, we are increasingly aware of the risks involved in amplifying an audience’s incredulity through fantastic gestural interface without apparent governing artistic intention.