Composing/Scripting/Performing the Soundscape – Part 3

In my first two forays into composing and performing soundscapes, the creative process of composing the soundscape was very satisfying, while the playing live was less satisfying. However, each time I played live helped clarify my intentions and, after the 250 Degrees show, it was clear that I needed to spend more time “scripting” the performance. What I mean by scripting is determining the basic shape of the soundscape, where and when to use effects, building space into the piece for improvisations. Really learning the mix so that I can transition through and between scenes as I desire in the moment.

Learning the mix involves paying attention to how the frequencies are dancing, appearing and dissappearing, swelling and subsiding, within the Ableton framework. This process begins with starting the composing process on headphones which allows me to play with these concepts in the marvelous hall of brainmind. (Forgive me, I love it in here!) As I was working, I paid attention to what I am basing my choices upon. The following frameworks became clear:

*layers of frequencies with breathing space between them (I was listening to Imogene Heap’s latest creation SPARKS yesterday on average car speakers and admiring how much she packs into the sonic space with such clarity.)

*adjusting the parameters of the instruments to get the sounds that I want (Everybody does this, but it is somewhat new to me. I feel like this is a sign that I am listening and hearing more deeply.)

* finding the scale for the tune and working with that scale in creating layered parts in multiple voices and rhythms (This is where I start thinking about is this a tune or a soundscape? Some things evolve more clearly in short, looped tunes with a clear narrative structure i.e. beginning, middle, end, while other things evolve toward a longer form which is the soundscape. And sometimes, they go back and forth. And sometimes, they exist in both forms.)

Interestingly, even these frameworks are in layers – I started at the broadest level – frequencies and ended on the more specific framework of tones, voices and rhythms. In the moment of composing/scripting, I am working on all these levels at once.

Once the tune has been composed, then scripting starts to happen. Now I am paying attention to melodic movement and the interplay of voices and frequencies. This is the part I love, and it is the most challenging part. I am listening to the song more deeply and asking it to reveal itself. So for example, swells can be built into horns or strings by adjusting and shaping the velocity of notes in a phrase. One voice carries the lead at one point and then, the same loop can be a background voice in the next moment. Simply adjusting the amplitude relationships between two voices can create a new texture or shift the sense of the tonic. A spectrum analyzer is useful to get a clearer sense of the dominant harmonics and the changes that occur as part of the performance script. I confess that I mostly rely on my ear and the ears of those who are willing to drop the filters of expectation and preference in order to listen more deeply and hear what is happening in the soundscape.

My most recent soundscape was Phrygia: Hera’s Saga composed for Allie Mullin’s exhibit of yoga photos at The Makery. The Makery is a small co-op of diverse younger artists who are creating a smorgasbord of interesting and affordable arts. The space is compact and the crowd at the opening was steady but the room did not fill with voices as in the two previous soundscaping experiences. So the soundscape was a signifigant presence in the room all evening. There are five sections to the soundscape and each successive section was at a faster tempo. Then I reversed back through the sections, slowing down to a moderate tempo by the end, which was the beginning. On the return, each section repeated at a faster tempo than on the first hearing. The overall effect was a slow raising and lowering of the energy in the room. This was done primarily through syncopated and varied percussion grooves and accelerated tempos. I played this piece for nearly three hours, which is the longest soundscape I have done so far. Each section was maleable in terms of length, so I was able ro really slow down and move things along at a languid pace. I used more percussion and syncopated grooves with lots of changing voices. I enjoyed playing this soundscape as it fit so well with the photo exhibit, the space and the ambience of the evening. Some visitors even took me up on the offer of rhythm instruments to play along with the soundscape.

Here is a link to the soundscape on Bandcamp. This is my new site where people can download my work for pocket change. As always, I appreciate your support!

So, where do we go from here? In recent months, the idea of “nested” soundscapes has come into consciousness. This will involve space, cohorts, multiple recordings, acoustics, mixing, and even deeper listening. I am up for the adventure!

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