Final Artistic Presentation: Video Ensemble

Final Artistic Presentation: Video Ensemble

When I bring pre-recorded material into an improvisatory situation, different temporalities meet. I find it particularly interesting when the material that is being brought in stems from­, and strongly refers to, what it is being brought into. That generates an interesting (con)fusion in the different temporalities. It establishes uncertainty in regards what happens in present and what happened in the past. For me, this (con)fusion is related to the composites, how material and different layers bleed into each other in the ensembles’ music.

The Video Ensemble is an artistic response to the dialogical relation that I see in our ensemble improvisations. I have used the notion of referentiality as point of departure for an audio-visual piece. The much-praised 'moment' in improvised music is tested, challenged and questioned by an ‘extended moment’ and a (con)fusion of different temporalities.

The main visual components in the piece are

  • Me on stage
  • Me on stage, projected on the back wall
  • Me on stage delayed 15 seconds, projected on the back wall
  • A collection of pre-recorded individual loops of video that are put on top of each other, and projected on the side walls.

The audio of me on stage include the same possibilities as “Lag, Accumulated B” and “Lag, Accumulated A” on Stop Freeze Wait Eat: a pedal that freezes milliseconds of sound from what I played in the moment (present)­ – which appears in one channel. And a pedal that chops up and rapidly repeats what I played 15 seconds (past)­ – which appears in the other channel. This opens up for a dialogue between present and different pasts. The setup also allows me to unlink the audio and video for all these elements. It allows for audio-visual polyphony. I can mute all audio- and video signals separately

Naturally, the pre-recorded material is given. Pitch, texture, image, colour are decided upfront. I set it up so I can decide the volume, which I have linked with the opacity of the images, and I can decide when to start and stop each clip. During most of my test concerts, both as part of Jök & seasicK and in more formal and official concerts, I ended up introducing the pre-recorded video material after a while. Never in the beginning. The new dimension introduced by the visuals is expanding the room. It opens up a new space. For this piece, I chose dramaturgic expansion rather than reduction. Hence the late introduction of visuals. 

Most of my early attempts at improvising with fixed material ended in despair. Usually it was the pitch that caused the biggest problem. Lack of micro-tonal correspondence between fixed material and the trajectory that was under development, caused huge damage. The ‘inner logic’ of the piece that was evolving did not quite match the character of the fixed. I had to give the fixed material more impact. In order to make what was evolving fit with the fixed, I had to reduce and reject options on how to evolve. I also had to decide a certain kind of material, both for the evolving elements and for the fixed.

All the musicians on the video are without heads. I wanted the visuals to illustrate the process of making the sounds, with emphasis on the instrument and its music, rather than the instrumentalist. Just as I believe a reduced focus on self and a deepened focus on sound and collectivity represent a major reasons why the ensembles sound as they do. I realise, however, that the title of my project may contradict this alleged focus on collectivity

This video concept has been developed over several stages during my research project. The development is illustrated here.

Important references during this process are Generation Kill (2012) by Stefan Prinsperformed by Nadar Ensemble and Study for String Instrument #3 (2011) by Simon Steen-Andersen, performed by Tanja Orning.


Plans and retrospective observation:
Most of the material, form and sections are pre-determined. Here are my pre-determined plans for each of the 4 parts, and my observations in retrospect. Below is a video documentation of the piece, including the comments below as subtitles. 

1. part
Plans: Begin slow, no audio delay, only the delayed video signal. See what happens. Start audio delay after a while. Mix past and present video signal so they make a moiré. See what happens.     

The first 2 ½ minutes appear to be an introduction. Audio-visual polyphony. Sound and visuals are unlinked. Arpeggios and audio delay are introduced at 02:40. I play with the interference of the top note colliding with the frozen top tone played off by the freeze pedal. The interference is enhanced when I raise the pitch, pulling the string a little harder, and when the delayed signal of this collides with the human repetition of the same operation. Gradually the audio and visuals are linked more. Audio freezes from 04:10, visuals gradually become more still. I am getting more aware of how the sound develops in the room and creates slow waves. The video projection of my preparations of the guitar, plus the delayed signal of it is disturbing. Perhaps that is good.  

A freeze section rounds off the first part. Pause at 06:20.  

2. part
Plans: Use thumb and palm hitting several prepared and strings producing gong-like sounds. Repetitive playing with audio delay, tempo up and down, nudge. Make the layers of sound collide and (con)fuse. See what happens. Introduce the loud and bass-heavy pre-recorded videos on side walls. Switch between past, present and a mix of both video signals on the back wall. Repeat, wait and see what happens.

Deep feedback-like interference creates pulse around 11:50. Independent rhythmic layer. Polyphony of tempi. Feedback in higher register from 12:25 is random. It also appears in the delayed signal.

Fade out and into the next part around 13:20.

3. part
Plans: Play irregular rhythm, gradually more dense, with brush. Pauses. Switch between past, present and a mix of both video signals on the back wall. See what happens.

Irregular pauses, gradually building, variation in touches. Layers of frozen drones and brushes. Short isolated event of banjo sounds at 16:15.

4. part
Plans: Bowed table top guitar. Bowed banjos on the side walls. See what happens.

Bowed lap top guitar, delayed. Determined strokes. Resonating strings. Chop up pedal at 17:33 triggers density.  A lot of variation, not so focused, a bit messy. Less variation, more focused from around 18:15. High pitched bowed banjos on side walls. Almost inaudible. Bowed guitar produce deep and subtle bass frequencies around 19:00. Audio-visual polyphony around 19:15. Banjo events on side walls from around 19:50 add complexity, visually. Not so much, sound-wise. Blackout could have been longer. Short isolated event with guitars on side walls around 20:35. The event is too long to be short. A long frozen drone begins at 20:46. Irregularly, repetitive rhythm emerges. Blackout is longer. Variation of sound colours in the bow texture. Different layers of drones and white noise from the bow. Gradually focusing more on rhythm. Past and present bowing fuse audibly around 23:35. Not visually. Background layers removed at 24:20. Past and present almost fuse, visually, now and then. Never completely. Adding more variation to touch and stroke. Decrescendo. Seem to be working with the choreography from around 24:50­. I seem more aware of how the past and present bows dance, visually. Long coda. Decrescendo. Ending the piece muting the sound from the past, unlinking it from the visuals. 


Notes to self during the different stages of the process:

With delay, omni-directional and dystonic2 sounds work better. I mean for example prepared strings with a lot of overtones pointing everywhere. They point in so many different directions and bleed more easily into each other. They are more ‘blendable’.

Is the visual complexity too overwhelming? Or is it the lack of correspondence with the audio that causes the problem? Is it a problem?

Shorter, percussive sounds loop better. They seem more loopable. Less drony is less drowsy.  

Blackout is dramatic. Don't over-do it!

The delay creates a tedious obviousness, but less so if the material has less variation, or is more focused – if my repetition fuses and (con)fuses the loop machine's repetition

Video documentation including plans and retrospective observation as subtitles: 

1 (27th September 2015)
2 An ambiguous sound that is in between pitched sounds and complex sounds without distintive pitch.