Thursday, December 30, 2010

Rehearsing interactive computer music for classical performers

I've been on hiatus from the blog, as I've been organizing home parties, inviting close friends for dinners, house-guests, the usual holiday fair plus the kids out of school, and the NYC blizzard which doesn't help :)   I'm also working on a MaxMSP program for cellist Joel Krosnick this week, for him to perform Ralph Shapey's Solo, Duo, Trio.  Joel approached me earlier in the year, since he wanted to perform this work interactively.  The piece is written for solo cello, over-dubbing twice.  He has been performing it with the recording of himself playing the 1st and 2nd parts, but Shapey explicitly said that he wanted this to be done live.

Since the piece is entirely written, it probably is a good candidate to "score follow" to make this piece interactive.  But score following, as I described in my earlier post, to me is rather unmusical performance wise.  For the computer to "follow" all the notes and beats in order to accompany a human player seems quite unnecessary and too complicated since the human performer can perfectly "follow" the sound itself than following the score, which is just the representation of what is actually happening with the "flow" of the music.  So I'm doing something a lot simpler, and it is not too difficult to do technically.  But rather, I'm spending a lot of time on rehearsal schemes.

Since Joel will be alone on stage, and there will be no human assistance on or off the stage, AND he has no hands so to speak--he is playing the cello--he needs complete autonomy.   That goes without saying for the performance patch, but what I'm trying to do is for him not to have to use both hands to touch the computer even during the rehearsing of the piece.  He has his instrument on his left hand as I do my violin, so the only possibility to touch the computer is the right hand, or even one finger of the right hand while he is still holding the bow.   I'm trying to make the system that's versatile as possible for him that only thing he will have to do is just to type a few keys to rehearse, not even scroll the mouse, drag and click the mouse or anything like that.  While I was at IRCAM this summer, the first thing I asked the team to do was to consider me hand-less; many computer programs require the operator to use two hands or type, and that's not good enough for a string player interacting with a computer, not to mention on stage, but also during the rehearsal. I think.

Since I primarily program for myself up until now, I don't have to be so caring about the performer's needs and I can put up with my own un-elegant programming :)  But this time around, and for my new piece for the Cassatt Quartet, I am learning to take more care of the interface that musicians, who are not used to operating interactive systems, will be able to use it with ease.   The system I'm working on, Joel could rehearse from where ever in the piece he wants with a stroke of a key or two, without having to put down his bow.   I'm trying to write the Max patch so that there will be no scene where he needs two hands to touch the computer.  Well we will see if it works!  :)

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