Archive for the Themes Category

Why Atlas Sets?

Posted in Structure, Themes with tags , , on May 28, 2014 by glenncbach

I have been reflecting on the outlines and parameters of Atlas Sets as a project, a body of work, and an exercise in autobiography. The original impetus of the project–collecting a series of recorded sessions by a list of collaborators in a box set with a catalog in time for my 50th birthday in 2015, along with a celebratory publication party in Joshua Tree–has been supplanted by a more modest agenda. I see now that the real heart of Atlas Sets has never really been the recordings, the catalog, or even the impending mid-century celebration, but rather the conversations themselves, both in the moment and later in the office, transcribing the recordings into a coherent and faithful documentation of our exchange of ideas. By focusing on the conversation, I have been able to identify, articulate, and reflect on the questions important to me as a composer. What does it mean to organize sounds into structured compositions? What is my own relationship to improvisation and recording? Who, what, and where is my community?

I don’t necessarily have the answers; in fact, I’m more interested in refining the questions. The more I investigate my life in sound, broadly and deeply, the less certainty I have about finalizing my responses.

This process of questioning has been complicated and enriched by the addition of a new project and body of work, Atlas Place, in which I turn my attention to conversations with creative people about the places in which they live and work. This trajectory has been critical to my own process and self-identity as an artist for as long as I’ve been making work. The infrastructure of Atlas Place promises to allow for a wide-ranging, and long-lasting, series of conversations about how we relate to our geographical location, and how the places important to us have shaped our work and who we are.

What about Atlas Sets, then? If I’m no longer invested in finalizing a catalog and box set, can the project adjust to allow for a more open-ended structure? I’m still interested in meeting musician and composer friends for a meal and discussing the outlines of a possible collaboration, so could I not allow Atlas Sets to open up and breathe a little, let each collaboration run its own course rather than set a deadline? Perhaps a newsletter format, or an occasional release on MPRNTBL?

These questions received a new charge after reading Frances Morgan’s review of David Grubbs’ Records Ruin The Landscape: Cage, The Sixties And Sound Recording in the June 2014 issue of The Wire. Morgan traces Grubbs’ handling of the inherent contradiction in recordings of experimental and improvised music: how does a recording of an experimental composition or an improvised session coincide with the common artistic stance of open form and indeterminate results? I have been considering these issues in my own work and in conversations with collaborators such as Phil Mantione. Again, I can’t say I have the answers, but I believe I’m understanding the questions a little better. As Morgan writes in his review, there are now “more perspectives with which one can view the landscape.”

So, here’s to a fresh look at Atlas Sets, its connections to future conversations under the Atlas Place umbrella, and its role in the overall Atlas infrastructure.

Bach + Mantione: SSLLSS

Posted in Duos, Structure, Themes with tags , , on November 8, 2013 by glenncbach

Mantione: I’ve been playing with ideas for our RAM performance.  Writing a new patch that will double as a sample playback device and live input manipulator.  I think I’m going to use an electronic Aeolian harp I built for an installation some time ago. It has 12 strings and is made from Home Depot materials.  Completely untunable, but that’s okay.  Today I made a bowing structure from a cool tree branch I found.  Strung it up with a low E string, and will use that as one way to activate the harp.  So, I’ll divide my performance between live activation and manipulation of the harp and triggered samples.  Plan to record a ton of sounds (about 100) with contact mics to compile 4 banks of 25 which can be triggered with my little Korg KB.  Will also program some generative ideas in MAX.

I know we roughly discussed a 2 hour performance/installation.  Now I’m thinking that may be a bit long.  On the other hand, I’ve found that pushing the time frame just beyond the limit of comfort can yield unexpected and fortuitous events. How does 90 minutes sound to you?

It’s a square space and very reverberant with a high glass dome.  There are actually four balconies, one on each wall facing each other.  I’m thinking we could place speakers up there in stereo pairs facing each other on opposite sides and facing down.  This may require significant cabling regarding length.  I will bring my 8″ Mackies…do you have something comparable for the second pair? We could set-up on the ground floor in the center and run cable such that we would hear the other’s sound in the front and back and our own sound left and right.


Bach: 
This sounds perfect. I’m excited about the harp and sample alternation; seems like a fertile palette.

Following the Loud/Soft approach, I would love to take those initial recordings, overdrive them into feedback, and then parse them back out into the space as part of our performative conversation. A transmutation of quiet into loud and back into quiet.

I’m fine with long performances, and ninety minutes seems like enough time to investigate and explore the sounds as they are broadcast back into the space. That would also give us time to reflect on the space itself and the overall soundscape of that evening’s festivities. Did you hear back from Kathryn about an artist talk?

I will bring my M-Audio BX5 monitors, but I’ll have to invest in some longer cables. Yet another reason to visit the space soon and map out our intervention.

Soft Sound Loud Loud Sound Soft

Posted in Duos, Proposals, Structure, Themes with tags , , , on May 17, 2013 by glenncbach

Soft Sound Loud Loud Sound Soft

Proposal for a live sound performance/installation by Glenn Bach and Philip Mantione
@ the Riverside Art Museum

Sound artists Philip Mantione and Glenn Bach have agreed to collaborate as part of the Atlas Sets. Conceived by Bach, the Atlas Sets are “a collaborative conversation about musical map-making, contemplative practice, creative community, and artistic intention.” This event would be part of that series.

Artist Statement

Soft Sound Loud Loud Sound Soft

Glenn Bach’s music features typically loud sounds (ie. distorted guitar) that have been manipulated and drastically reduced in volume to contemplative levels, encouraging the listener to experience the subtleties and delicacies in timbre and texture which he creates. In response, Mantione will use manipulated samples of typically soft sounds (ie. pins dropping) and raise their levels to expose the sonic detail normally beyond the scope of our sense of hearing.

We propose the use of the Atrium area at the Museum. Each composer would set-up on one of the opposing balconies that jut out into the space and perform live for the length of the show (approximately 2 hours). Listeners/viewers will be able to freely enter and exit the space, and move about to experience the sound from various perspectives.

Proposed Time and Date

We would like the performance/installation to coincide with the Festival of Lights in Riverside and the Riverside Arts Walk on Thursday, January 2, 2014 – 6:00pm to 8:00pm.

Requirements

Access to A/C power for each balcony set-up

Bach + Mantione: Idea

Posted in Duos, Structure, Themes with tags , , on February 19, 2013 by glenncbach

Mantione: Just had a thought about our collaboration.  I was impressed with your performance quite a bit and it occurred me that since you’re taking loud sounds and taking them way down in volume, it would be a nice contrast to record very soft sounds and exaggerate their volume.  To borrow yet another Cagean concept (from the directions for Atlas Eclipticalis) where he suggested that loud sounds be played short and soft sounds be played long, I would focus on short bursts of timbre based on recorded samples while you do your thing.  Sort of a blanket of sound periodically pierced and divided by points of focused aural saturation.  Of course we would need to secure a location and I still like the idea of capturing the sounds in the same space prior to the performance.

Bach + Mantione: Extramusical Ideas 4

Posted in Duos, Themes with tags , on September 3, 2012 by glenncbach

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?

Bach + Mantione: Extramusical 3

Posted in Duos, Themes with tags , , , , on June 24, 2012 by glenncbach

Philip Mantione wrote:

But when you “toggle back to the point of view of the audience” aren’t you really still hearing from your own perspective.  How can it be any other way?  How can you group an audience together and conceive of some consensual experience they are having?  And even if you could, how would you determine the difference between that and your own?

Yes, I will always hear from my own perspective, as we all do. And the fact that there can be no agreed upon consensual experience doesn’t mean that there isn’t an experience going on that is more than the sum of the individual parts.

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.

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.

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?

Maybe I’ll just call it Slow Sound and leave it at that…

 

Bach + Roden + Roden: Transcript Excerpt

Posted in Structure, Themes, Transcripts, Trios with tags , , , , , on June 17, 2012 by glenncbach

Glenn: Knowing that when we’ve played before, based on who we are, it’s been a very complimentary, respectful space. I know that whatever we do is going to be great. Personally I’m interested in making it as rich as possible, so, for me I would like to have some kind of structure to help guide things, whether it’s this color coding system or…

Steve: When I did the Cage pieces with Mark Trayle we had to draw straws and make all these things, and basically what you end up with is all these different amounts of time, and within each amount of time there are a number of events, and it’s not…some of it was pretty specific, but most of it was…if you have five minutes you need to do three things. What was cool about it was that you could break the rules and the other person wouldn’t know [laughs]. But it did make you a little more sensitive to…”I have three things I can do in a decent amount of time, where do I want to drop them?”

Jeffrey: This was the thing you did at the Norton Simon?

Steve: Yeah.

Jeffrey. Yeah, that was really good. It didn’t seem improvised at all.

Steve: Right. And the structure was just enough of a skeleton in a way, it forced me to do less. Which was important. And he [Trayle] also tended to be quite active, so the dynamic between the two of us was strong because of that.

Glenn: I’m not seeing the structure as something as intense as the stuff that you [Steve] do with your paintings and systems for the different pieces, where you have a very poetic and deeply considered apparatus that you use to gain entry into the work, and whether or not people are fully conscious of that apparatus…

Steve: It’s of no concern to me.

Glenn. No concern. It’s just your way of accessing the…

Steve: In a way, for me, those structures work in a way…what Jeffrey was talking about in terms of anticipation, and knowing when the note is supposed to drop. It’s helpful at times to know that you don’t know what’s coming up or what you’re going to do, but somehow working with some sort of skeleton or something, there’s a sense, for me, I can be even more in the listening…

Glenn: Yeah.

Steve: Because I’m not quite so worried about what’s going to happen.

Jeffrey: Well, there are rules, that’s the thing. So you go, “I know I’m not going to do this.”

Steve: Right.

Jeffrey: Like in my work I know that suddenly there’s not going to be this virtuosic explosion of activity. It’s just not going to happen. I mean, it could happen if I wanted it to, but it’s not going to. So, there are these limitations that aren’t limitations; they’re a sort of boundary.

Glenn: It’s a boundary of…

Steve: Even with the Cage pieces we had pretty specific timings and there were times when I was doing something and I thought, “I don’t want to cut it off right here. It feels like it wants to go on.” It’s just getting you to that space where you can say “Okay, I’m really listening to this and I want it to go on.” It’s not like I’m Mr. Virtuoso trying to wow people with my fast fingers. Yeah, having some kind of thing to bang up against is good.

Glenn: Knowing that you don’t have to worry about certain aspects of the performance, that you can then be in a position to listen. What I love about the Soundscape Ensemble [SCSE] is that since there are a number of people involved, the burden isn’t on me to keep the thing going, and because we’re all operating from different sources of amplification, there already is a limitation to overall group dynamics and levels. So, there are moments, and I absolutely love this about that group, there are moments when I can just sit for two or three minutes at a time, sometimes longer, and just not do anything [laughs] because there’s nothing for me to add. The sounds people are broadcasting are so interesting and peculiar and quirky, stuff that I never would have imagined using, that I don’t feel I have to add anything because it’s already complex. It’s already complete.

Steve: Right.

Glenn: Being in that moment where the group mind takes over, assuming the role of caretaker over the live improvised soundscape, nudging it along, keeping it alive and healthy. Those moments where all the other parameters have been taken care of. We’re not coming out of the same p.a., and so I don’t have to worry about everyone’s sound being washed out into one stereo channel. That’s already taken care of. It’s a very freeing position to be in. Sometimes in a performance I may only play two or three sounds. I have these recordings of the dawn chorus from these campsites, three or four in the morning, half an hour long. For the first half of the performance I could be playing just this section of birds and ambience, bring it down to the threshold of audibility, bring it back up just a little so that it just peeks through. And that’s all I do for ten minutes. I love that. I love having that freedom. So I would like to have a similar thing in switching voices, instruments, to ones I have less proficiency in. I’m proficient on the computer, I know what I’m doing, I know the limits of what I do, the dynamics. But on these stringed instruments I’m an amateur. I want to dive in to these instruments to see if I can find a similar type of freedom.

Another thing to think about: the catalog for this project will be a collection of all the accoutrements from the performances and discussions, so any kind of notes, sketches, photographs, scores, background images that could serve as raw material or inspiration, liner notes, gear lists, all that stuff is going to be included in the catalog. So, if there is a structure or a series of guidelines, we could have fun with that as well.

Jeffrey: Yeah. I’d be interested in looking at something that was directional rather than notational.

Steve: Right. That’s exactly…

Jeffrey: Not to get fancy.

Steve: That’s all I can read. All my scores are like that. Actions more than…

Jeffrey: That would be challenging and interesting. It would just be a thing to find that ensemble basis and then press on. If you [Glenn] are going to play these two things, then perhaps Steve and I could craft an orchestration around those things. And then from that you move forward into what you’re going to make. I think that would be logical. Piano, to me, would just seem too big and bulky. I don’t play it well enough, nor do I think it’s small enough…it’s a pretty freakin’ large thing.

Steve: [laughs]

Jeffrey: To play it as an instrument.

Glenn: To play it as an improvisational instrument?

Jeffrey: Any kind of instrument. If you want to do some kind of sound thing with it, which, frankly, I would have no interest in, then you can do a lot with it.

Glenn: Sure.

Jeffrey: But to just play it as an instrument using its note qualities, it’s pretty large. Large-sounding.

Glenn: Yeah. I also want this to be a chance for you two to explore some things you’ve always wanted to do or are interested in.

Jeffrey: It’s always very challenging when I have to play outside of any traditional musical environment, so that’s always challenging. One time we played with Damon and…

Steve: Oh, man, that was awesome.

Jeffrey: I played A flat for forty minutes. I just droned in A flat; it was perfect. There was nothing better I could have played on my bass. And when you do stuff like that, inevitably you do learn something.

Steve: Absolutely.

Jeffrey. I think the challenge is probably greater in a sense because sound instruments are more flexible. There are fewer restrictions on them. Musical instruments, if you want to play them as instruments, as opposed to making them a sound instrument, then they’re fairly limited.

Steve: They’re stubborn.

Jeffrey: Well, they were made for something. You could use a hammer for a screwdriver, but it’s better to just use a screwdriver. I think that’s why at some point the great virtuosic jazz players went to sound. That’s what Coltrane was doing when he died.

Glenn: Yes.

Jeffrey: He left and tried to find that bridge. That’s the bridge that hadn’t yet been discovered. It’s been discovered now, but not when he was alive. I think Feldman and Cage and all those people made a big discovery. But, even then, their big discoveries could not be replicated; they were unique to them.

Steve: Right.

Jeffrey: It’s new territory.

Glenn: And with Coltrane it was this ecstatic vision, too, that only he…

Jeffrey: He wanted to play all the sounds that were possible in his mind that couldn’t be limited to just the changes. And the people that followed him and tried to the do the same thing, you think, “Really? You’re just making squeaky sounds on your horn. And it’s making your horn squeak.”

Steve: Right.

Jeffrey: I think it might be helpful to compile an ensemble or direction, because it’s always easier to improvise off of a basis, rather than an open…

Steve: I think, too, it might be a situation where we find instruments that, for whatever reasons, are compatible.

Jeffrey: Yeah, that’s a better way of saying it.

Steve: So, having a group of things that we know how will work together, whatever that means.

Jeffrey: Sonically.

Steve: Yeah.

Glenn: And I’m open to working with other things. I don’t want to limit myself to just working with these two crazy instruments. I have a kalimba. I’m interested in manipulating objects that make sound as a quasi-percussionist. I’m interested in how things resonate in the space itself, and in the recording process as a voice in the collaboration.

Steve: Where is this going to take place?

Glenn: [shrugs]. Wherever we want to. Rent a space? Someone’s studio, a warehouse, a church? A venue? I’d like to set up some recorders and have that translation process as part of it. What happens when the sounds are generated in the room and the microphones then captures a copy of it? I want the specifics to come out of this conversation as well. I didn’t want to dictate that we would do it here or there, or use this mic or this approach. I wanted us to come up together with some possible solutions.

Jeffrey: Unfortunately the room with my piano is pretty tiny.

Steve: We can’t do it here [the restaurant]. [laughs].

Glenn: No.

Jeffrey: Well, we could. [cheesy saxophone solo plays]

Steve: Speaking of saxophone. [laughs]

Glenn: “Sax-a-ma-phone.”

Bach + Mantione: Extramusical 2

Posted in Duos, Themes with tags , , on May 25, 2012 by glenncbach

24 May 2012

Hi Glenn,

A few responses below:

 

I’ve been thinking about our talk, especially your reflections on extramusical ideas. I don’t know if its possible, at least for me, to avoid having extramusical connections or threads. When I say sound for sound’s sake, that’s a listening thing, and, like you said, a given. When I make music, either live or in the studio, it may not necessarily be about something, but it’s always with something.

Let me clarify what I meant about the extramusical and why I find the issue of such relevance.  I’m going to quote Seth Kim-Cohen from his book because he puts it very succinctly:

Music has always functioned according to Greenbergian precepts.  As a practice, music is positively obsessed with its media specificity.  Only music includes, as part of its discursive vocabulary, a term for the foreign matter threatening always to infect it: ‘extramusical.’ Even at the height of modernism, painters did not have a name for extrapainterly elements; filmmakers do not worry about the extracinematic. But in music as an academic, artistic, and performance discipline, there is a perceived need to identify–often to eliminate–aspects of production, reception, or discussion that are not specifically manifest in material form. (In the Blink of an Ear: Toward a Non-cochlear Sonic Art, pp.39-40)

You’ve said you doubt the possibility of being able to avoid having extramusical connections or threads. I don’t think it is possible.  My point is that this idea of avoidance is a modernist perspective that was played out in the visual arts long ago, and yet it still seems to persist in music.  It should really be a non-issue.

I had a conversation with a young composer last weekend (by young I mean 30 something) who was adamant that music should be purely about the beauty of sound…that that’s all that is required or necessary.  My question is: is that all that’s possible and if other avenues exist why not explore them as well? Must there be this insulated environment?  Does the inclusion of ‘extramusical’ ideas make the beauty of sound less beautiful?

I find it interesting that music, one of the few social art forms, has so often chosen to ignore social issues. New music composers have no problem addressing and/or changing the listener’s sensory perceptions or their sense of time…but is that all there is?

I ask the question: Do we have any responsibility as artists beyond appealing to the senses (the listener’s and more importantly, our own)?  It’s funny that music as entertainment (Pop music for instance) is looked down on by many experimental composers as commodified drivel (which in many cases might be true), but many Pop artists have created and encouraged real social change for the better through their music.  The same cannot be said for new music composers, at least not to the same degree.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to enforce my judgment on any other artist.  Nor would I want to lock myself into one way of approaching music.  I’m simply looking inward and trying to reconcile an internal conflict that has both fueled and haunted my work for several years.

 

Whenever I’m in a live moment, I always try to remind myself to toggle back to the point of view of the audience, hearing it as they hear it. In a sense I take on the responsibility of the overall soundscape, whether or not it’s mine to take, and I invest in its care and quality of life. So, there’s that goal of contributing a worthy addition to the preexisting collection of soundscapes in the world.

But when you “toggle back to the point of view of the audience” aren’t you really still hearing from your own perspective?  How can it be any other way?  How can you group an audience together and conceive of some consensual experience they are having?  And even if you could, how would you determine the difference between that and your own?

 

So, part of it for me is spelunking deep and wide into the performance to see if there is an opportunity to showcase and celebrate those intense moments of group-mind and audience connection. Is that visionary? Ecstatic? If there is such a thing as a humble and quiet ecstasy, then, yes.

I have experienced this quiet ecstasy…I know what you mean.  It’s magical and addictive, as much as it is rare. Looking forward to achieving some of these moments together, as soon as we find our third collaborator.

Phil

Bach + Mantione: Extramusical Ideas

Posted in Duos, Themes with tags , , on May 23, 2012 by glenncbach

e-mail to Phil, 22 May 2012

I’ve been thinking about our talk, especially your reflections on extramusical ideas. I don’t know if its possible, at least for me, to avoid having extramusical connections or threads. When I say sound for sound’s sake, that’s a listening thing, and, like you said, a given. Music is different. When I make music, either live or in the studio, it may not necessarily be about something, but it’s always with something.

In any case, it’s never a purely musical expression. Often it’s about space, perception, context and re-context, real and artificial. There is the idea of linear continuity we discussed earlier.

Whenever I’m in a live moment, I always try to remind myself to toggle back to the point of view of the audience, hearing the music as they hear it. In a sense I take on the responsibility of the overall soundscape, whether or not it’s mine to take, and I invest in its care and quality of life. So, there’s that goal of contributing a worthy addition to the preexisting collection of soundscapes in the world.

And, I think there will always be a small element of disbelief that I’m actually engaged in the process of making music or improvising with other musicians. Not that I think that I’m getting away with anything, but that I have an outlet for my particular method of selecting and presenting sounds and that my sensibility and vision have coincided so well with a community of like-minded musicians. So, part of it for me is spelunking deep and wide into the performance to showcase and celebrate those few intense moments of group-mind and audience connection. Is that visionary? Ecstatic? If there is such a thing as a humble and quiet ecstasy, then, yes.

G.

Bach + Mantione: Discussion Excerpt

Posted in Duos, Themes, Transcripts with tags , , , , , , on May 19, 2012 by glenncbach
mantione_atwater_01a

Mantione @ Atwater

Excerpt from discussion that took place at Atwater Crossing, Los Angeles, 5 May 2012

Bach: So, you could say, if you’re talking about broad categories, that the electroacoustic thread is stronger for you right now than the musical. Electroacoustic, acousmatic, sound-based…

Mantione: The thread, I would say, at the moment…

Bach: Not to the exclusion…

Mantione: No, I would never exclude anything. The thing about acoustic music is it takes more than myself, obviously. That’s a good thing, or it could be a very bad thing [laughs]. Depending on who the other people are. But, those other people are needed for that whole process to complete itself. That’s not always easy. In fact, it’s mostly not easy, depending on your circumstances. And there’s the immediate feedback of computer music…you can imagine what the notes sound like, and play them, and hear them, and maybe with MIDI even play back some of it…you can have some kind of fairly certain auralization of what you want, but it never, ever is like that, ever…

Bach: No.

Mantione: As opposed to computer music, which is.

Bach: What you hear is what you get.

Mantione: It’s it. Certainly you are at the mercy of the speakers or your headphones, but, other than that, it is what it is.

Bach: It’s tape music. Get up, press ‘play,’ sit back.

Mantione: That’s right.

Bach: And now we can take computer music, electroacoustic music, and mess with the parameters while it’s being auditioned, performed.

Mantione: Did you see this thing, lately, a call for live coding? People actually go on stage and type in code in real time as the thing is generated.

Bach: We did a little bit of that in Milwaukee with the Milwaukee Laptop Orchestra. I didn’t, I’m not a programmer or coder. But some of the guys are heavily into Pure Data. So they were writing patches in the moment and rearranging stuff. They’d given a bunch of patches to the group, so the group had a series of basic patches that formed the basis of the network, using the connectivity to run PD and have everyone’s output shared. But I believe there were some who were writing the patches in real time.

Mantione: That to me is not as impressive as the coding. Because I can’t code either. I would be amazed if someone just typed in lines of code. You can slap together a Max patch. Writing a Max patch really isn’t that difficult. But, coding. I can’t even type. I’m a two-finger typer.

Bach: I appreciate all of that, but that’s not how I think.

Mantione: There’s a disconnect between the gesture and the result. But isn’t that a mental gesture? Isn’t it like, “I want this to happen.” There’s the gesture, it’s kind of an invisible gesture, and this is just your finger moving here.

Bach: Right.

Mantione: So, isn’t it still there?

Bach: Yeah. It’s extended.

Mantione: It’s extended.

Bach: It’s extended and less immediate.

Mantione: Right.

Bach: It’s not quite the Rube Goldberg contraption of trying to set up this elaborate structure to make a very simple thing happen. In a way it gets back to…if you’re going to be old school about it, pure, you’re controlling every aspect of it. I’m guilty of not wanting to know what’s under the hood. I like to have some presets and some buttons, where I slide this slider and it does this, and I’m not as interested in the code that says when you turn a pot it activates this circuit to add extra gain or resistance…an oscillator is then fed through these filters…it interests me abstractly, of course, metaphorically and just for the idea of it, but as a model for composing or performing, not so much. I’m not opposed to it. If someone else was working in that, I would be open to collaborating. Maybe Max would be different. I don’t know how different Max is from PD. I know that there are improvisers who set up Max patches that they use for live stuff, and for them it’s pretty intuitive. So, I’m not opposed to it.

Mantione: Well, you know there’s a whole other issue, performing live vs. not. That’s a whole other issue. I’ve been teaching this class, your class, Listening and Analysis, and we’ve been talking about, “okay, here’s this electronic tune or pop tune or whatever. Now, we’re hearing the recording, but if we went to hear this live would it be the same?” Most people agree that, no, it wouldn’t be the same. And I say, “would it be a different piece?” I don’t know what they think, but I think they’re two separate pieces.

Bach: Any time it’s broadcast it’s different.

Mantione: That’s true.

Bach: We’re in a different room. Okay, this R&B singer [from music playing in the background], we’re hearing it out of [turns around to point at the speakers at the end of the lounge] the P.A. at a reduced volume, it’s a completely different piece if we were to hear this at a club or a party or on a ‘hi-fi.’

Mantione: Right. I remember one of the first concerts I’d ever gone to was Chicago, “25 or 6 to 4,” one of my favorite guitar solos, ever, and I went to that concert expecting to hear that perfect guitar solo the same way I heard it a million times, and when it didn’t happen it was disappointing, and kind of an awakening to me, that, okay, live music is different from recordings [laughs]. Now the bifurcation has happened. And so, with that in mind, the reason I bring it up, is that each one takes a different kind of technique that is very different, and you cannot expect that if I can make music that I really love in non-real time, that I can do the same thing in real time. I cannot do it. I cannot do it as well, I’ll tell you that right now. Because I haven’t done it as much.

Bach: Right.

Mantione: Some people take that into account and they say, “well, it’s live,” and in the back of my mind I’m thinking, “okay, it’s live.” Is that a value-added thing? Or should it be meaningless as far as whether it’s good, the sonic result? And I think it should be meaningless, at least as far as what I do. It’s either good or it isn’t, you know? If it’s live, then you fucked up live [laughs].

Bach: Right.

Mantione: That’s not an excuse, in other words. You know what I mean?

Bach: Yes. And I think by keeping those separate…and I try to get away from categorization, this is this and this is that, but sometimes it’s good to have…

Mantione: Two worlds.

Bach: Okay, here is the stuff that I can do in the studio, in the box, with this elaborate, intimate, excruciatingly detailed control over pitch, timbre, time, EQ, stereo image, that you can really only do as a composer, as someone who is setting out to do this very definitive thing. Then, live, what happens when you have to wait for something to render? Do you keep it silent? Do you play something else in the meantime? So, we’re talking about the gesture, the extended gesture, and the gesture in the box is a different mechanism than the live. With the live there is the performative aspect to it, there’s a tendency to want to keep the machinery running, you don’t want to screw it up. “Oops, I need to make this right, I need to keep the sound going, I need to have this narrative chugging along.” And in the studio there’s no one watching. So you can take as much time as you want, hit ‘save,’ go read a book, do something else, come back a few days later, and pick up exactly where you left off.

Mantione: Do you prefer one or the other at this point in your life?

Bach: I’m more… [trails off]

Mantione: Let me ask you this. Which would you say you’re better at doing?

Bach: I don’t know if I can answer that.

Mantione: You can’t answer that.

Bach: I started doing both, performing as a DJ with vinyl records, cassette tapes, CDs, doing these sound collages of other people’s work, samples and montage, then simultaneously working with digital audio for the first time and making these, I didn’t know what it was called at the time, but electroacoustic, acousmatic music. But the two never met. I would either perform improvised sound collages or I would compose my own stuff. And then I started to actually perform my own work. Sort of slip it in. At some point that took over. So, they originated from different sources, from different wells, and I think at one time there was a criss-cross, but I think that they still are originating and being fed from different sources. There’s overlap. But, when I’m performing I’m still thinking about this DJ thing. The selector. Mixing two things, overlapping them, transitioning, having this sort of linear…

Mantione: Continuity.

Bach: Yes, continuity. And in the studio it tends to be a little more vertical. I mean there’s still obviously a linear aspect to it—sound exists in time—and I will compose things in the box, these units, or structures, little snippets or samples to then be performed as modules that I can then…so there’s a definite relationship, but I can’t say if I prefer one or the other, or if I’m better at one or the other.  I don’t know if they’re two sides of the same coin. I don’t know if they are bifurcated. I don’t know.

Mantione: I think they’re two different skills. That’s funny, I still play guitar. But I don’t play what I write. I play jazz and blues because that’s what I was brought up with. And I still love using the instrument to do that. And to improvise. I would suck if someone stuck notes in front of me and asked me to…or even recording the guitar, I would suck. But, playing live, jamming with other instruments, that’s where I’m great with the guitar. Not with the computer. Why? Because that’s what I practice. And that’s what I’ve done over a gazillion hours.

Bach: Right.

Mantione: And I think this is where I have a big problem with so much of what I hear in an improvisational setting, with electronics especially, is that people think that if they can make weird sounds, that they can improvise.

Bach: Yeah, that that’s enough.

Mantione: That that’s enough. It’s not. And I don’t care if it’s a stomp box. If you haven’t spent many, many hours at figuring out all the nuances of that stomp box, what happens in all these situations, you don’t know that instrument. Don’t pretend that you do because you don’t. It’s obvious. And I think that’s what I hear a lot.

Bach: That’s interesting you say that. I tend to share that opinion in some regards, but looking at it from my perspective as someone who’s trying to make sounds in interesting ways, whether I’m…I don’t know if I’m illustrating an idea or just hearing these sounds in context and then immediately trying to figure out how to place them. Rather than, “I’m going to play this note as an execution of this thought, or this mental image I had, or this idea that I want to put this sound here.” So, in a way I’m reacting to a lot of the sounds that come out. I want to keep open, for me, the idea that I can take an instrument, an acoustic instrument, and use it to generate sounds that I may not be in control of, to then, in the live moment, have some kind of reaction to that and make it work somehow. That’s the challenge. I can play some very basic notes and chords on the guitar, but I would by no means call myself a guitarist. I would never pick up a guitar in an improv setting and say “I’m going to play the guitar and do this.” I could set up the guitar and put some mics on it and pluck a string and see if that can fit into the context of something else. Most often, though, I’ll just use the instrument beforehand in the studio to create some textures that I’ll then play later. So I’m playing recordings of myself manipulating the instrument.

Mantione: Well, I don’t know about you, but when you write in the box, as you’re saying…when I do that, it’s not code. I use Max, but I write patches in Max that I can perform on. Whether it’s a live situation, or whether I’m writing a fixed media piece, it’s still performing. In essence, I create a hundred improvisations on a Max patch and pick out the jewels. Which you can’t do live. But, what’s interesting is it’s still improvisation. I mean, I don’t pre-configure things and say, “Okay, hit the button and let it play.” I’m moving things around and adjusting parameters. Or, if I do hit the button I have some ideas in mind that the parameters have been changed, they will shift, they will randomly move…

Bach: Or, knowing later, you can then manipulate the recording of that…

Mantione: Yes. And also, a lot of this randomness, the randomization is one of the greatest sources of discovery.

Bach: Right.

Mantione: How could you possibly discover something you already know? [laughs]