Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Notes on recorded sounds...

(Chris Becker, Lynn Wright and Rachel Cohen in performance; photo by Silke Hasse)

In the previous post, I mention that for the rehearsals for the upcoming March residency and concert I am using a software program called Ableton Live to play sound files that I recorded and edited in advance. These sound files come from recordings done over time in my home studio. For example, back in January, I hired John Decesare to come over and play on upright bass some bass lines I had composed – although some of these lines were just rhythms I sang with one note provided as the root. And of course, John went to town and created a lot of variations. Last year, composer and vocalist Sofia Koutsovitis recorded several tracks of vocal improvisation over sounds I had prepared – some of the resulting material ended up as music for a performance with Rachel Cohen (see the photo I’ve posted) at Harvard University in May 2006. Some sounds come from me just recording sounds outside of our kitchen window…the goal being for the majority of the sounds that I use are sounds that I recorded – not sounds that I got from a sample CD. As my friend composer Doug Henderson pointed out to me recently, in this kind of music, recording is a part of the composition process.

The recorded sounds are edited and processed and then placed as “clips” in Ableton live where I can play them as loops or as one shots and manipulate them further using various effects. The “clips” I select and combine are pieces of a compositional puzzle to be sorted out with the help of Lynn and Flip.

One thing I discovered in the last rehearsal is that I’m trying to cue and process too many sounds at once. Some of the music sounded tighter and clearer when I muted some of my sound "clips." I have to remember that I have two other musicians on the gig – a guitar and a trumpet - two instrumentalists who can take up a LOT of space with their respective instruments. I really like the blend of these two instruments with the laptop – but I know that my ears will need some relief from the texture of this trio here and there during the program of music. The arrangements should allow for this. A solo spot for the trumpet, a duet for just guitar and trumpet, and then maybe a moment where you only hear one sound clip from the laptop…these are a few ideas I’ll work with.


Rebecca said...

This sounds really neat. Would you say textural considerations predominate over more structural ideas?

Chris Becker said...

That's a good question. When I think of "structural ideas" I think of form, a key change, a change of tempo and/or orchestration - all the things that composers use to (among other things) keep a listeners' attention. One piece my trio just started rehearsing for the March residency - a piece that will include a poetry reading by Sharrif Simmons - benefited tremendously from a simple modulation of the bass line while all of the other elements (beats, guitar and some sound effect) remained static. I often begin with textures when I compose, but as a piece develops, some kind of structure begins to make itself apparent. Sometimes you just hear that key change, you know? And it's gotta go into the cooking pot. I guess the structural ideas come after the textural - generally speaking. And form is generated from improvising upon a texture or a simple concept. That's how it's working for me.