Loop Reflections

Ableton Loop Music Makers Summit 10-12 November 2017, Funkhaus Berlin.

I have returned from a weekend in Berlin at a summit/conference which was both inspiring and engaging. Primarily although I haven’t been using Ableton specifically for sound editing purposes I liked the look of the speakers in the programme and it became the perfect reasoning to opt for a weekend in one of the most creative European cities on research purposes!

It’s been over 20 years since I last visited this city and I have very fond memories of being well looked after by friendly democratic East Berliners in a large squatters block. I recall the starkness of the architecture and the particularly bleak weather. In essence not a lot had changed. The industrial urban-ness of the city remained and much of it seemed to have become a large canvas for the painting of graffiti.

The Bauhaus designed Funkhaus was something else altogether. The former DDR home of German Radio broadcasting and production was both austere externally yet rich and acoustically warm internally. Totalling 50,000sq metres it’s size is impressive alone.

Ableton’s programme was diverse and impressive covering areas of music production, creative methodologies, new sound technologies, music in eduction and providing workshops, sound installations and performances there was a lot to absorb. I highlighted 3 primary sound people I wanted to listen to: Kate Gately, Catarina Barbieri and Jenny Hval.

Kate Gately. Talked in a Q&A format and showed a film of her recording sounds around the city she lived (LA). The primary interests for me in the context of my own practice was listening to how she records and then how she translates those sounds to her sound/music production.  She spoke of her internal processes and the struggle in trying to find her ‘voice’ sonically but that she built up her studio over time in way which works well for her. (i.e.: she processes sounds standing and edits sitting down in two different workstation areas within the same room). I really find this level of unravelling anthers practice useful. I can find when in the sound booth working on my own sound projects that it’s an isolating experience where I am constantly questioning what I’m doing, or researching how to achieve a particular sound effect etc. So in some sense knowing other’s who are at a professional level further on than I still ask similar questions of themselves is a form of relief…

Catarina Barbieri. Was a joy to listen to and to hear. Her words really resonated when she talked about minimalism in her intention with the modular synth music she makes. She spoke of using only single note(s) and creating patterns of permutations from that one note. She spoke of minimalism in Eastern music structures (particularly Indian classical) which struck a chord with me. She talked of how often Eastern traditions would begin by trying to tune into the sound which was already in existence as opposed to ‘creating/plucking/playing’ a sound/note from silence. It reminded me a lot of having sat in many traditional Ragas musical performances whilst travelling in India years ago and how the sound did seem to drift in and drift out without there being a particular start or end. I think I have been trying, albeit in a more basic way, by my overuse of fade in’s and fade out’s on my own pieces…!

Hearing her music played live was really special and enhanced by the huge speaker stacks of the auditorium and general high level of audio kit. The sound was very polyphonic, rich and hypnotic. From a performative perspective, they had cleverly set up a camera to access how she was using the synth and this gave an added performative dimension to a production which otherwise would have been quite still.

Jenny Hval. I listened to her in conversation with Frances Morgan (The Wire) where she spoke at length of some of her inspiration for writing and of what her creative process looks like. It was refreshing to hear her eclectic recording ideas, for instance she spoke of having ideas whilst driving, recording them into her phone and putting those spoken words straight into her music, unedited. Other aspects to note which were of interest were her performance ideas, her use of an iPhone onstage as both recording and performative tool.

 

 

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Deep Listening

Recently I came across the work of Pauline Oliveros and her work with the Deep Listening Band. I watched her TEDex Talk entitled ‘The difference between hearing and listening’ which resonated a lot with the way I perceive sound and space. She talked of discovering the effects of acoustic properties in spaces and the impact it has on both audience and player. Her band improvised playing music within a cistern they entered (14ft underground space) which had a great impact on how she was perceiving sound. And I think the notion of perception is certainly an interesting one as people would perceive sound differently within a shared space.

I need to read of more of her work as she has developed a system called the Expanded Instrument System an electrical signal processing system  which she used in performance and recordings. From her foundation she developed Deep Listening retreats with the premise to highlight the benefits of greater sonic awareness.

One to follow up on….

 

Performance & Uncertainty

Today I attended the Performance & Uncertainty Symposium held at The Tetley in Leeds which heralded the opening of the Dora Garcia exhibition, ‘These books were alive; they spoke to me!’.

The speakers/performers included photographer Casey Orr, performer/videographer Harold Offeh, film/installation artist Corin Sworn, visual & performance artist Rana Hamadeh, artist & researcher Dora Garcia and artist/writer/lecturer Kiff Bamford of Leeds Beckett University.

The day was a combination of performances and speaker events. I caught both Rana Hamadeh’s sound-play and heard Dora Garcia speak. So my reflections are on both of these events.

I knew nothing of Rana Hamadeh’s previous work until now so I entered this performance with no previous experience of her work or preconceptions. It was an interesting set up and predominantly a sound piece, although she was clear to state that she specifically referred to the work as a ‘sound-play’ as it was intended to be a promenade performance where the audience moved around the space and there were  no areas to sit or ‘view’.

The set up from an audio/sound perspective was interesting. I counted 7 large speakers on stands all connected to amps, two vocal mic’s in different positions, one mic near the floor with a stack of metal chains next to it, one speaker facing the wall for a separate vocal channel and a laptop running Logic Pro on a mixing desk.

To be honest I found the whole performance really quite disturbing. The initial soundscape was deep, intense and loud. (earplugs were given out and I wore mine). Then Rana came into one of the vocal mice and began speaking although there was such a big level of intentional reverb effect on her vocals that the words were difficult to define and the delivery was gloomy and foreboding.

Intermittently the vocals stopped and and another soundscape brought in, then Kiff Bamford spoke a part on a different vocal mic, then it flipped back to more from Rana. I moved around the room often to get a sense of what was playing out. I noticed they also had a Zoom H4 on one speaker at the back recording the whole thing.

It was 50 minutes long and deeply intense. What was more interesting was watching how the audience responded to the space and the sound. I sensed a great uncomfortableness, a dislocation, people didn’t know really where to put themselves. Some had faces of bewilderment, others of intense concentration, some of misunderstanding, some of intellectual enquiry. Some found a spot and stayed there, others moved around often. I found myself wishing it was finished sooner because it was so so intense and foreboding but was hoping I’d discover at the end more about the work.

There was a short discussion after where Rana explained that she was in part re-enacting a Shi’ite ritual of a ceremony, Ashura, from the Sunni Muslims in Lebanon which involved ritual chanting and self flagellation.

I took the opportunity afterwards to speak with her briefly. I asked her what it was like for her to perform such a piece and more about the rituals and how they take place in Lebanon. She said for her it wasn’t too much to perform such a big piece, she was so used to it and that she wanted it to feel uncomfortable and disorientating. It was. It was made so much more disorientating given the multi channel use of speakers. She mentioned that previous performances had been done in rooms of much smaller proportions than the larger room we were in. I can only imagine the intense immersive-ness of that experience.

Dora Garcia spoke next. She was really interesting and spoke a lot about her work with performance and literature. She spoke of her alternative practices of performance, of combining audiences who have ‘inside’ information of the performance coupled with those who are not privy to such information. She spoke of exploring Argentinian art ‘happenings’ which were reported in the press but which never actually ‘happened’. And she spoke of her recent work drawn from theories by psychoanalysts Freud and Lacan and the relationships between repetition and memory.

It was an incredibly diverse afternoon. My thoughts are quite dense about the whole experience. Initially I want to document that I feel I have an issue with ‘accessibility’ in relation to sound used in an art sense. What I refer to is that to receive as an audience something which is quite deeply intense and disturbing such as Rana’s work is more difficult to relate to. On further reading of her concepts and themes (which I have done subsequently through her work with the Liverpool Biennale) I can ‘understand’ the work and it has context, relevance and meaning. Yet it was a difficult piece.

Through Dora’s talk I really had my eyes opened to the divergent practice in the contemporary art world. How so many artists are working in ways way beyond the ‘traditional’ and conventional worlds of both visual and performance traditions. It was refreshing and intriguing. I need to research further.

Reflections – Prof Context 1

It’s the evening of the first day of presentations and a good time to reflect on what worked, what didn’t and what to learn from the experience. This first presentation I situated myself in past and current work. I expressed where I’d been creatively and what took me further along the creative route. I perhaps spoke too long about my own work instead of contextualising it further. Although in essence I have been in a commercial sales environment and operated like a small business and so my contextual reference points were enterprise related and not theoretical in nature.

It is though an area I need to begin working on. Perhaps I have too many theoretical ideas to bring in. It certainly feels like there are many strands of research material to investigate and I need to work through these to see which areas feel the most comfortable. At this point in time it is relevant to note that moving into the area of sound and recording is a new area for me and so brings with it extra challenges of not being an expert in the field, of not knowing yet what is currently being produced or what the latest areas of research are. Yet one essence of interest remains the same and has always been there and that is ‘effect’. What effect do sound & visual environments have upon us as humans? How can we better understand ‘us’ in the context of life?

The other point worth noting is my response to nerves. In the morning I knew there was some slight anxiety levels lying dormant yet they didn’t fully surface until my name was called and I was walking towards the front of the room. I remember those nerves so well, like a very uncomfortable familiar old foe. It’s to do with performance and being ‘seen’. It’s deeply uncomfortable. The only time I’ve ever really worked through these feelings was in the final performance of a week’s singing school several years ago when half way through a song I realised I had the power to communicate and engage the audience so that it became a two way connection. It was a powerful feeling and in that small moment all nerves dissolved. That is the essence of what I am aiming for in presentation two. I guess as it was noted today, that some of my work ideas touch on deep themes and suggest a certain vulnerability in myself also and hence the feeling of exposure when trying to talk about this to a group of people I’ve only just met.

Yet authenticity is what I greatly admire. I admire people who can do this. Be authentic and real and let themselves be seen. Most of my life has been an exercise in hiding myself away. Maybe this Master’s course is about to change all of that.

Poetry & Performance

Last night I went to see Hollie McNish who was speaking as part of the Ilkley Literature Festival. I was blown away. Not only by her choice of words but also by her bravery in speaking the unspeakable especially surrounding being a mother. I can imagine reading her prose and poems are powerful enough, but to hear her read them out in the rhythm she does so well was really powerful and moving.

I’d not known much about her work before. I’d seen one video about breastfeeding in public which was uncomfortable viewing purely because all of what she said was true and it was such a sad reflection on the state of our society and how women are viewed as mothers.

There were collective murmours in the audience of agreement, of those that had felt exactly those feelings, of solidarity and of relief that here was this young woman so powerfully voicing all of what we felt.

And it was a insight into the power of performance. Something about being in a  theatre setting (or in fact anywhere with a dialogue between a live person/s and an audience) gives strength to what is being communicated. It gives the space a special feeling and energy which is difficult to convey in a medium such as television. It reminded me why I love performance in all it’s different varieties. Music, dance, theatre, spoken word all have the power to connect us with each other and that is the key to the work I aim to immerse myself in during this MA journey.

photocredit: greenbelt.org.uk