Huge thanks to everyone who participated in CHIPS last week. We had great presentations, great discussions, and great music – thus a very enjoyable and stimulating event. As promised I’m posting up the major themes that emerged so we can use them for ongoing debate:
- Co-ordination/interaction of people with people, people with machines, machines with people
- Creativity, surprise, and expectation
- Performance shaping and strategy, and the relationship of these to, and in, improvisation
- Deception and honesty
- Description and representation (of many things, e.g. time, ensembles, music)
Videos of the event will be on the COW web pages over the next month or so (we’ll be in touch with speakers for permission) and I look forward to the ongoing debate both here, and at next year’s event (tba).
I was reading an article in the May 2012 issue of Sound on Sound: an interview with Kojo Samuel. In the article he talks about his approach to balancing live-performed and pre-recorded parts for live shows and how these are triggered (he uses now-discontinued Alesis HD24s apparently). The thing I found particularly interesting was that the motivation for using these units was that they are simple to use, purpose designed for playback, don’t require someone to understand a computer to use them, and can be learned in 10 seconds.
There was another recent article about the set up used by Matt Cox who runs the live shows for the Chemical Brothers. He uses some complex synchronisation between computers to ensure there’s a live backup, and mentioned the benefits of using SSD instead of spinning platters in the disc systems to avoid the bass vibrations causing the heads to jump during the show.
I tend to think of computers as the first port of call in developing new systems but maybe there are factors here that mean from a live performance perspective, we should think of them more as prototypes for dedicated hardware systems rather than final systems in their own right? Of course, there are plenty of examples of very successful computer-based performance environments (Ableton Live springs to mind).
I think the underlying issues here are (at least) ease of use and reliability (at a number of system levels), and their relative importance in a situation will reflect the set of values held by the performers concerned. Perhaps there are some implications for the adoption potential (and thus the design) of performance systems in this.
One thing that has often struck me as a musician is the range of different communication and co-ordination methods and gestures of all types used in ensemble performance of popular music (my particular area being contemporary praise and worship music). I have not come across much literature on ensemble communication outside of “classical” music so I wondered (a) whether anyone was aware of any studies that have been done and/or (b) what methods of communication you are aware of from your own studies or practice.
To get the ball rolling, I have seen the following used regularly in various places:
- Conducting for count-ins and synchronising endings (either with arm or head and often accompanied by a spoken count sotto voce). This is the one I use most when leading I think.
- First lines spoken over instrumental music (e.g. between verses to indicate which verse or chorus is coming next). This is often used where a music is being (re)arranged on the fly in response to a particular liturgical context. I tend not to use this very often myself but it’s widespread in recordings too.
- Hand signals to indicate the next section (e.g. C for chorus).
- Fingers held up to indicate the next section of the music to go to. This requires some preparation in labelling scores with numbers (e.g. 1 for verse, 2 for chorus) but some publishers (e.g. PraiseCharts) do this anyway and I’ve seen singers at places like Hillsong Church appear to use this as a subtle method for guiding the band from some distance away on a stage.
- Looking at each other. This seems to establish expectation without verbal communication but I’m not sure how – I’m sure there’s literature on this though.
- Patting the head. I was once taught this in a jazz workshop as meaning “from the top” – haven’t seen it occur in a church though.
A few other questions…
Do these types of thing occur outside of the context I draw on here?
Might these be considered disruptive to the performance (if that’s the right term for functional music contexts like churches) or simply part of performance norms? Is that context dependent?
I welcome your thoughts…
[UPDATE 8th October 2012: I was recently told that guitarists leading Praise and Worship bands sometimes use the position of their feet to tell the band where things are heading next]
To get us started, I’ll post a couple of questions and we’ll see how things go. Please feel free to respond to this one or post your own issue for discussion.
I thought it might be a useful project outcome to bring together our collective views on the relevant body of literature in this area so as a simple starting point, can I ask for your views on perhaps the top 3 or 5 papers that relate to interactive performance in popular music? Please feel free to include your own. In addition to having the record here, I’ll bring these together on the project website.
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