Introducing Breezeway, a synthy pop project I’m saving up for when I finish the PhD.
This is Memory Walk, a video/audio piece I’m working on as part of my PhD project Listening Music, presented at the Australasian Computer Music Conference last week (9/7/2014). It’s one of a set of sound art works that aim to encourage the listener to listen self-critically. Memory Walk aims to foreground the relationship between perception, memory, and imagination of the future.
Last weekend The Morrisons played our first ever cover: Funkadelic’s epic Maggot Brain, with ridiculously self indulgent guitar action from yours truly. Enjoy?
This is a piece I made for Birrarung Marr’s Federation Bells installation. It makes use of the dynamic range made available by the recent refurbishment of the bells. This is an early demo version using samples of the bells. It has been played several times on the bells however circumstances haven’t permitted a higher quality recording (my schedule hasn’t allowed me to get out to the installation with a recorder when it’s been playing).
When making the piece I was trying to capture and compose out from my favourite bell-related sound: when a carillon collapses into dense cascades of notes.
The Morrisons have a new film clip, it goes exactly like this
Often it can be difficult to come up with a structure for a piece of music (or dance, film, other time based arts) that doesn’t conform to conventional models. That’s not to say that convention is bad per se, but it’s good to be able to choose how you’re going to do something, rather than say “oh, I’m writing something classical, it has to be a sonata or a rondo or a theme and variations”.
Below is a list of processes that occur in time, which processes like the elaboration of sound or movement ideas might follow, to help you generate the form for a piece, or to help you add some kind of structural subtext to other formal ideas of your own, or that are pre-existing.
This is a draft version of an idea I’m working on for a sound/video/performance piece.
In it I use a set of binaural microphones, and my body, as an instrument. I use the microphones backwards (i.e. facing into my ears as opposed to out of them), exploring the sounds of me touching my head as heard internally, and later in the piece the microphones become directly implicated as an instrument of sound production as I use them on the surface of my head/ears/face to make sounds.
This piece is sort of intended as a critique of the idea of binaural recording, a fascinating but flawed technology, and stereo imaging in general, both being ultimately one dimensional and only concerned with the ears, and not with the body’s other means of experiencing vibration.
Ideally I’d like this to be a live performance piece however I’m kind of terrified of the potential for these mics to produce feedback, having not yet had an opportunity to test them out with a PA system. For the moment it seem to work pretty well as video.
Apologies for my face! I’m not an actor or a model and there’s nothing staged about what my face is doing, although maybe there should be. That’s just how my face looks when I’m making sounds/playing instruments/composing.
Go here to listen to PBS’s archive of the Morrison’s performance on Fang It! on Thursday May 10.
We begin playing at about 31 or 32 minutes in.
I don’t know how long PBS are going to keep this available, I guess it depends on the size of their server. In the meantime enjoy!
By the way if you’ve ever wondered what I sound like playing guitar with the flu…that’s what I sound like.
Here’s one of the first songs I ever (co)wrote, definitely one of the first to get recorded (back in 2001). Former band mate John Fredericks just made it available on SoundCloud (I don’t have a copy any more).
It’s a hoot!
One of the reasons I began a degree in composition, aside from loving all the stuff that goes on under the hood of music, was that playing guitar was becoming a difficult and consistently painful thing to do and I wanted to ensure that whatever happened I’d still be able to make music.
By the end of my first year of undergrad I pretty much had to give the guitar up altogether. Luckily (?) I was able to get away with this as performance on my instrument wasn’t a front and centre concern for a composition degree however it was a far from ideal situation.
I had no one to blame but myself, I’d put myself in this situation through bad habits. My practice had been lazy, inefficient, bullish.
I took a year off guitar and in 2009 began a series of attempts to repair my ability to play. I went to a physio for a while, took a class in Alexander Technique at uni, began practicing yoga again, and between the skills I picked up I cobbled together a rehab program for myself.
Within a year I was able to play basic rock guitar a couple of times a week without significant pain, and I’ve been very carefully re-developing my guitar technique since then. In the last couple of months I’ve been able to resume practicing regularly, if I’m sensible with what I do I can practice every day.
What’s the point of me writing all this?
I’d just like to share a few lessons I’ve learned the hard way about playing instruments and about practice, and hopefully whoever reads this might avoid a couple of pitfalls.
Playing an instrument should be easy
That’s not to say it’s not complicated, or challenging. That’s the art of practice, learning to make progressively complicated tasks easy to execute. Amazing instrumentalists, Hendrix, Menuhin, whoever, play complicated music with ease. For you this might be a quick process or it might be a slow process, it depends. You might be lucky and slip naturally into a really efficient technique, or you might be really good at analysing problems of technique and be able to consciously self correct relatively quickly. If this doesn’t happen for you it doesn’t matter, enjoy what you are able to do with ease and look for small ways to refine and improve what you do. The worst thing you can do is force the matter.
For example a lot of people (myself included) get hung up on how fast they can play. A natural thing to do if an increase in speed doesn’t come easily is to tense up and try to force your hands to move faster. This will work for a while. However if the only way you know how to maintain this ability is through tension and force then you WILL burn out sooner or later, that’s guaranteed.
In this example the route to increased speed is smaller movements, with less energy expended.
Pain is your body telling you you’re doing something wrong
If any part of your technique is causing you pain stop, rest it and try something else. If it’s a pain that’s persistent for minutes or more after you stop, rest it for a day and try something else. If it’s a pain that doesn’t go away at all after you stop (this will happen after years of bad practice) rest it for as long as it takes for the pain to ease, in some cases this could be weeks or months. You need to rest anything causing you pain. You have pain for a very good reason, it’s built into your body at a very primal level and it’s a vital survival tool. Anyone who tells you to “play through” pain doesn’t know what they’re talking about, and they’re on the path to disaster themselves. Follow at your peril.
The only instance in which pain is not something to take too seriously is when you first begin playing an instrument and get some stinging on your skin where you need to form a callus. Even in this instance you need to allow the skin sufficient time to toughen up.
Practice how you intend to perform
A lot of people will adopt a different physical posture, tone, volume level, etc. practicing and performing. If you perform playing standing up and with a broad dynamic range then practice playing standing up with a broad dynamic range. If you practice and perform differently then you’re learning to play in two different ways, you’re essentially learning two instruments, doubling your workload. It will take you longer to improve, and any technical gains that you achieve in your practice may take a while to translate across to performance or may not translate at all.
Only play if you really want to
This one may seem a little silly, practicing an instrument takes a lot of energy and time, but I’ve met a lot of people studying an instrument at university level, who are really good at what they do, who play an instrument…because they play an instrument. They get to the end of it and find themselves at a loose end, and not really wanting to play any more. If this is you, save your time and energy for something you really care about. You’re a very capable, intelligent person, and you could be doing something far more satisfying with your time. Inertia is a pretty tawdry form of motivation, find a better reason, or find something better to do with yourself. And don’t beat yourself up over the effort you’ve already put into it, who knows you may come back to it some day with a new perspective, and if you do your insight will probably make it easier and more rewarding.