Last week I returned from a one-week orientation workshop at STEIM Amsterdam, a centre for research and development of electronic instruments and performing arts. After the first few days of an overwhelming input about the possibilities of LiSa, JunXion and various controllers as well as Daniel Schorno’s and Taku Mizuta Lippit’s mind provoking lectures about new instruments – from Michel Waiszvisz’ legendary glove to Daniel’s “coffee table” instruments, fancy little items with some contacts and a LED lamp on it that give funny noises when touched – my thoughts finally started moving around the theme of electronic vs. acoustic instruments / acoustic instrument manipulations.
Seeing Frank Baldé use the wii remote control as a music instrument, knowing exactly what he is doing when creating an enormous variety of sounds and effects in a simple synthesizer file was an amazing experience. The question that came to my mind is what it is that makes me want to play an instrument since I did not find it very attractive for myself to practice playing a wii remote controller until I finally achieve a virtuosity comparable to Frank’s. It appears that the resonance of my instrument as a sensual feedback is essential for my affection to playing an instrument. It is the particular resonance the clarinet gives in certain parts of my body when playing it, as well as feeling the warm air flowing out through the tone holes. I experience resonance as something to “fix the soul to my body” or as a connection between instrument, body and soul – a “human interface” in its best sense. So I decided not to “move on” to electronic instruments but rather keep playing my various clarinets. Widening the expression of my instrument by unobtrousively adding electronic device is attractive for me, and I used pedals as controllers so far, or the composers I worked with controlled the electronics themselves, giving me the convenience to concentrate on my instument.
Using a joystick or wii remote control while playing an acoustic instruments is troublesome. I would have to stop playing every time I want to use the controller. Pedals as the “traditional” controllers seem to be a good solution. I can easily program the effects processor or software and control the effects by foot switches and expression pedals. I just might be a bit unflexible, especially when using the vocal effects processor which needs to be programmed. But what if I want to be free in using and controlling effects? I can either search for a kind of “wii remote control” that is not in my hands, or I can turn the clarinet itself into a controller. Using a wii balance board could be fun, and I will definitely try it out, though it might be really hard to control and give quite randomized results. Turning the clarinet into a controller would mean to add sensors to it. The bell is probably the best place for fixing movement sensors because it is the part of the instrument that moves most when playing. John Toenjes, another course attendant who works with dancers and brought some of his sensor stuff, agreed to help me try it out. Unfortunately, we did not succeed in connecting the sensors to JunXion, so this project is something to be realized in the near future. Thanks to John and Josh for trying.
Being quite unexperienced in the use of softwares, the LiSa and JunXion lectures were difficult for me to follow. I will need some time to digest and keep on learning on my own, now that I got important impulses on what and how to work with samples etc.
Important for me were the artist talks with Wouter Jaspers and Laura Carmichael. Wouter as a performing electronic musician spoke about his attitude of working as a musician and his way to make a living of his performances – an aspect in a professional artist’s life that simply cannot be ignored. I also benefitted a lot from Laura’s talk, who in her practise-based approach as a performer and device user (not programmer) gave me a wonderful insight into her way of using remote controlled electronics in her theatre-like performances with her duopartner Naomi Sato. She also spoke about joy and harm of technical setups and stage decorations and the effort and easiness of setup since they use TouchOSC as a device for controlling the electronics themselves which makes them self-sufficient in their performances. Beyond technical stuff, Laura told that she spends a lot of time with her colleague in talking about their relationship to each other, a point that many long-term ensembles probably should pay way more attention on.
In the whole, the week at STEIM was an inspiring time with lots of input. Besides knowledge about hardware and software, many questions beyond the technical stuff have been discussed, and I got plenty of thoughts and questions about all levels of art and being and artist. Highly recommended! http://www.steim.org