Martin Parker on Amble

On Sea longing

I'll leave the Amble to tell you more about the piece itself, only to say it has a very satisfying harmonic shape and some lovely colours in the electronics samples. The piece also features a special recording of a poem by Rev. Norman McDonald that gives the piece its title.

In order to trigger the samples, Amble put together a very well thought out patch that listens for particular frequencies in the viola part and sets-off sound files at the right time in the score. Using pitch detection implemented with Ted Apel's port of Miller Puckett's fiddle~ object, Ambel's system can detect the note the viola is playing and see if this matches what she is expecting, if there is a match, the next sound file in the list is played. I have to admit having used these kinds of methods before myself, I was skeptical that this would work, but Amble seemed to have thought of everything and it did work, as the piece moved forwards, lights would flash on her screen and files miraculously started playing, brilliant!

On Dóchas

Amble's second piece Dóchas, was not so straightforward, neither Amble's patch nor the one I designed as backup had been well thought through enough to work in a live situation. The score requires loop recording of very long stretches of audio and it demands that these be re-triggered on the next repeat exactly on the downbeat. The piece also demands some insane delay lines to throb alongside the live playing which adds further danger in a live context if the musicians are expected to remain synchronised with live recordings of themselves.

Almost complete inexperience of using loops in my own music meant I was more of a hindrance than a help to Amble. The problem I have with loops is that they tend to cause a disconnection between what is happening live and what is happening electronically. They also have the potential to cause musical problems; loops and click tracks don't offer space for the band to indulge a little over a quaver so performances with loops that a whole band have to stick to can feel flat, tame and tense. I definitely felt this happening today. There were a lot of musicians sitting around not doing too much and some frantic re-patching going on to help us realise the score.

As it stands now, the piece has some problems. The idea is to build up a series of 19 bar loops, starting with the bass, adding cello, viola then violin. As conceived though, once a musician has played a loop or two, they have nothing to do, which to me seems like a waste of musical talent. Rick also pointed out that a loop with more rhythmic material in is much easier to play with than a loop made of slow notes. Amble's next challenge is to find a way to keep the players busy, challenged and part of the piece all the way through. I have a feeling the answer lies with the delay lines. Musicians not playing could be asked to make live interjections on the melody that are fed into the delays system...

Despite its problems, I think we're all happy with the results of the rough mix Alex put together. I'll upload the patches I built for the piece soon.

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