weekend fun with Tuhausen and Schtockdor

I was really busy over the weekend with orchestra rehearsals and performance, a recording session and a day of workshopping initial ideas with one of my favorite collaborators. I’ll work my way backwards….

Yesterday, I spent the afternoon at Dryhill Studios with Andris Balins and Patti Van Tassel in what turned out to be a group music therapy session! It was so much fun! Patti had written lyrics for a tune she originally envisioned as a chant. After talking about the intent of piece (tentatively titled Peace on War), and listening to the lyrics, Andris started playing around with a slow drone on the the organ, and I improvised some pseudo old sloppy military-style snare and kick drum grooves creating a heavy, tense protest song. I don’t really want to it all away before it’s released… it is Patti’s tune, and this is just the first track of an album of tunes! Anyway, we were able to get a good recording and mix of the three of us playing together, and simultaneously, I think we all let out a lot of anger and emotion that has enveloped us over the past few months. We were drained after each take and each playback.


On Saturday, Brett Masteller Warren and I spent about 5 hours workshopping some ideas that we have been discussing for the manipulations of nature project. This was our first attempt at making sounds for this particular project. My basic understanding before we got together was that we were going to be creating feedback loops with contact mics and contact speakers on various percussion instruments, potentially to be fed through various homemade analog filters. (And, though I could state that, I didn’t really even know what that meant.) I brought out quite a few instruments, but we primarily worked with a 32in timpani, a 21in timpani and a wind gong. I also brought about four stick bags of implements…and ended up not using more than 4 or 5 pairs.

We really were just experimenting, looking for sources that would give us a diverse range of sounds to play with. Brett and I often changed positions (him playing instruments, while I turned knobs); this was definitely an important experiment, as it made me listen differently. A few things (revelations?) came out of this for me…

  1. (At the moment…) This piece seems to be about me NOT striking the instruments that are hosting/sourcing the feedback loops. The piece is about unactuation of the feedback by applying varied pressures or lightly placing fingers (or other implements) in different places on the instrument to change the vibrations that are feeding the mic which is feeding the speaker which is feeding the mic which is feeding the speaker…aka the loop. 😉 I can see an effective performance being one in which you see no action from the percussionist… which is extremely counter to the way percussion is generally presented or experienced. I envision one performance possibility is that the percussionist is not in the room at all, or the visual presentation of the performer is hindered in some way.
  2. Playing the knobs made me listen differently, but also engaged me in a very nuanced kind of playing where minute motions created huge changes in texture. When playing knobs and percussion instrument, I was looking for the breaking point between two seemingly stable sounds and trying to hold it there.
  3. We should try to do this with more than one instrument having separate feedback loops (perhaps timpani as a low/drone-y static element, feeding back on its own with no performer manipulation, and wind gong with dynamic manipulations from performer (sort of functioning as melody)
  4. (Un)implements that worked well on the timpani – fingers, light chains, moleskin mallets, hard plastic mallets, smaller objects, paper; heavy objects did not work
  5. I would like to try feedback loops with tub(s) of water
  6. (Un)implements that worked well on wind gong – metal spoon, fingers

Andris Balins also stopped by to listen to our sounds, asked some great questions, and gave us feedback. A few thoughts, words, music, ideas that came from our conversations (mostly this is notes for us)….

  1. Playing feedback is working chaos in process
  2. Listening to the natural creation of feedback was interesting because on the surface it seems like it is static, and it seems like it is chaos, but if you listen deeply, you start to hear patterns that emerge in rhythms and pitches
  3. We should all look into Jim Crutchfield and his ideas about patterns in chaos
  4. Metal Machine Music – Lou Reed
  5. Think about levels/combinations of control/lack of vs. predictability/unpredictability, and then determine what our controls are (the instruments, the mics, the speakers, the room?)
  6. Cool band names – Tuhausen and Schtockdor (we were thinking about Stockhausen and Tudor) 😉

Below is a sample of the wind gong feedback.

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