I chose to start my experimenting with the Adafruit FLORA because it is designed specifically for etextiles and is MIDI enabled. I used the arduino software to send the information through to Pure Data and built this simple looper which records and plays back the sounds at varying speeds. I made these tests using only one sensor, so all of the sounds created are my voice manipulated by data from a single light sensor.
So far in this test I have the sensor value effecting the playback of two separate loops (at different speeds) and the frequency that a recording is taken. I am happier with this than I have been with earlier experiments, which often just produced noise without any interesting atmospheric or tonal quality. With this patch I tried to make a multilayered echo that is slightly unpredictable but can be worked with to produce interesting and varied tonal results. I think a key shift in the sound was when I decided to introduce a drone function, so I could record a loop that played back completely uneffected, which bridged the gap between my natural singing voice and the electronic reproductions at varying speeds.
When thinking about building an instrument, as with the last one I built, I feel I work best when it has a conceptual grounding. I’ve been reading a lot about the folklore and family of myths around the idea of the Devil throwing stones as it flies over England, usually at churches, and missing (thus creating standing stones, mountains, islands, etc). One in particular that is found across the UK is one in which the devil is flying over with an apron full of stones. When the apron strings snap, rocks fall to the ground and impact the English landscape. The thing that interests me the most about this folklore is the use of the ‘evil’ ‘devil’ as a shorthand for the old religions that Christianity was seeking to destroy. The devil, in many of these stories, is very powerful and stubborn, but is ultimately defeated by Christianity. The standing stones, cyclical pagan rituals and other elements of old religion was lumped in together as an ‘evil’ practice and thrown in together with this idea of the devil.
I want to call the instrument the Devil’s Apron, inspired by these tales, as a nod to this idea of the devil as symbolic of being in some way against the status quo, a symbol of the will of a public or an environment (especially since using light sensitive sensors it will be effected by the environment a considerable amout). Physically it has similarities in it’s appearance to an apron, and my thought is that it can be used anywhere, impact any space with its sound without relying on a power source. It may be suspended among trees, flown like a flag on a beach, wrapped around a boulder etc.
I want to eventually make a performance using this instrument which is conceptually along the same lines, though I am keen for it to be a tool that is utilised for multiple things. The performance will be in some way informed by this folklore, the narratives of resistance. Perhaps suggesting an alternative path in which the ‘old religion’ / ‘devil’ / ‘will of the people’ is in fact successful in it’s resistance.
Playing on the dual meaning of the word ‘darn’ in which it means fixing a hole in clothing (or textiles more generally) and it’s use to mean ‘damn’ (punishment, hell, a mild swear word/curse word) I want to decorate the textile surface with darning patterns that insulate the conductive thread circuitry and also embellish the surface of the apron. This also plays on the idea I’m interested in with regards to bringing together old and new technologies, aesthetics and narratives. It also implies a tear in the fabric, a repairing process, which is inseparable from the idea of a broken system being fixed through resistance of the people.
I took the fabric and cut it to a rectangular size I thought would be transferrable between situations, however I have since cut it down because it was too large at the risk of being difficult to use. I tacked it to four strips that act as a way to suspend and secure the instrument and as a way to secure the folded version which acts as a protective cloth for a laptop.
From this I began laying out the sensors and the FLORA board, estimating where would be useful to have the sensors for playability and also so they didn’t interfere with each other. When doing this I was struck by how little space the sensors actually take up, and began thinking about practicality and proportion rather than aesthetic, which is what I’d been previously focusing on. I decided to first experiment further with what sounds I wanted to achieve, especially since I am considering using light sensors which I have less control over, before I fix in my mind the layout of the instrument. For example, is it okay that when effecting one light sensor, I will inevitably effect both?
For my Live Electronic Performance module I want to create an interface, building on the project work from Creative Digital Practice.
To make an interface that is suitable for different environments. One that can be added to a “normal” tabletop setup, but that can also be suspended, layed on the floor, be taken outdoors etc.
To make an interface that is programmable in many ways, can be used to perform with but one which can also be left as an environmentally responsive sculpture, “performing” the live ambient sounds around it.
To create multiple performances/situations using the same interface to explore it’s potential.
So, everything has progressed at 100 mph the past few days with the development of my CDP idea. TDLR: I’m scrapping the idea of a breath-controlled instrument. This is because I couldn’t get myself excited about the reality of what the instrument was doing, it was very subtle, which is what I wanted, but it was too subtle, super boring. There was nothing that caught me, which means it’s unlikely it would catch an audience watching a performance.
This is something I could have worked on in PD – to create a more complex sound from the sensor – but I didn’t get round to it – because when I was experimenting with a half-finished stretch sensor (plan C) I discovered how beautifully the conductive thread behaves when I play it with one crocodile clip. Initially I was going to make a waistband out of this that would respond to stretch – but just through improvising and experimenting over it I am way more excited about the potential for playing this as an instrument rather than a wearable. (stretching could still be an option as an instrument).
The construction of the circuit and PD patch are exactly the same as for the other sensors (see the last blog post for more info).
CRAZY FOR LOVING YOU: PERFORMANCE CONCEPT
“Ha, ha, bonny maid, will you weep now?” “You heathenish dog, nor yet for you.”
I want to make a performance that makes reference to contemporary and historical examples of music/art and music/art that is in some way problematic to love, as a woman. “Crazy for loving you” (a Willie Nelson via Patsy Cline song title) is stitched into the instrument and completes the circuit and it sums up this relationship neatly. I’ll use the resistance generated sounds as an accompaniment and sing several verses from Prince Heathen (Roud : 3336 / Child : 104), a beautiful song with brutal, cruel lyrics. As a woman it chills me to the bone that this song was written, but I find some strength in singing it, especially the chorus where she insists she will never cry because of this brutal man. I want to make noise, quiet noise that teeters on harshness – pausing at pitches (as in the experiment above) that ring uncomfortably in the ear, and sing a beautiful song that on a closer listen is as uncomfortable to hear. This piece comes from a place of anger and a place of love, and I’m really excited to make it.
The instrument (no longer a wearable) will be played like a zither/dulcimer – flat to a table or across my lap) or like a harp (propped on my knee). This will still achieve this strange stillness I was interested in creating with the initial performance idea.
COMBINATION OF VOICE / RANDOM MIDI SOUND
After making the sketch above I was reminded of this lush song by the Magnetic Fields which uses a similar straightforward vocal over a really jarring midi backing.
A while ago I was super excited at the idea of sampling Sacred Harp songs that had been processed using some computer software for my Music Elective Project. However, I was recently pointed in the direction of the Alter/Ego software and have been playing with the voice packages and thinking about how I might compose my own song for robots to sing, possibly instead of sampling sacred harp arrangements. Here’s a little taster video of what I’m talking about, the words are simple and a little cheesy but I just wanted to see how I might construct a small verse to be sung solo by one of the Alter/Ego voices.
I performed a semi-improvised sound/song collage at the Culture Lab in-progress show, to test out some ideas that I’ve started working with lately. Overall I think there are elements that I want to take forward and expand on and some bits that were less successful.
SAMPLES OF ROMY
After sending questions to Debbie Armour to interview her child, Romy, I recieved a lovely recording of the Q + A and have been really excited to work with the audio. For this collage performance I chose to use a couple of parts:
“I’d miss.. I’d miss.. seeing.. seeing..”:
A part of the interview that grabbed me immediately was when she was thinking of an answer to the question “What would you miss most about earth if we had to move to another planet?”. I immediately put music to the natural rhythm and pacing of her voice in this fragment so was keen to work this in, especially since it illustrates the process of thinking and can be taken to have a double meaning of missing the act of seeing (when taken as a fragment). I think this works really well as the basis of a song, it’s really immediate and hypnotic when incorporated within the beats and I played around with making it glitchy and adding 2-voice chorus effect onto it (on the MPC).
Longer clips (x2) as transition/endings:
I also included two unedited clips in which she explaines concepts more broadly. I think these work nicely as transitions between songs with a minimal drone, beat, or sound underneath to lift it. Her voice is very evocative and as a short interlude track on the EP I think this could work.
ARRANGEMENT NOTES : FIRST ‘SONG’
As I’ve said above, the samples of Romy’s voice really carry the arrangement of the first song. It was put together in the MCP before the performance using preexisting kicks, claps and other percussive samples and transitions through 9 different drum patterns, building up layers of these on top of the voice samples before cutting them back down again to a glitchy, altered version of the samples which is what remains at the end. Though basic at this stage, I think the beginning works really well and is immediate and effective, it goes straight into the song without any messing about. The end is nice too, I like how the glitches materialise as the layers are cut back. The beats aren’t especially complicated but they keep a nice driving pace to the song and are a good start.
I also added some live looped vocals, firstly a drone on two notes with an additional pitch shifted bass note. I think this works well to establish a key and as an introduction of the second voice (mine). I pick up on the pitch of the word “seeing” in Romy’s sample, which I think is an interesting way of keeping in touch with the base sample.
Then with a pitch shifted (octave up) I made smatterings of notes with reverse reverb on (and looped this). This takes a while to get interesting on the live recording but I think the addition of the higher frequencies is important for the song’s balance, and throws it off kilter a little because it’s very mechanical before this is introduced.
The final loop is made by singing along to the “I’d miss, I’d miss, seeing, seeing” slightly pitching the words along the same lines as the original voice. I preset that channel on the looper to reverse automatically when I looped it, which worked really nicely against the continued singing of “I’d miss, I’d miss, seeing, seeing”. I kept this one in until the very end which bled into the transition into the next song.
I also did some improvised vocals between building the first two loops and beginning to cut the layers down for the outro, which I think was the weakest part of this first song. I’m fairly comfortable improvising vocals but I think this was too comfortable and a bit lazy, the melody wasn’t very interesting and I’m not sure it added anything to it. For a recorded version of this song I’d perhaps consider going without the improvised vocal melody altogether or consider ways of making it add something, because it just crowds this particular arrangement at the moment I think.
TRANSITION INTO SECOND ‘SONG’
The transition into the second song starts with the leftover reversed loop of “I’d miss, I’d miss, seeing, seeing” with the clean voice of Romy talking about the kind of planet she can imagine us all moving to. The way this cuts out to leave the voice on it’s own is really satisfying it draws attention to the words and the silence really lifts the sample. I’d like to have the voice alone a little longer before bringing in the beat for the next song, or perhaps not introduce the beat until she’s finished speaking at all.
I find the combination of minimal sound and voice really effective, and definitely want to play with this in the finished work.
ARRANGEMENT NOTES : SECOND ‘SONG’
The second song is less successful, but there are still elements that I’m definitely keen to reuse and develop. It’s much more like the music I make as Me Lost Me but seems very unfinished in this state.
Arrangement-wise the beat and drone are very similar to previous songs and I’d like to work more into creating something more interesting, it’s fine, but it’s boring imo.
I’d be really keen to reuse the lyrics of the poem I wrote – but perhaps with a different melody. Again, I think there were elements that were good but melodically it wasn’t anything special and it didn’t necessarily work sandwiched within the context of Romy’s samples or in the arrangement. It might make for a nice fragment of a-capella singing in the EP, if I can work a melody that stands up against minimal or no backing.
These birds they have the lay of the land
And lover I have none
How long after they lay me down
Will my body all be gone, be gone,
My body all be gone
And when the soil does touch your breast Like I have touched your breast Will It burn or will it rest With roots all tangled b’tween, b’tween With roots all tangled ‘tween
One hundred years from now or more This dying earth will shudder The chicks will shoot out from their nests To fly among their mothers, mothers To fly among their mothers
One hundred years from now or more This dying earth will shudder The chicks will shoot out from their nests To mourn among their mothers, mothers To mourn among their mothers
What started out as a fun craft project might end up being something more (hence it’s inclusion on the blog) – I made this lush fabrilage of a demon and stitched it to a jumper and had a thought that I could make several and use them as performance costumes, using different garments and perhaps as part of sets or fabric backdrops for performances. I’ve not done much textile work before but I was inspired by the lovely fabrilages made by my friend Ella Dorton (Ground Gallery). I will keep exploring the technique first and make more with different characters and creatures.
Using fabrilage could be a really nice alternative to printing fabric – I designed these pants recently but it’s too costly to produce them.
EDIT: When making this post I had an idea that I could make a huge curtain with sparse fabrilages across it and perform in front of it wearing a top of the same colour with a fabrilaged image on. I have been thinking (very abstractly) about what my final creative practice project might look like and thought it might be centered around research I want to conduct about diverse old religion and pagan Gods being presented as devils by the patriarchal church (specifically I love all the myths about the devil flying over the country and throwing stones at churches – explaining the existance of any hill or mountain near a church) – and perhaps I could make a minimally fabrilaged curtain depicting this and create a piece of music for performance to sit within it. Very early thoughts just yet.