Friday, May 27, 2011

Electric Mahabharata

As I'm typing this, I'm sending out the files, to CF Peters, for my piece "I'll Have an Electric Mahabharata, Please."  Yes, the piece with the truly wonky title is getting published by CF Peters.  I know I announced this on Facebook a month or so ago, but now I'm delivering the goods. 

Okay, this is a work for cello and electronics. You can hear it here - scroll down, and there's a link to the MP3 (and a PDF, which I'll need to remove soon).  All the electronics are real-time processing of the cello, and some of the sounds are quite elaborate.  The piece is normally done with a 4-channel sound system, so the sound swirls around the audience.

The title - comes from the idea that I had to turn the cello into a sitar.  Well, not literally.  If you look at a sitar, it has 6 (or 7) playable strings, and then around 15 sympathetic strings that give it its characteristic ringing sound.   I took the idea of the sympathetic strings and made that the basis for the electronic part.  I constructed a few virtual resonant strings and placed them in the electronic 'environment'; as the cellist plays, the sound is routed through those strings and a bunch of other effects.  There's even a computer 'cadenza', where one pluck is answered by hundreds of plucks generated by the computer.

Here's the only dilemma I have with the piece: I'm only able to produce a Mac OS version of the software.  Since I created it in 2003, it looks like some of the components are obsolete or were never transferred to the Windows version of Max.  I'm hoping to construct a Windows version, but I don't know how much time it will take - or if I'll eventually get it to work....

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Dead gear

Hmm, my Tascam US-428 seems to have died.

It lights up.  It controls MIDI gear with no problem.  My MacBook Pro recognizes it, as do many programs (Logic, Live).  Yet, I get no audio.  I've tried headphones and speakers, all to no avail.  I loaded in new drivers, and went through a variety of settings.

I've even tried running audio into it directly (from my Clavinova), also with no results.  I think the audio card on it must be dead.

Tascam says the model is discontinued, and replaced with the US-144mkII.   Okay, that's a nice device, but it's hardly a replacement.  The US-428 has 8 faders, which makes it look more like a mixer.  The US-144mkII has 4 inputs (like the 428) but two dials control the input volumes.  And, it looks like you switch between "Line In" (guitar/keyboard - 1/4" jack) and XLR input.    So really, it appears to be a two channel input.  It's pretty cheap (Sweetwater has it listed at $149), but nowhere nearly as cool as the 428.

Oh well.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Recording "Spiral Jetty"

This week, the members of "ModernWorks" (Madeleine Shapiro, Airi Yoshioka, and Bill Schimmel) assembled in the Louis Brown Recording Studio to record my piece Spiral Jetty.   They were the group that commissioned it (through funds from Meet the Composer) back in 2006, and they've performed it at a number of concerts.  The recording was a natural part of the whole growth cycle of the work.

Now, here's the strange part.  Spiral Jetty also has an interactive electronic component - 4 channels of live processed sound.   But, we didn't record that material on Thursday - it actually won't be added in to the final project for some time.  Really, for the first time, I heard the whole piece without the electronics.  (Yes, every rehearsal I've been to has been with electronics;  I guess there were moments where we worked without the electronics, but that was rare.)

That's a photo of the studio - it's a nice warm setting.  And, incredibly quiet, given that it's in the middle of Manhattan!  Airi is on violin in front, and you see Bill behind the glass.  The accordion can be a loud instrument, so it had to be isolated.  Hopefully, Bill didn't feel self-conscious!  Lou is adjusting a microphone, and you can see Madeleine's cello.

Recording is an odd process.  A rock group can record an entire album and not be in the studio at the same time.  You really can't do that with this kind of music.  Instead, they recorded segments - 10-20 measures at a time, often with multiple takes.  My job is going to be to patch this all together to form a composite 'performance' of the piece.  There are a few passages that are going to require major surgery, but there's quite a bit where I can use larger chunks.

That's another shot in the studio.  See, Madeleine was there, not just her cello!

More on this later.