So much for keeping track of the development of the whole piece on here. I liked the idea of it but somehow the time to post just slipped away from me. So this post will be a quick skim over the last month and a half of writing Dichroic Light.
As it stands the piece is completely finished and had its premier last week in Glasgow City Halls as part of Edit-Point inaugural concert. You can see the full score and recording at the end of this post.
Oddly for me a name came pretty fast at the end Dichroic Light. Dichroic refers to a certain type of crystal which splits light into two colours and I thought it was a fitting word to use in reference to the two contrasting sounds that of the pure cello (obviously concentrating on cello sounds) and of the electronics (taking the cello sounds and lengthening them, pulling out certain harmonics etc). This is a lot more than I give away in the programme note but hey I think this is the place to do it rather than in a programme. Hmm I might write a post about programme notes…..
Anyway below is an image from wikipedia article on dichroic glass.
From my previous post the first movement didn’t change too much. Below is pretty much a straight transcription of the hand written score seen before. Also the first idea for the 2nd movement is there. This ended up being completely impracticable because of the speed I wanted it at so most of it got thrown out.
This is the 3rd version of the score. No changes to the first movement but the 2nd movement has been completely changed again. There are still hints of the previous version but they will go by the next revision. This is the material that the 2nd movement cements itself with.
Mark 4 of the score. Once again no change to the first movement but the second is overhauled again with the addition of 4 cellos and removing one note form the string crossing harmonics, Lydia just couldn’t stretch to get into the required position. The idea behind these was that it would signify what is happening in the electronics for the player. Each additional cello would simply be playing a loop that was recorded live. The best place to look to see what I mean is bar 123 and 124. Whats played in the live cello (cello one) is quickly taken up by the 3rd cello. The 2nd cello recorded its sample from the start of the movement. The idea that this stemmed from was to create a sense of stasis in that the material used by the solo cello becomes a background texture.
Below is mark 5 with the rough sketch of the 3rd and final movement. By this point a few changes have been made to the first movement just to expand it a little bit. The 2nd movement is also very close to its final form. At this point I had a realisation with the electronics that it wasn’t going to be possible to record and sync the triplets live. It wasn’t through lack of trying no matter how we tried it or how I changed the patch it just ended up sounding like a mess so we decided to record each line individually and I would sync them up in the studio. This posed a challenge of its own getting them to loop without clicking and without speeding up. After quite a few hours of fixing I got it working. The max end of it was simple but effective, all the loops start playing together but with the volume set to -120db then when queued the volume goes up to 0db. When rehearsing we left them running for a while and after about 20mins they started phasing a little but because the movement is only about 5 mins long thats perfectly fine. If I decide to do the same thing again over a longer period of time I’ll need to cross that barrier.
The inspiration for the 3rd movement was just Lydia singing when she was tuning. Her voice isn’t that of a trained singer and thats exactly why I wanted it. It took a little bit of convincing but eventually she agreed and so the draft of the 3rd movement was written.
I wont bother uploading and describing the various versions up to the final one because most of the changes weren’t anything major. The last movement was expanded a bit more with more detail added in and the 2nd movement continued to be tweaked. The final version of the score can be seen below.
The biggest problem I came across was the electronics or more precisely deciding to rebuild them. Until this piece I had never really used max/msp so it was a massive learning curve. Some point in the middle of February I realised that even though what I had done worked it was by no means the most efficient or straightforward so I rebuilt it from scratch. This took about 20 or 30 hours over 3 days but ended up saving around 15% cpu usage so was well worth it.
Its just dawned on me I dont think I’ve spoken about what the electronics are meant to do and how they do it. At the most basic level the effect is just reverb (‘gigaverb’) but this reverb has both an envelope follower and an eq. The reason for the envelope follower was to prevent the loudest sounds drowning out the quieter ones. For example without the envelope follower the opening notes of the first movement wouldn’t let the upper partials hang on during the pause, they would just be drowned out. This idea of the upper quiet sounds within the cello was eventuated using a comb filter specifically the ‘teeth’ object. The most interesting thing about teeth is that is has a fluctuation setting in it which means that in certain sections it sounds that the note scoops up to itself. Its hard to describe but when you hear it you’ll know what I mean. One of the other jobs of the electronics is panning. The idea was that the reverby stuff would sound like its moving from the cello to the back of the room and fade away into the distance, the idea was relatively effective but I dont know completely how it worked out in the live setting (I was sat side on to the stage with my ear quite close to one of the speakers). The final job is sample playback. The second movement uses both sample playback and panning to give the impression that the sounds move to and from the cellist. When the triplet rhythm is played on the cello the sample pans from the cello’s position before moving to another point in the room and before all the samples stop they move back to the front position. Again the idea seemed to work but having a speaker in your right ear means you can’t quite get the full effect.
I think thats the full run down of Dichroic Light and if you are interested in playing it send me an email and we can talk. In the mean time you can see the score below and hear the stereo mix down of the recording.
Today I made another version of the score with the details Lydia and I talked about on Friday. Nothing has drastically changed just a few accents, dynamics and sul pont markings but the main thing for this updated is the electronics. I have been concentrating on etting the max patch right for the first two lines of the score to see how the fading will work along with some samples. Thankfully it all seems to be sorted with the 4 channel version working very nicely. You can hear the stereo version of it all attached below.
The samples are made from a recording of Lydia on Friday and a recording of a piano I made about 2 years ago both heavily eqed and with the cello sound granulised. I think these are the sounds I’m going to work with for the moment and see how far I can stretch them to keep a homogeneity in the piece.
today Lydia and I had a quick look at what I’ve written so far with some of the electronics. The main point of today was to clarify bits of the score (mainly caused by my sketch handwriting!) and to see how it sounded with the electronics as well as a bit of experimentation. The samples below are of bit of the piece with the reverb just in stereo. It worked almost as I expected but not quite. The reverb time needs tweaked and the envelope following needs tweaked a bit more, it sounded like there was too much verb bleeding through when there shouldn’t have been any and not enough when there should have been loads. Easy enough to do just change the maths about a little in the patch.
Lydia suggested some things which I hadn’t thought of but work really well like ending the opening notes as sul pont. In my mind this blends really nicely with the harmonics later on so its definitely in. Also a few things came to light which I should have realised when I was writing (because I know the physics of it) but didn’t, specifically glissing a harmonic trill doesn’t work. What I mean by a harmonic trill is moving between the real note and the harmonic in the same position, basically changing the pressure of the left hand.
Overall everything worked nicely and its a positive start to the piece. I think we are going to make this Friday session a regular occurrence or at least as regular as possible to work through it. Hopefully I’ll have another version with the edits we talked about today in it.
The first week of term is over and I failed to get the electronics started over Christmas but they are well and truly started now. I have decided that the piece is going to be for 6 or 8 speakers but I’m currently doing all the programming with the idea of 6. I have always been of the opinion that instrument plus tape does not work because it constrains the player too much. Watching a player looking at a watch to make sure they start at the right point just seems wrong. I am of the firm belief that players need freedom to play rather than be constrained to a click track because if they are constrained then there is no point performing if why not just sell a CD? Anyway, with that small rant out of the way I decided to make the electronics all triggered by the player using a foot pedal. The score will have trigger points to tell Lydia when to hit the pedal to tell the software where in the piece it is. With this in mind I’ve given myself the challenge of automating everything and only leaving the final mix up to a second person.
Currently the electronics are mostly based around reverb but not a straight version. The amount of verb will depend on the volume of the playing with the quieter the playing the more verb. This I’ve managed to do through envelope following and a little bit of maths. I’m thinking of setting different limits on the reverb depending on the frequencies so that a partial within the note of 570 hz will have a longer reverb than that of 300hz. I haven’t looked into this yet so I dont know how feasible and effective it will be. There are also going to be more pre recorded samples and created sound but at the moment nothing is solid with that.
Over Christmas and this week I decided that the piece would be roughly 18 mins long with three movements 5, 8 and 5 mins in a roughly arch form idea. The first movement will be charecterised by reverb and building a spectral field (using edited samples of cello sounds to move the cello away from a straight cello sound). The second movement will be a lot faster and ideas based around shepard tones both sampled and live before the final movement returning to a similar sound world as the first but concentrating more on the electronic element. This is my rough plan for the moment and obviously its open to change.
I have embedded the first two drafts of the first movement, they are about about 4min 30 long. The top line is the cello while the bottom refers to the electronics. The solid line represents where in the space of the room the reverb will be coming from, top of the stave = front, bottom = back. Any notes on the bottom line refer to samples. Unfortunately I use A3 paper and only have an A4 scanner but it should be ok.
This post is a bit of a catchup with what has happened so far before the more frequent updates.
We decided on the length of the piece (about 15-20 mins) and that it would more than likely be multiple movements rather than one long one. I’ve always wanted to use instrument and electronics but have never felt I had the knowledge and the opportunity to but I feel I am better equipped now. Though the idea of doing it was rather imposing.
I suggested to Lydia to have a look over my piece for solo cello ‘41111’ to get an idea of my style and also to have a listen to Kaija Saariaho’s solo cello music.
The logic for this suggestion was she has written a piece for solo cello and electronics Prés (Petals) and others for solo cello such as Sept Papillons. Both these pieces I feel are amazing pieces but also have been notated exceptionally clearly (a feeling shared by another cellist I know) and use extended techniques (though can they really be called extended any more?) artistically, because of this I have made the decision to use Saariaho’s scores as a textbook for cello notation.
We agreed upon a timescale with the electronics being ready for the first week back after Christmas to try ideas out, by week 4 (around 1st feb) the piece should be almost ready at least in draft form.
After having had a look over 41111 Lydia said she liked certain sections and techniques used, specifically the opening, the strumming, the cello body tap and the humming.
Embedded in this post is the score to 41111. As a side note this piece is being played in Dublin’s National Concert hall on 23rd February.
For the next month or two I’m going to turn this under used into a public record of my collaboration with a cellist, Lydia Whittingham, to create a piece for solo cello and electronics. The reason for this documentation is that as part of my masters course I have to do a documentation project which I can document in any way. I first of all thought of keeping it private but then changed my mind. What I’m planning to put on here is summaries of meetings with Lydia, drafts of the score, versions of the electronics and possibly rough recordings by her of the piece so far. All this is with the goal of the premier being in Glasgow City Halls on the 16th of March. This may end up being a little bit of an other ambitious time scale but hey, I like a challenge. Plus she has booked studio time to record it around then anyway.