Playing by Ear – What did we learn? Where do we go from here?

Following our first play date for All Data Lost, Lisa and I talked about what happened:

Lisa: I thought, “Oh, shit” when I first walked in [to The Wicked Witch] because its so dark I can’t see what I am doing, and then, you know, if someone is talking to me?!….but the energy there allowed it to be OK. You don’t have to interact, you can be alone in the dark with other people and not feel obligated to look at them, talk to them. Which is kind of freeing, actually, its freeing with the music too. Interacting with the audience effects my concentration on what I am doing with the music.

Jude: I really appreciated that aspect of the festival experience. The total focus on what is being created, on what is happening right now in this primal sonic moment! Most of the artists I heard during the afternoon performances could not be classified into any genre and each one was an engaging and unique experience.

Lisa: I also felt the audience was very attentive! They’re not looking at, or talking to, or doing anything else. They are standing there in the dark just listening to what you are doing! Its pretty neat! Even though some styles of music feed off of interacting directly with the audience, this is more experimentation, so I appreciated being able to focus on what we were doing.

When I listened to the recording, I was pleased with it, I thought it was pretty good. There was enough variety, without being too way out there. Here (in the SunRa Room) we are experimenting, then when we go and play somewhere, there needs to be more structure. I heard that. I liked the layers, and I think what I am hearing most are harmonics, and the harmonics allows the layers. The layers don’t let your brain get lazy or bored. The layering inspires curiosity!

Jude: Experimental sound art, which is what I feel like we are doing, is just one big surprise after another, and/or an evolving constancy built upon repetition and tiny changes. The layers of the soundscape are made up of harmonics, prolonged repetition, tiny and gigantic changes at a variety of tempos. Some folk’s hearing is limited by their thinking about genre classifications and performer virtuosity/charisma. Experimental sound can too overwhelming to the codified earbrain.

Lisa: The brain is like that in other ways too. People who believe that everyone should behave a certain way and anything outside of their prescribed way of thinking causes anxiety and tension. The brain is like a muscle, if you don’t use it to the full potential, it is going to wear out and not be able to tolerate much. When you exercise it, it begins to be able to handle more and more and more. Music and math are ways to exercise the brain. Math is completely like that, its exhausting, frustrating. You don’t see it and one day the light bulb comes on, and you are a totally different person.

The biggest difference between playing here (the SunRa Room) and playing at The Wicked Witch was having other people involved in listening. You feel some responsibility to bring a nice experience to them. So I think I listened more! I am controlling this, what do I want to put out there? I am not that experienced in playing for an audience, so I have a small bag of tools. So, in some ways, this lightens my responsibility to a degree.

Jude: I like having a minimal bag of tools cause it makes me go deeper with them. Also, I get overwhelmed by all that can be done to a sound signal and routing the signal to the right places, midi and audio, etc. So minimal suits my style, which is one of constant learning and deep listening.

Lisa: As far as the sound quality, I thought it was great! It was easy for me to hear what I was doing. I knew where I was at, where we were at. Even though this was the first time I played with the spider capo and that extra layer of harmonics (Lisa had the harmonics for the bottom three strings of the guitar in addition to fingering notes.), I didn’t have to do anything extra or anything difficult. Pluck the string and it is there! The reason I would use ANY tool is because it makes things easier. I am allowing each guitar to talk by doing less. I really want to hear the voice of the guitar, each one is different. That is how I decide to buy a guitar is because of the voice.

After we talked through what we each heard in our playing, I realized that Lisa listens for new ways of playing whenever she explores her guitar’s sounds. We are both experimenters, and feel quite free in that arena. We find structure more challenging. I have lots of questions about structure – my interest in modular synthesis comes from the very clear structural forms that are present in waveforms and filters. These forms, coupled with various sound sources, make interaction the essential feature of every sonic moment. How do we structure interactions? What is included in these interactions? When do we apply structured, conceptual thinking and when do we shake it off and realize “it doesn’t matter!!”

The next phase of Playing by Ear, will include Lisa’s guitar into the Neutron routed through Ableton Live and the AAC/EG clip templates created in the Abeju Synth Station. (See https://wp.me/p5yJTY-vL for more info) Here is a sample:

Come hear us at 919 Noise Showcase in October at the Nightlight in Chapel Hill.

Playing by Ear – a sonic exploration of hearing

The All Data Lost Noise and Music Festival kicked off iBoD’s exploration of playing musical sound and morphing it into multi-dimensional soundscapes as an exercise in deep listening and what it means to “hear”. I was inspired in this endeavor by two experiences: hearing Incidental Exercise at a 919 Noise Showcase, and improvising with Lisa Means when we were on a group beach trip together. Incidental Exercise is a duo made up of a guitar player and a modular synth player. When I heard them play, I was completely mesmerized by the intricate patterning they were able to create from a guitar as the sound source for a modular synth. The improvisation they performed was as delicate as lace and as boundless and tumultuous as the ocean. At the beach, Lisa, a guitar player who is deaf (but has some hearing thanks to hearing aids), brought several of her beautiful custom made guitars for us to play along with the sound of the crashing waves. Once we were home, we got together to improvise a few more times and then life took us in different directions.

When iBoD was invited to play All Data Lost and the usual bandmates were not available to prepare for that date, I contacted Lisa. My recent purchase of a Behringer Neutron semi-modular synth had me thinking about creating a sonic pallette along the lines of Incidental Exercise. While Lisa mostly plays acoustic guitars, she does own a Hollow TKD Hybrid electric guitar, which she was willing to play for this event.

We improvised together on Saturday afternoons in July and early August. At first, I struggled with handling the sound coming through the Neutron. I wanted to start with a clean guitar sound that could then be expanded and shifted through patching and tweaking of knobs. I learned that a tiny little knob tweak could bring forth a sudden blast of sound. A couple of times things got out of control to the point of turning the synth off and starting over.

Lisa experimented with lots of extended techniques using glass and brass slides, aluminum foil and various capos. For the ADL performance she settled on a spider capo which is a capo that can be set or released for each string. Then she found little gloves that went over each “finger” of the capo. This allows harmonics to be added to the mix, and Lisa can play in front of and behind the capo. This worked out beautifully as we built the soundscape for our set.

Here is the nested soundscape Playing by Ear as captured at The Wicked Witch for All Data Lost Fest. Special thanks to sound engineer Oona!

PBEiBoDWickedWitchAug2019

All Data Lost Fest – August 17th – The Wicked Witch -Raleigh NC

iBod will perform THIS SATURDAY at 3:20 to 3:40 pm, so do not be late! This version of the indiosyncratic Beats of Dejacusse (iBoD) features Lisa Means and me in the first installment of a long term sonic exchange called Playing by Ear. Our set up is simple with Lisa on a Hollow TKD-Hybrid II electric guitar (built by Terry Dineen of Raleigh) which will play through a Behringer Neutron semi-modular synthesizer that I will be navigating into the amplifier. So Lisa provides the melodic tones and rhythmic energy, while I modulate timbre and propagate rhythmic structure.

When I first proposed this set up to Lisa, she said, “I should just give the guitar to you!” I am controlling the sound that comes out of the amplifier, so Lisa wondered what she was contributing. Thus began a dialogue about collaboration, listening, playing, structuring a sonic improvisation, narrative, adaptation, exchange, and standing in our own sonic authority. This dialogue is 25% verbal and 75% listening/playing in the moment.

Another factor in all of this is our different ways of hearing. Lisa experienced a gradual hearing loss through adolescence to adulthood. Hearing aids help bring her sense of hearing out into the world, while much of what Lisa hears is in her mind’s ear. When Lisa listens deeply to the sounds that emanate from her collection of crafted guitars, she hears (and conveys) vast worlds. My own hearing often feels supersonic to me. I hear the clocks ticking, the brown noise of the air purifier upstairs, an airplane passing over the house and the morning trilling of wrens as a musical interplay with rich harmonic textures. Sound surrounds and beckons me. Lisa and I talk in order to understanding how we each are hearing what we are playing together. Sometimes we agree on a theme and go from there. After we play, we talk about what we heard.

Playing by Ear is Lisa channeling the vibration of the present moment via her fingers on electric guitar through the Behringer Neutron synth, which I will patch and tweak in response to what Lisa says. I am constantly listening and tuning in search of “all of the waveforms” with the intention of catching and amplifying patterns of life in the moment. This is easy to do in the SunRa Room, with its lively acoustic enclosure. Here are two snippets from one of our sessions a few weeks ago.

We are both aware that this will be quite different at The Wicked Witch this week. What happens when we take this dialogue into a public space? How will we play with all that we are hearing in that space? We are ready to find out!!