TrioMetrik is the answer in progress to the question, “What does it take to for an ensemble to play live electronic music?” Using extended instruments and the MACIAS music environment TrioMetrik moves toward this goal.
What is live? For me this means no playback of canned audio files or frozen sequences. My pieces have data chunks of no more than 16 bytes so all the building blocks are malleable at a tiny level. We sample only the freshest audio created live and mix it to fit the composition. Pieces are different every time. Sections that are improvised are carefully guided. Parts that are composed are flexible in their representation using the Knowtation display system.
The instruments and external devices are all tied to one computer running MACIAS, a system of over 200 individual screens written in Max/MSP. (When instantiated MACIAS occupies more than 125MB of program memory not including audio buffers or data). This is the software that understands the score and what the musicians are doing. It captures our sounds and gestures and prompts us to play at the correct times and either suggests politely a motif or demands and enforces a rhythmic harmonicity and a specific timbre.
All the components of a piece are contained within the score that sets and continuously updates thousands of parameters during a performance. The score defines the sounds, capture mechanisms, harmonic and rhythmic structures, interaction trees, video selection and manipulation, etc. The video world understands everything that is going on, from tilt of the guitar to the bass player’s score. We are just starting to explore this interaction tonight.
Is an evil deed just a good one moving backward in time? Feynman spins in his grave. Some things are the same forward and backward. Some become the opposite. Some just don’t make sense. How come time treats events differently? Or is it just me?
Here we capture sounds and pitches from the bass and violin and manipulate them from the guitar. A quartet of synthetic voices is phrased by the guitar and then this rhythm is impressed onto the other instruments by a series of unnatural processes.
Partial Pressure (2005)
I had a two-hour dental procedure and they set the gas too high. This is a first hand account. Partial Pressure is the law that states gasses in an enclosed volume exert their individual forces on the container independent of other gasses that may be present. Each of these thoughts exerted themselves as vivid images and lugubrious sounds. PartPres is in nine parts one after the other.
There is an intro of 30 seconds followed by 8 “Stanzas” @ 60 seconds with each stanza containing a structured improvisation featuring one musical construct. During this minute a text image develops on the screen influenced by the performance. After the image stabilizes, the audio stops and a specific phrase is spoken by one of the performers. Like a happy prisoner with an occasional call out to his attorney.
Ever notice the tense calm as your plane is on final approach and the end of your trip is almost here? This a pastoral transpired, in part, by Arvo. It may be a bit long but it is fun to play and helps us relax. Chords are presented in an insistent manner but the arrival times of each of the notes varies based on an old family recipe. These time deltas are extracted and used to set up 8 audio delay lines. The violin is allowed a one second window to enter audio to the delays right after the chord appears. Timbres are updated throughout the piece. In reverse order – Asphalt, Baggage, Flaps.
Stiction ('stik-sh&n), noun. Etymology: static + friction. The force required to cause one body in contact with another to begin to move.
Working with Keith on Stiction has been a collaboration. In the MACIAS system, Keith has developed an instrument, which is extremely powerful and extremely flexible. But that means that there are many, many possibilities at every juncture in the composing process … not necessarily always a good thing! I often say that, just as good fences make good neighbors, good limitation make for good art. On the other hand, the system isn’t magic; it couldn’t automatically execute any idea I came up with just by moving a few sliders. So, we engaged in a process where I adapted my ideas to what I thought would work well with (and be idiomatic to) the instrument, and Keith modified the instrument to work better with my ideas. Lots of fun; and lots of interesting thinking and listening involved. I think both of us came up with things that the other would never have thought of on his own. The piece is in three parts:
A.I. - The instrumentalists read notes from their Knowtation
display screens, which shows one module (page) of notation at a time. The
MACIAS system “listens” to the players and responds to each
phrase, using the same pitches the live players used.
Flutters - Again, the players read notes from the screen. The system listens to each motif played, grabs the pitch of the last note of the phrase, and triggers a “flutter” or repeating rhythmic figure using pitches selected from the current mode. The flutters are transformed in mode, speed and rhythm each time they are triggered in real time. The idea is to have a set of little audio “automata” created in response to the input of the players.
Trails -The players read notes from the display. The system grabs and responds to the last note of each phrase. Individual motifs and a general structure are notated, but the players have much more leeway in their interpretation of the modules in this movement. -JJC
So I had this dream where it’s still light out and I’m in a bar. A disheveled man staggers in and grabs me by the arm. I ask the bartender to fill up my glass. The man says I have to help him. He has taken a composing job for a fashion show and just needs someone to write the music. His wife needs an operation and … you get the picture. Haute is my homage to high fashion and minimalism. The piece is in three sections (Talon, Manq & Coif) each 256 seconds long. The accompanying video is related in theme to each of the sections (Shoes, Mannequins, and Hair). All melodies are based on a repeating 6 note G-minor theme, which alternates with a variation of the same theme shifted down a half step. These seed melodies are contained in tables that are read in various ways for differing durations (i.e. Retrograde from index 3 to 11).
Talon rolls 16 variations in 16 second blocks. The melodic
transitions between blocks contain repetitive and ramping connective tissue
that elaborates the differences between adjacent blocks. Timbres and note
densities differ from block to block.
Manq rumbles out long low notes based on the theme using waveforms made from the Zeta instruments. The violin wafts over this vaporous soup and controls their motion. Coincident “capture and release” of sound from the guitar and the bass (if they are small) add to the occasion.
Coif uses variations of the theme contained in 5 sets of 4 tables that create a rhythmic pulse that coincides with the full 12 note theme (4 x the 6 note theme and another 4 x the 6 note theme shifted down a half step). Here Ashley gets to turn it up. The bass line is in the pocket and derives from these themes. Marielle and I show up late.
New pieces have been commissioned from several composers. Jaron Lanier, Meg Schledel, and Zach Watkins are currently writing pieces for the Fall and Winter Season. A new pieces by McMillen (Trepan) features visual art from Alison Tharp animated by Bradley Furnish. A theatre piece is in development for 2007. Named AbDuCeD, the work is scored for three singer/actors and the trio. Text by accomplished playwright and director Gary Graves will serve as the realization of a story line by Keith and Suzanne McMillen.
BEAM continues to seek out and commission new works from composers. Please contact us for details.
“TrioMetrik is a modern composer's dream come true,
an ensemble for live performance that combines composition and improvisation
at a core level. It is a group that integrates both approaches and amplifies
the strengths of each.”
- Paul Dresher
Composer and Musician