This past Saturday I had the great pleasure of presenting at the Percussive Arts Society Washington State Chapter’s Day of Percussion for Educators at Western Washington University in Bellingham. While the name of the event is a bit of a mouthful, the concept is really great. It is a day of clinics put on the by the Washington State PAS to give music educators a refresher on percussion techniques, lit, and in the case of my presentation, tuning and maintenance. There was an excellent turn out for this DoP for Educators and the attendees were an enthusiastic group that were very fun to work with. Other presenters at the event include Dr. Patrick Roulette, Melanie Voytovich, Matt Drum, Dr. Kendra McClean, and Memmi Ochi. We received some very positive and useful feedback from the educators, and are very much looking forward to the next DoP for Educators currently scheduled for March 12 at the University of Puget Sound.
On Friday, February 19th, I performed in a concert featuring Brian Ferneyhough’s music. The evening was part of the Wayward Music Series in Seattle, WA, and was the culmination of a week-long residency of Ferneyhough at the University of Washington. The concert also feature the music of Joel Durand and Mark Applebaum. I had the pleasure of performing a piece by each of the composers on the program that evening. The most rewarding moments for me as a performer came when I played Applebaum’s Entre Funerailles II for solo vibraphone. I found that this piece gave me a very special opportunity as a performer to be a soloist on stage, and yet fade a bit into the background of the consciousness of the audience.
Applebaum wrote the piece to be played as an interlude on a concert of Ferneyhough’s music. The very idea of this fascinated me immediately. I think of an interlude as being a break or a pause. Perhaps it is even a rest in whatever proceedings are taking place. I decided in my performance of the piece that I wanted to draw the audience in; to command their attention. However, I also wanted my performance to function distinctly and deliberately as a break and a rest amidst the other music of the evening. This seems to almost be a contradiction in some ways, but I felt that I was able to achieve this duality in my realization of the piece. It was a very special moment for me as a performer. I believe the fact that I was able to turn my intentions into reality is largely due to Applebaum’s skill as a composer, nevertheless I am proud of that performance and will remember it fondly.
For a long while now I’ve been thinking about ways of using electronics to perform spatial percussion music. I want to do this acoustically rather than, or possibly in addition to, using a surround sound speaker array. I think that what is possible with surround sound currently is great, however I feel that creatingthe surround effect with acoustic instruments provides the listener with a different experience. This can of course be accomplished by multiple performers being placed around an audience, but I want to be able to create this effect as a soloist. After having this idea in the back of my mind for more than a year, I finally was able to start developing it. This led me to write Study in Space No. 1. For this piece I built four snare drum playing machines. The are controlled wirelessly by my computer. I use my DrumKat Turbo controller to “play” the drums from the stage, but the drums are positioned at the four corners of the audience. The result is surrounding the audience with the sound, but playing all of the parts from the stage. Additionally, the piece uses a few small percussion instruments as well as a snare drum that I play directly, on stage, next to the DrumKat.
The system I built uses Arduino microcontrollers and XBee wireless modules for the communication with the computer and the control. The physical movement is accomplished by small and inexpensive solenoids. On my computer I’m using a Max patch that I made to control the hardware. I wrote a more detailed description of the setup for my equipment blog which can be found here.
In addition to controlling the system with the DrumKat I am able to control the drum playing machines with an Xbox Kinect using gestures. This ties in with a very large part of my work with technology which incorporates gesture controlled electronics and acoustic percussion. This first piece did not incorporate the gesture control, but future pieces will.
There are more Study in Space pieces planned, and I will post about them here as they develop.
Below is a brief video of some excerpts from the piece. Unfortunately, it does not have spatial audio so the surround effect of the snare drums is lost. In the video there are two snare drums located at the front corners of the audience seating area and two snare drums located at the back corners. A future recording is planned that will include a full spatial realization of the piece.
On Tuesday, June 9th I defended my dissertation "Combining Gesture Control Electronics with Acoustic Percussion Performance." With the successful defense of my dissertation I have completed the requirements for Doctor Musical Arts degree.