Archive for July, 2011

The Curve of the Earth (excerpt) 1

The Curve of the Earth (excerpt)


The Curve of the Earth
An electric score for soloist performing on a networked instrument with optional observations

The Curve of the Earth, is the new project that I’ve alluded to in a few posts earlier this year. This piece is a union of three elements: An Electric Score, a Network Instrument configuration and six optional Observations.

Electric Scores

An Electric Score is a score meant to work in concert with a live electronics setup.  Live Electronic configurations are rather score-like in and of themselves, in that a particular setup has it’s own characteristic behavior which the performer interacts withs.  They tend to be self-activating to some degree and can operate independently (though often predictably) without much user input.  Electric Scores are thus designed to influence this user input but are far from the strict guidelines of a traditionally notated score in which symbols require a consistent reaction. Electric Scores are a metascore that is to say it is a set of rules used to generate scores. It has few prescriptions on what the scores should be as they depend on the associated live electronics setup but it does describe a set of parameters that insures that the generated scores are all still an Electric Score.

The Curve of the Earth is a graphic score constructed of brushed ink on a long scroll of rice paper.  The scroll is quite long -30 or 40 feet long. The ink is usually quite lightly brushed on and the folds, wrinkles and other imperfections in the paper are a vital part of the score.  The score is meant to influence the live electronic setup, so it is not that case that you are turning a knob, or moving a slider in reaction to any of these markings. They are there to influence how you are trying to guide the setup. How this is done is left to the performer, but it definitely behooves the performer to be pretty familiar with both their instrument and the section of the score they are to play.

A Network Instrument

The Network Instrument in questions


The Network Instrument

I’ve written about the Network Instrument quite a bit in these pages (primary articles here and here) so I won’t delve much into the theory. I used various network instrument configurations in the Eleven Clouds project and as I stated in the interview I took part in w/r/t that project, I learned a lot from that project about how I’d setup a network for extended performance. This network is the direct result of that experimentation and experience. There were several elements that I felt I wanted to add into the setup and since the conclusion of that project I’ve made a lot of progress in finding and integrated those components into my base configuration.  In general I tried to use existing items where I could adapt them as opposed to just acquiring new objects, as that way I was able to test my theories without accumulating more stuff.

Network Instrument detail

The Network Instrument detail


In this case here I’m using the Nord Micro-modular primarily for EQ which with the Doepfer controller I’m able to make a fairly fine grained adjustments to the overall sound. This has worked well enough that I could see adding a dedicated unit for this, thus freeing up the Micro-modular for other uses.  The Rat Shack Mixer I’m using more or less as a matrix mixer and I definitely would like to replace it with the real deal – it’d be a lot smaller for one and could easily add a few more patch points. The major addition to this setup is the Jomox T-Resonator – this device is almost like a physical manifestation of aspects of Network Instrument theory.  The unit combines filters, some simple effects, internal feedback and most importantly it can modulate between it’s two channels.  It has a nice degree of unpredictability to it and after months of experimenting with it, it has really added to this setup. This network is highly (though far from totally) connected and that has really added to the possibilities.

This network allows for a variety of adjustments both in patching, connections and interfaces which I can utilize for varying parts of the score. This is vital as the score, in its section about the electronics, specifies that the network should not be fixed, that it should evolve along with the score.

Each performance of the piece should have the network especially considered for it. Which isn’t to say it should be a new network for each performance but that the section of the score that is to be played should be considered in what is to be played. Likewise the previous portion should be considered and a small section of a recording of it could even be added as a sound source at the beginning of a new section.


Observation 3

Observation 3 (for percussion) (excerpt)


Optional Observations

There are six “observations”  that are separate one page scores that can be performed simultaneously with any portion of the score. In the course of a complete performance they can be performed any number of times in concert with the primary score. At any given time no more than two ‘observations’ can be made. Over the course of a complete performance the tendency should be for the bulk of the time to be without observations and of course none need be made.

Observations can be made from any sound source within the specified constraints, but a network instrument, If two of them are occurring simultaneously they should be different instruments.  The material on the pages should be interpreted as a Musical Pattern in that a duration for the page should be determined in advance (in collaboration with the Electric Score performer) and that the silences between material should be consistent within this time. The observations are printed on clear transparencies which should be overlaid onto the Electric Score (the same scroll that the primary performer is used, unrolled to where the observers are. If there is not enough score left to do this, then no observations can be made). The observations are interpretations of the intersection of the primary score and the material on the transparency. Material is not to be repeated.

Observation 1 – for a stringed instrument
Observation 2 – for any sound source
Observation 3 – for percussion
Observation 4 – for any sound source
Observation 5 – for bowed strings
Observation 6 – for percussion


The Curve of the Earth (excerpt) 5

The Curve of the Earth (excerpt)

Performance and Recordings

[The Curve of the Earth] should be performed sequentially, that is to say each performance takes up where the last one stops. Each performance should perform as much of the score as the allotted time allows but the overall pace should be sedate.  Each section should be then marked and dated with the performance.  Any recordings of any parts of the score should include the length and time of the score played. I.e.:

The Curve of the Earth [00’00”-05’30” / 00:00:00-01:09:47]

As the above excerpt from the instructions indicates, The Curve of the Earth, is meant to be played in its entirety as opposed to choosing a section to play. However it is not required to be performed in one single occaison, though of course if one could devote the time to it, one could.  It is meant to be played at a deliberate pace, to allow the network instrument to reveal itself.  For as I stated above, this score is a overlay on top of this network – the network is the score. And the network should shift and change as the score shifts and change. So really it is expected to be done in multiple performances, picking up where one has left off. It is hard to determine how long it would take to perform at this point, since it is unperformed and of course this will vary by performer. In the end I don’t think it is important, except that it is meant to be played at a rather sedate pace. It should live.

From the perspective of a listener perhaps the details of these elements aren’t important and there is also a risk of the music, once finally experienced, not really living up to any sort of lofty claims.  But as I stated from the outset I want to more or less document the entire process of this project, to lay out what it is that is trying to be done.  This post describes the score and some of the process; look for further posts that describe more of the ideas and concepts behind it.  Ideally also performances should begin at some point, but life events may put those off for some time.  A performance of this piece is pretty liberally defined and recording in ones living room qualifies. So perhaps I’ll try to get a recording of the first few inches made before I have to pack everything away for a forthcoming move – keep an eye out for that to be posted here. But ideally in the future the bulk of the piece will be performed live. Hopefully more on that later.


“Farewell, to the fantastic breakfasts, free every morning and there they were, waiting on you with the papaya, mango, and pineapple like I’d never tasted before. Farewell, to the Thai maids with the king-sized cotton sheets and the big king-sized beds. Farewell, to the fresh meat flown in from America, daily. Roast potatoes, green beans and roast lamb, at 110 degrees under a circus tent, according to British Equity. Farewell to the drivers with the tinted glasses and the Mercedes with the tinted windows. Farewell to the cakes, teas and ices every day exactly at four o’clock. Farewell to those beautiful smiling people. Farewell to that single, fresh rose in a vase on my bureau every day. And just as I was climbing into that first-class seat, and wrapping myself in a blanket, just as I was adjusting my pillow behind my head, and having a sip of that champagne, and just as I was bringing down and adjusting my Thai purple sleep mask… I had an inkling, I had a flash… I suddenly thought I knew what it was that had killed Marilyn Monroe…” – Spalding Grey, Swimming to Cambodia

AMM at the Old Church

Going through my archive of concert ephemera (see previous post) I found the booklet they handed out at the sole AMM show I was able to attend. I scanned this and put it online (click on the pics to see the original scans) and I have to say it’s a nice addition to my memories of this show.  I sent this short review of the show to the Zorn-List the day after the show:

I saw AMM at the Old Church in Portland OR, Wednesday April 11th.
This was my first time seeing AMM, and I really only have just begun
listening to them (thanks to this list for this introduction!). The
Old Church was a great place, with beautiful stained glass and a
stunning painted pipe organ (alas that never got played with) Only a
few reference lights were on in the church, otherwise it was quite
dark. The acoustics were great and the audience was very respectful.

I found the show to unbelievably hypnotic and entrancing. They played
with layers of sound, and moments of absolute silence. The ability
these guys have to entice these sounds of their instruments was
really unparalleled. I loved how Keith Rowes’s guitar just seems on
the edge of chaos at all times, and he bows and taps and gently
evokes waves of sound out of it. The way he could bow the whammy bar,
while just touching the strings or gently brushing the eBow over
them–incredible Then the radio…often just added white noise, then
the random bits of dialog or music. I thought there was a decent
amount of radio used during the show, more than on most of the
recordings I have heard.

Prevost’s percussion work was really unlike any other I have heard.
He really is adding a lot more sounds and tonalities, and is
completely unconcerned with rhythmic grounding. His gear included a
snare, a huge bass drum laying flat on the floor, a couple of other
drums and a good dozen cymbals and a gong. He also had lots of loose
cymbals or cymbals with handles. He bowed symbols, he played with the
squawks of his chair, he did this fantastic thing where he would
balance a medium sized cymbal on the snare and would bow the
cymbal….incredible. He would take the loose cymbals and he would
set them on the huge bass drum and then play the drum or bow the
cymbals. The bass drum would add extra amplification and
reverberation. This also worked to great effect when he would place
a bunch of his sticks on the bass drum and then play it with mallets.

John Tilbury played a normal (baby? ) grand piano and had a metal bar
that he used to damp the strings. At times he would use it like a
slide while he plucked the strings, or leave it laying one the
strings while he played. He also bowed the strings. He played a lot
of sparse notes and chords. At one point he go up and walked off.
During a quieter moment you realized that he was playing a piano in a
choir room or something next door. This sparse John Cage-esque piano
just coming out of nowhere, that would disappear as the others got
louder was fantastic. The relatively “normal” sounds of the piano had
a wonderful grounding or contrasting effect to the other players.
Which is a stunning occurrence considering how sparse, non-melodic
and nearly aleatoric his playing was.

The show ended with Rowe fading out static/white noise over a period
of about 5min. They played about 1’15” total. The audience managed to
wait out the full fadeout at the end, until he had switched off his
stuff before applauding.

This was one of the best shows I have seen. The music was utterly
captivating, and was entirely engrossing to watch these guys play. If
you closed your eyes though, it was like being in a dream world. I
had driven a long ways to get to this show and was plenty tired, but
listening with my eyes closed, I really had that just before sleep
feel. Sounds were hard to spatially place, and would often drive my
eyes open to try to see just what was making that sound. The way the
three of them played together, totally synched, no solos is so far
beyond most avant shows I have seen.


AMM at the Old Church inside