Amble Skuse on Amble

"I think this would work … if only I had a string quartet, and two amazing technical guys to try it out …. ".

I thought I'd use this blogging opportunity to revisit the intentions of this workshop, of these pieces and to see how we approached them and then the results of that approach. As with most things, there is more than one way to skin this cat, several options, avenues and strategies for each creative idea.

At this stage in my musical development I'm working with exactly this notion. I have a theory, an observation which I wish to render musically. This rendering could work in various ways, and so, right now, I am experimenting with these. This rendering of an idea through different compositional avenues creates pieces which have little to connect them aurally but hopefully a concept will be expressed, with greater or lesser success in each one. (For more information on this idea, please check my website

I had sent two pieces to Mr McFalls chamber, one of which I thought would be more technically challenging and one of which was more harmonically pleasing, both of which incorporated elements of traditional music and live electronics. We began the day looking at Sea Longing.

I wanted to use the workshop to explore dual aspects

  1. To explore the parameters of EQ frequencies and effects in the samples to compliment the string ensemble.
  2. Explore the use of triggers within MAXMSP, so that the musicians have control over the timing of different samples.

Alex Fiennes worked on the first part, adding delicate reverbs and very gentle phasing to support the mixing of the live instruments with the sample sounds.

The second aspect was explored using a MAX/MSP patch. I built the patch so that the samples would be triggered via a live 'listening gate'. The gate opens for 2 seconds either side of the exact cue time and the patch is told to listen to a performer. If a certain note is heard within this 'gate' then the sample is triggered automatically. This approach only really works with a soundscape style piece as you have to build in a certain degree of flexibility.

The patch was listening to the viola part, firstly because the technical object does not tend to pick up lower frequencies as reliably, and secondly because the viola is a constant throughout the piece. We had to make a number of gentle tweaks, setting input levels and ensuing that the dynamics were brought up sufficiently. But fairly soon we had the patch triggering samples based on the viola players sound.

Towards the end of the piece, there was a sense that the strings abandon the electronics too suddenly. Martin gave some wonderful suggestions for approaching this, and we experimented with a number of different options. We settled on the strings holding their notes and playing down towards the bridge until sul ponte. This effect gave the sense of the string parts ending but with just enough sonic relationship to balance and tether the electronics.

The second piece approached the idea of traditional and electronics from a completely different angle with Uaimh na h-Àrd-Eaglaise

The technical challenges for this piece were mainly

  1. Using a max patch to capture live sound and loop.
  2. Experimenting with delay parameters in a live instrumental setting.

Both Martin Parker and I had built MAX patches to explore these two ideas. My patch was based on the instruments adding their loops individually, starting with the bass loop. We had some issues with the technology, well, with my patching! Again, there are so many ways of doing this we had to keep trying new approaches until we found something which worked. Initially my patch relied on the instruments building up from the bass into looping patches, with the time of the loop set by the initial bass loop. However, as the bass loop was made up of longer notes it proved very difficult to build on top of this. Rick's excellent suggestion was to try to build the tower of loops on top of something moving more quickly, as this gives more stability. So with lightning speed Martin tweaked us a patch which began with the 4th time through, meaning all four players would be playing, and making it more stable as a loop base. This idea worked, but triggering the loops via a mouse proved to be unreliable (or was it my reactions?). As Rick has lots of experience of triggering loops we volunteered him to be in charge, through a pedal. This time the loops were bang on.

The delays were set up through a midi interface. Unfortunately we had needed to spend time on getting the loops patch correct that we weren't able to use the box of toys. My idea had been that the musicians have 'control' over the delays (or just get to play about with them) once they have finished looping their part. We had dance mats, rollerball mice, games controllers and all sorts of fun boxes for the players to get going with, but sadly just not enough time to try it. The delays were added by using the midi interface and altering the delay times, feedback times and amount of delays in the mix.

So, I guess I've been quite dry and techie here, but hopefully, as composer I can give some insight into what was meant to happen, and how we made it happen. I haven't of course mentioned how wonderful the space is, how beautiful the view, how friendly the quartet, Alex and Martin were, how talented the performers, how knowledgable the tech guys, how great Jo's soup is, how welcome I was made to feel and what an amazing opportunity this has been. If you'd like to read more of this personal viewpoint please do check my website blog .

I do feel incredibly privileged to have had this opportunity, it is a composers dream. "I think this would work … if only I had a string quartet, and two amazing technical guys to try it out …. ".

Amble and Martin

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