Wednesday, April 19, 2006

30 Second Spots - The Laptop in Live Performance?

For about a week it seemed that every music review I read said "And s/he used a laptop." The repeated mentions of laptops in concert provided the inspiration for the title. The music itself is something else altogether.

click here to hear The Laptop in Live Performance?
Copyright © March 14, 2006 by David Ocker - 35 seconds

No doubt you can do a lot of different very musical things with a laptop in performance. But the mere presence of electronic equipment to process live sound seems totally unremarkable to me. Over thirty years ago, as a graduate composition student, I even took a formal course in using live electronics in performance.

For that course I wrote a piece called "Voluntary Solitude" for clarinet (me) and live electronics. It involved large panels of Buchla synthesizers which modified the clarinet sound via envelope followers and modulation. The clarinet was the only sound source. I performed it from the center of a large tape loop. It uses a melody inexpertly stolen from Stravinsky.

Voluntary Solitude had only one attempted performance in front of an audience, on a recital I gave as a graduate clarinet student. The performance was a total, complete abject failure. The electronics just didn't work - I never found out why. No sound came out. I started it twice or three times while the audience fidgeted - and finally went on to the next piece. (The complete program is reproduced below.)

A few days later I recorded Voluntary Solitude in a studio and I thought it was completely forgotten. But when I was discussing laptops in performance with my friend John Steinmetz, he still remembered it. And now
the recording of Voluntary Solitude is available here for you to hear.

But first ask yourself, "How many composers do you know who would post recordings of their worst student compositional failures on the Internet for just anyone to hear?" I'd be surprised if this becomes a trend.

click here to hear Voluntary Solitude
Copyright © 1975 & 2006 by David Ocker - 784 seconds

Here's a picture of PLOrk "the Princeton Laptop Orchestra" just after nap time. (I'm glad they didn't call it PLO.) Read about and listen to them here.

Here's an academic article about Laptops in Live Performance that I didn't have the patience to read. Would anyone who reads this blog use the word "Performativity"? Not me.

Here's a video of a woman, apparently a respected academic, giving vocal commands to her blender in its native language.

If you're looking for a better piece of music with a question mark in the title, one that involves no live electronics, I recommend Naval Aviation in Art? by Frank Zappa. You can download it here for one thin dime.

Frank wrote that Naval Aviation in Art? "shows a sailor-artist, standing before his easel, squinting through a porthole for inspiration, while wiser men sleep in hammocks all around him"

Yes, to be a great artist you have to go without sleep. And avoid the word performativity.

Here's the program of my 1975 Clarinet recital:

Capriccio (1946) clarinet solo by H. Sutermeister
Madrigal I pour clarinette seule (1958) by Henri Pousseur
Discourses (1968) for solo clarinet by Harold Oliver
In Delius' Sleep (1974) clarinet & piano by Hal Budd
B,A,B,B,IT,T (5/16/66) clarinet with extensions by Donald Martino
Voluntary Solitude (1975) clarinet and electronics by David Ocker
Suite from L'Histoire du Soldat (1918) for clarinet, violin, piano and percussion by Igor Stravinsky
with Cody Gillette, pianist, Eeda Shenkman, violinist, Paul Anceau, percussionist, Leonid Hambro, pianist - "and the spirit of Donald Buchla"
UPDATE!!! - Here's a BBC video news clip showing a more popular form of live electronic music from 1975.

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1 comment :

Manc said...

Great post. Its a touchy subject among many musicains and music lovers. In a way using computers in live music is seen with the same stigma turntables had in the 80's and look how well they did. I've started a website dedicated to using computers in live performance. I want to show that the stigma behind laptop gigs is uncalled for and to help people who use them. I'm trying to build a community there so if do use laptops live show your support.

using laptops in live music