Bach + Mantione: Extramusical Ideas 4
Bach: In projecting myself out among the audience and trying to experience the performance as an observer rather than an active participant, I aim to grasp the overall shape and tenor of the soundscape as an image in my mind. Since the soundscape has no discernible edge and is constructed out of infinitely shifting relationships between source and receiver, this process can only fail. Still, for my own curiosity, I assume the role of witness/caretaker of the soundscape with its musical, emotional, social, and psychological impact on the audience, estranged and idiosyncratic as they are.
Mantione: This idea of being a caretaker is interesting. It assumes there is a sort of sonic being that exists on its own but needs some sort of “protection” to remain valid. I view the soundscape as a collaborator with regards to sound art or in a more general sense, music. Left on its own it doesn’t need me and is beautiful nonetheless. I impose my sonic presence on it…and feel some sort of responsibility that stems from a general respect and admiration of sound.
For me, this hyper awareness of the soundscape-as-entity, multi-faceted and ever shifting, is one of the extramusical threads I’m currently exploring. The other is the idea of ‘critical distance.’ When we talk about a particular sound and its reverberation in a space, the critical distance is the point at which the level of the direct sound is equal to the level of its own reverb (from the point of view of the listener). Applying (bastardizing) that idea to the live improvisation, I’m interested in the precise moment when the sounds generated by my performance approach the level of existing ambience or room tone of the space itself. Often this is very, very quiet. It’s safe to call it the threshold of audibility. This type of inquiry happens primarily in my solo work and with my most recent collaborations: qqq and SCSE. With the Qs, the three of us share an interest in very quiet and very subtle alterations of the existing ‘noise floor.’ With SCSE, the hovering at the threshold is only possible because of our individualized amplification spread out through a space.
Critical distance is all about the dominance (in the sense of intensity) of one sound over another. To me this is an idea of balance, hovering back and forth over the line. It’s the essence of the ensemble, as distinct voices emerge and subsequently recede into the texture. It’s really like a conversation isn’t it?
Is my interest in finding and activating these very quiet relationships extramusical or simply a technical nuance of the performance? Am I interested in these phenomena because I notice how profoundly they impact my participation in the ongoing improvisation?
I can understand your emphasis on the quiet. It’s like leaving headroom for the occasional scream or outburst, which would be swallowed in a more intense setting. I can imagine in a live setting this can work well. But how does this translate to a recording situation. What is the perceived loudness of such a recording. Since the listener now has the capability to increase the overall level substantially, how does this affect the work? What to do with Peak levels, RMS levels, and perceived loudness levels in the digital realm? Or does the recording even matter?