The first performance with our new limb-mounted Wiimotes instrument which we’re calling ‘Gaia’ took place in the Blue Room of the Conservatorium van Amsterdam last Friday 7th May. Heartfelt thanks are due to Jos Zwannenburg for going the extra mile and making this possible. Videos of the 3 pieces have now been uploaded to YouTube:
The event had an extra degree of complexity, over and beyond that of our own making, because our performance was interpolated with live episodes from Kingston University in London, mainly featuring chamber choir, the whole thing being up-linked and broadcast on the Web as a multi-media opera “The Hero’s Journey”. I am not certain how well our sound and picture was streamed as there seemed to be some issues with the server right up to the last minute. But that was out of my hands and my focus was solely on getting a good sound and everything working for Nina Silvert in the Blue Room. The 3 short pieces went very well and I felt Nina found new subtleties and fluidity within the set-ups which are technically quite complex. She has a lot to remember but I felt that the technology was not in the foreground here, as she continues to develop an increasingly intuitive relationship with the instrument.
Technically, I was very pleased that there were no issues with the Bluetooth rig at all and all 4 Wiimotes behaved themselves..! This was something of a relief after our own earlier issues with Bluetooth (and the sharp intake of breath from more experienced Wii-moters, which I’d noticed whenever I’d brought up the subject of reliability in performance) . In fact during the sound-check I walked right round the Blue Room, including the high balcony, checking the effective range of the Wii’s pairing and was pleasantly surprised that the connection remained. I suppose I’m tempting fate for next time by saying this..
This was a completely new area of performance practice for both of us (I’d never worked with accelerometers, JunXion or wireless systems before this) and I feel we’ve achieved a fair amount in quite a short time, learned a lot and are now packed with ideas about where we can make improvements and create new work!
A few words about the concept in these 3 pieces. The sound material had to include the vocal aria from Villa Lobos’ popular “Bachianas Brasieleras No.5″. This is because the whole multi-media work including the London elements was based on the emergence of this tune. It did lead us to make certain decisions which we probably wouldn’t have made if our performance was “free-standing” so to speak; but on the other hand it helped us make some basic decisions early on – specifically, that the pieces would use almost entirely vocal sounds – mostly Nina’s own in Thresholds 1 and 2 changing to that of Kingston student Hannah Rose Tristram in Threshold 3. So quite early on we had the idea that the pieces would ‘reconstruct’ the popular aria from fragments of vocal tone, like someone struggling to find a voice again after some catastrophic breakdown . The process ends with us hearing the complete melody, but still a bit dislocated, achieved by Nina ‘stepping through’ the phrases with her left arm. Many thanks to Frank Balde at STEIM for explaining how to make JunXion do that!
The 4 wiimotes – one per arm and leg – are conditioned by JunXion to apply a host of transformations to sound files which reside in an Ableton Live set. As well as the parameters and mix of transformations on these files (granular delays, freeze reverbs) there is also the opportunity for Nina to interact directly with a longer pre-recorded sequence running through each track, sometimes wrestling it into mangled distortion before letting it emerge (Threshold 2) or more directly gating the signal, as with the (literally!) punch-in/out technique for the drones in Threhold 3.
By the way, the “Thesholds” are so named because they represent the 3 increasingly difficult challenges which Gaia has to meet and cross, within the 12 stages of the ‘Hero’s Journey’. The other 9 stages were created and transmitted live from Kingston University (songs and choral pieces) and seen and heard by the Amsterdam audience on a screen, between our pieces.
In the next blog entry I’ll summarise how the necessary methods and techniques of JunXion dveloped during my mentoring sessions in 2 short residencies at STEIM; going to Bluetooth hell and back; how Nina Silvert and I found our collaborative path, and how this instrument will develop from here.