Thursday, July 28, 2011

Machine Theory

But Sha Xin Wei is not Irish and the Euphonopen is far from being an intricate machine with all parts working away. What we have now is relatively simple.

The qualifier is needed, because what is simple now was complicated even five years ago. For example one similar project that might serve as Euphonopen (with no pen) is David Rokeby's Very Nervous System which he built for the first time in 1986, an amazing achievement at the time. His machine was made for generating sound while dancing - and drawing is a subset of dancing - and could be adapted for certain kinds of big drawings. However VNS, like the present Euphonopen, is very subjective: the sound it generates is based on what sounds good or interesting to David Rockeby. I would love to devise a piece for a drawing performer and VNS.

The present Euphonopen, nicknamed the EuP, is made for drawings that are page size (16" x 20") and it generates a set of parameters 72 times/second, that can then be programmed to generate sound. Its hardware is a Wacom tablet with a pen, a computer and speakers. It has possibilities, but the sound is only as interesting as we make it, so this is why a composer is indispensable at this stage.

Sha Xin Wei offered to have some of his grad students build other EuPs, which might not be using pens, to digitize the drawing movement, that is the dance of the drawing hand and generate sound. How interesting the sound would be remains to be seen.

Meanwhile "nulla dies sine linea" - not a day without a line - as the convict said, adding another stroke on the wall on which he kept count...

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Politics of Drawing

Here are a couple of thoughts about drawing and new technologies in, of all places, The Politics of the Family, R.D. Laing's 1969 CBC Massey Lectures, published in 1993 by The House of Anansi:

Take any piece of paper. Draw anything on it. Crumple it up. It is not all that easy to express precisely in what way the flat and the crumpled patterns are similar and differ.

You see how a signature stays more "the same" in a way a drawing does not.

And here, in R.D.Laing's words, is how Sha Xin Wei reacted to my explanation of the ultimate Euphonopen, the machine that will have learned to play or sing the way I draw...

As the proverbial Irishman said when shown an excessively intricate machine, all parts working away. Yes, I see it works in practice but does it work in theory?

Oh, and by the way, who is the the Prince de Ligne?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Signature OR Signatures

On Monday night Klaus Engel and I started to make a paper prototype of Signature, the piece I devised for Euphonopen and improvisational choir, with "user" created content - in this case, the signatures of the people attending a concert, and their names as said aloud by each of them (user is in quotation marks because I rather loathe the concept, but have not yet thought out a write-around).

The idea of the piece came from my observation that people who do not draw use the Euphonopen to make music with, that is to develop sound in time rather than to draw, developing a series of marks on a surface over a period of time, and incidentally generating sound. People who draw quickly get engrossed in the logic of mark making and let the sound fall where it may, but even they are not totally immune form the feedback lo created by the sound being generated by the marks. People who do not draw only get engrossed in the mark making when they write, but especially when they write their own name, and above all when they sign their name.

So the idea is to manipulate each person's name according to the way each person signs, creating a sort of choir of names (sign and sing!) The performance proper starts with the choir signing and saying each member's name as they assemble on the stage. The conductor will use the various signatures, both from the public and from the choir, as a graphic score, and the choir will spend some time with one or more names.

The question Klaus had is: so Nick Storring (who received a Canada Council commission grant to work on the piece) will take care of what the piece sounds like... but what will it look like?

Klaus and I passed his notebook back and forth, writing, drawing, making boxes, charts, stars, as if we were working on an exquisite corpse. At one point I looked up and said: we have to find out what groups of signatures usually look like - petitions, declaration, confessions - how have people traditionally arranged more than two or three signatures?