Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Shackle Stick

Music, at its best, is a mystery for the listener. A dose of uncertainty about exactly what is happening on stage can turn an average performance into a sublime listening experience.  These days, high technology can be used to intensify this aura of musical mystique better than just about anything.

Electronic music technology abounds in the form of portable sound processing equipment (as represented by laptops, tablets and even smartphones). Composers and performers are using these digital tools to create and explore as yet unknown musical worlds.  They produce new sounds, new textures and new ways of playing together.  A listener may not be able to identify exactly how the music is created, but it is clear that the performers are doing it ... somehow.

One such group - a duet called Shackle, Anne LaBerge and Robert van Heumen - is on the cutting edge of such music voyages of discovery.   Here's their self-description.
Shackle is a band.  We make improvised music and use a computer system to structure our improvisations.
They describe their electronics as as
a cutting-edge digital cueing system which operates as a sometimes visible third member
a computerized communication system that proposes various compositional elements to each player, they can then choose whether or not to cooperate with the proposed material.
In other words, they're not telling us much.  What is clear is that it is some sort of "system".  The flute is played.  Sounds are modified electronically and also sampled for further modification.  We are told that there is improvisation - but it seems impossible to know what is planned and what is spontaneous.  A joystick is moved as if in some sort of game.  We watch as pedals are pushed and buttons poked.  We hear the sound change.

But we cannot predict the sounds we hear from the actions we see.  It is hard, even impossible, to find an answer when we wonder "How did they do that?"  Failing to find an answer for how the technology works opens up a possibility for a listener to seek out the mystery in the music.

Here's a short excerpt:

You can hear longer tracks of Shackle at Soundcloud or at the Shackle website.

Shackle is trying to raise a modest amount of money via Kickstarter to fund the distribution of their music.

They want to use a unique new medium - the USB stick.  The little beastie,  called The Shackle Stick, will contain video and photographs as well as an hour of music.  In an era when storing and listening to music on computer is increasingly the norm, someday sticks may well become a common format for sharing music.  But for now, it's a new idea.

Here's another video of Anne and Robert self consciously trying to stay relaxed on camera as they explain who they are, describe what their project is and ask for your support.

I signed up to support The Shackle Stick via Kickstarter. If you want to help these intrepid musical explorers go where no musician has gone before, then you too should consider supporting them.

A quarter century ago Anne and I played in an improvisation group, the Golia LaBerge Ocker Trio.  (There are three short improvs available for listening.)

Anne has already gone where no flutist has gone before.  Here's her website.  You can listen to her mysterious talents as flute soloist.  Mixed Meters recommends her recent album Speak on which she also tells stories.

Once Anne visited L.A. and was presented to a class of music students at CalArts by Vinny Golia.  You can watch event that here.

System Tags: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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