Sunday, April 28, 2013

Interview with Margaret Cox

Photo © R Magnelli, from Skull Valley

Margaret Cox conjures fascinating sounds from esoteric tools and refined methodologies. If you've caught any of her performances around Pittsburgh in the last 15+ years, then you know that her work is teeming with details that reward the careful listener. I'm extremely excited to have her be a part of Crucible Sound #1 on May 9th at Modernformations.

The devices you use are a bit unusual for an improviser: your cards and tapes obviously contain pre-recorded sounds. How do you go about choosing and preparing sounds for use in an improvisational context? 

Well, I improvise with a few things. Sometimes accordion, guitar or amplified objects that all have a lot of flexibility. I also sometimes play with tape players or an Audiotronics Tutorette which is a card reader originally used for teaching languages or speech therapy. The great thing about the card reader is that with manipulation of the cards, changing speed or switching the tracks, I can make something that’s pre-recorded become non-linear. So instead of only being able to play something from start to finish, I can react quickly to other sounds or people. There’s also a lot of time put into field recordings and layering sounds on the cards or tapes. I can get really obsessed with certain types of sounds, maybe a creaky door, or fingers over a plastic comb, a contact mic’ed telephone pole or a talking cat. Those are the recordings, but when I play I listen to find the other sounds that make up those sounds.

Can you give me an example of "the other sounds that make up those sounds?"

When I slow down, reverse, and tune-in to a small sections of recorded sound, you begin to hear the elements that make up that sound: little chirps, slurs and swishes of information found in the recording. It’s a bit like using a microscope or zooming into digital image to see the pixels. Some of it’s familiar but because I’m manipulating it and focusing in on certain sounds it can become unrecognizable. That’s the best part, there’s a sense of discovery and freedom in that space.  

I love that image of a microscope for sounds. So how do pacing and space play into your process of zooming in? Do you find that you can draw out richer details when time passes more slowly, or if there's more negative space around the sounds?

In many ways I'm a better listener than performer. But I do like to play with timing. In a performance, I try to show people what I'm doing. The card reader can be especially visual. Some people think I playing a typewriter! You can easily associate the motion of the cards or picking up a new card with what's being heard. In that way, I'm sharing the act of listening more than I'm performing in the standard sense. If interesting noises happen, I'll look around to see if someone's eyes widen. I love to interact with people. I might have tendencies toward certain sounds or timing, but I try to keep an attitude without expectations.

For more information:

Interview with Maurice Rickard

maurice rickard
Photo by flickr user krosswords

Maurice Rickard is a sound artist whose recent work has ranged across digitally-processed solo guitar mindscapes, mischievous circuit-bending, and beat-driven tracks created on an iPhone. He'll bring his own playful, sonically-rich mixture of the technical and the philosophical to Crucible Sound #1 on May 9th at Modernformations.

I was intrigued by your recent installation combining bubble wrap and a Pure Data patch. Many improvisers strive for immediacy, a pure expression of their intentions. But in this case, you have inserted an unpredictable actor, resulting in a sound that's maybe distant from any intent. What interests you about this kind of willful mediation?

This situation in particular was a collaboration: the other people involved (from Wall-to-Wall Studios) knew they wanted to use bubble wrap as a theme, have a room covered in it, and they wanted an audio component to the experience. They gave me carte blanche within those starting parameters.

Right off the bat, I'd have unknown collaborators in the people who walk into the room, popping bubbles, yelling, talking, or whatever, so the source material for the piece wasn't in my control: exactly which sounds, when they're made, how frequently... I couldn't specify anything that'd ordinarily be in a score, so the piece couldn't depend too much on any traditional expressions of compositional "intent." A piece that would depend on people making certain sounds at certain times (which is maybe the most general abstraction of a composition) would be too fragile for this situation. To work, it'd have to be more flexible, and more robust.

Better — more interesting to people, and potentially more fun — would be for people to come in, pop bubbles (as they would), or make other sounds, and then hear stuff happening, whether or not they connected the two. Maybe it's better to have some question about it — the room then becomes a place of discovery. "Where's the sound coming from? Was that my voice?" It was neat to be able to watch people try to figure that out.

Sonically, there's not a lot that's interesting about the pops. To keep them from sounding the same, I decided to shift the pitches, and introduce delay to build rhythms. It'd be boring to set some effect parameters and leave them that way, so the parameters ought to change. There are a lot of ways to make them change — using algorithms, or tables of values... but the way offering the greatest variety is also the quickest: to choose values pseudo-randomly. For even greater variety, I decided also to randomize the time between updates of the values. The environment could be always changing, but would still have a kind of identity, even with a variety of inputs.

Randomness — or openness to chance, perhaps — seems to be a recurring theme in a lot of my work, probably from my interest in experimentation. Even in compositions, there's that essential "What would happen if I did this?" question driving the process. There are a number of ways of experimenting with compositions, but there are a lot more parameters to be opened up to chance with generative systems (like the Pure Data patches) and in working with other people, particularly in improvisation. I prefer being pleasantly surprised to knowing exactly what will happen.

Do you think of the sounds created by other people in an improvisation as a type of source material to be processed in that particular environment? How and when do you introduce your own aesthetic identity into the system?

Sometimes, yes. That was much of my collaborative approach in The Bureau of Nonstandards — Kevin C. Smith brought the circuit-bent sound-makers, which might or might not make a certain sound at a certain time, and I'd grab loops of their output and build the loops into structures, live. My aesthetic participation was choosing certain things to loop (or trying to — some things were one-time events, and if I missed it, I missed it), choosing subloop points, juxtaposing this with that, stopping these other things, bringing them back in later, changing their speed or direction, etc. Even if I wasn't generating the sounds, there were a lot of other choices to be made in building the arrangement or shape of the output. Sort of like the cooking shows which give chefs the same ingredients and time to prepare something — their aesthetic sensibility comes out in choosing what to do with those starting materials.

For Crucible, though, I'll probably be processing only my own contributions.

How do you go about merging or balancing your processed sounds with unprocessed sounds created by others in the context of an improvisation? For Crucible #1, there will be two woodwind players (Ben Grubb, alto saxophone, and Ken Haney, clarinet) participating. Does that present a special challenge for you in terms of melding with their playing or balancing across very different tonal qualities?

Timbres are indeed something I think about, though the actual approach is something I can only feel sure about in the moment, based on whether or not they're amplified or playing acoustically, and their playing styles. It's going to be an experience of discovery, I think. Sax is pretty close to a square wave, with all those overtones, and clarinet is more of a complex sinusoid, with the odd-order harmonics. Margaret's work has a very wide sonic range, so it could be anything, so I see myself weaving in between what else is going on. Kind of difficult to say for sure until we're playing.

For more information:

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Michel Doneda and Tatsuya Nakatani @ Garfield Artworks this Saturday 4/27

For anyone interested in improvised music in Pittsburgh, do not miss this excellent (non-Crucible) show happening this Saturday at Garfield Artworks. I was lucky enough to catch Doneda/Nakatani/Wright at 3030 in Chicago several years back. It was a truly revelatory experience, opening my eyes to a host of new ideas about collective improvisation and spatial sound.

Sat Apr 27 8 pm all ages $7
Garfield Artworks, 4931 Penn Avenue
the free-improvisational duo of
MICHEL DONEDA (saxophone, France)
TATSUYA NAKATANI (percussion, Philadelphia)
with COMOROS (Philadelphia, on Fedora Corpse Recordings)
Drone duo from Philadelphia. They play large, delay-driven riffs all of which travel through the same effects route. Like always getting lost in the same place, Comoros is created in the chaos of predictability.
and special local guest BLINDED (aka Hogra)
Introducing the Michel Doneda + Tatsuya Nakatani tour 2013, April 26 to May 31. This tour we will play in 32 cities in 5 countries.  
As a duo, we create improvised music, derived from the simple ancient roots of sound.
Tatsuya Nakatani is a native of Osaka-Japan, who now resides in Easton PA; a remote village outside New York City. Michel Doneda is from Toulouse France. Doneda, is known as, one of the most prominate and active impovisitational musicians in Europe.

The duo first met and played together in 2002 in Toulouse France. Tatsuya was touring in Europe, with a NYC based rock band at the time, when percussionist Le Quan Ninh invited the current duo, to collaborate during a concert in Toulouse.

Since that first exciting meeting in 2002, two years later in 2004, Nakatani and Doneda performed and recorded, with alto saxophonist Jack Wright, in New York City. They formed the trio unit "From Between Trio" and released a CD from SOS record label in NYC. After recording the three went on to tour the US, France and Japan together. Michel Doneda and Tatsuya Nakatani have played as a duo worldwide, which include the USA, Japan, France, Ukraine, Poland, Scotland and Belgium.

Performing Highlights include : Meteo Mulhouse Music festival in France. Musee d'art moderne contemporaine in Strusburg, France. University of Metz, University of Lille. Jazz Bez festival in Ukraine and Poland. Krannet Art Museum in Champaign, IL. Hallwalls Contemorary art center in Buffalo NY. festival des musiques insolentes in Lorgues, France. Glasgow improvised music festival in Scotland.

Collaborators with this duo include: Jack Wright(sax), Barre Phillips(Bass), Frederic Blondie(piano), Oguri(Dance), Kaoru Watanabe(Flute), Serge Pey(poet), Yurity Yeremchuk(Sax), leonel kaplan(Trumpet) and Ty Thanh Tien(dance, Act). Released CD "White Stone Black Lamp" from Nakatani's own record label Kobo in 2011.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Crucible Sound #1, May 9, 2013

Announcing the inaugural edition of the Crucible Sound series!

Crucible Sound #1
Thursday, May 9, 2013

Margaret Cox: Card reader & electronics
Ben Grubb: Alto saxophone, Lungs Face Feet
Ken Haney: Clarinet, Carpathian Ensemble/Zout
Maurice Rickard: Guitar and live processing

The musicians will improvise together in different combinations.

At Modernformations, 4919 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh
Doors at 7:30
Music starts at 8:00 (3 sets)
$7 suggested donation

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