Untitled Suite – A Concept

Having not heard anything back from Blenheim Estates (the company that owns Hallam Towers) my small team had begun work on sourcing a new venue to put on our piece. However it would appear that we were a little too impatient as today Blenheim Estates contacted us to give us permission to use Hallam Towers. This could not have come at a better time as today I have been finishing the final aspects of the concept for my piece ready to start turning it into a reality.

Untitled Suite

When composing I often like to start with a title. I find that if I can compact my concepts down into a title for a piece then I am just about ready to start writing music. Having discussed the themes that I wanted to explore in depth with my team, we then set to work with coming up with a title. At first we spent some time playing around with words like ‘abandoned’ or ‘derelict’ but none of these seemed to capture the concept of nothingness being pervasive throughout all aspects of the piece. I realised that the reason we were struggling to name the piece was because if the main theme of the work was nothingness that really the work should have no title, for this reason we decided to name the piece ‘Untitled Suite’. The concept of creating a suite came when someone suggested naming the piece ‘Nothing Symphony’, I was reluctant to call it a symphony as it wasn’t going to be a multi movement work for orchestra but I did like the idea of the work having a number of movements. We came up with the idea to create a suite of two movements, the first would take the form of an installation at Hallam Towers that would be filmed and produced into an audiovisual work, the second would be a recomposition of sounds from the first movement.

Movement One

sketch

Rough sketch of piano modifications

Concept:

Movement one of the suite aims to react to the space in its current state. The piano will be placed into the centre of the ground floor of Hallam Towers and left to play itself.  Combining with the ambience of the building a series of motors interacting with the strings of the piano will create a wash of sound, punctuated by fragments of melodies emanating from the speaker inside the piano. These fragments are no longer playable on the piano as the keys for these are strewn amongst the rubble of the building, echoes of a time when both had purpose. The performance is not open to the public and will only be viewable on film, a document of what once was.

In a building with no purpose, a piano with no performer plays to no one.

Method:

After stripping out the insides of the piano to provide easy access to the strings and disabling the sustain pedal, a wooden beam will be fitted across the width of the piano. To this I will attach five motors positioned evenly across the frequency range of the piano. On four of the motors small pieces of electrical tape will spin to pluck the strings that they are in front of. The fifth motor will be placed touching the lowest string on the piano. A metal cog attached to the motor will scrape along the round wound string, creating a harsh piercing sound with a long low sustain. These will be driven by a battery powered arduino uno board which, is programmed to spin the motors at random for random amounts of time (within specified ranges). The code and circuitry for this is relatively simple as can be seen here:

Typical_toy_motor_circuit

Motor Circuit

int ranNum;
int ranDel;
int ranDel2;
void setup() {
// Seed RNG from analog port.
randomSeed(analogRead(0));
// Setup 5 output ports for motors
pinMode(3, OUTPUT);
pinMode(4, OUTPUT);
pinMode(5, OUTPUT);
pinMode(6, OUTPUT);
pinMode(7, OUTPUT);
}
void loop() {
//Generate random number between 3 and 7
ranNum=random(3,8);
// Generate random delay times
ranDel=random(300,3000);
ranDel2=random(1, 3000);
//Turn on the motor
digitalWrite(ranNum, HIGH);
delay(ranDel);
//Turn off the motor
digitalWrite(ranNum, LOW);
delay(ranDel2);
}

 

Additionally the piano will be missing a number of keys. I have pre recorded a number of melodic fragments using these notes and have edited them together to form a 30 minute sound file which can be played on loop. I wanted the audio to sound like it was being played by the piano even though it clearly wasn’t. For this reason when recoding the piano I placed the microphone where the speaker(s) will be inside the piano. I was unsure at the time if I would be using mono or stereo playback when I recorded the piano so I used a mid-side micing technique so that the audio would work well for either. Once I had decided on the speaker setup I mixed the recoding on the speaker that I was going to be using to ensure that would sound as close to a real piano as possible (see extract below).

 

Although the reason we are unable to have an audience for this piece is due to it taking place on an active building site, this has actually played well into our concept for the piece. What is the point of a piece of music that has no audience? Philip Auslander’s article The Performativity of Performance Documentation argues that documentation of performance art is as performative as the performance itself. Whilst the original performance and the documentation may be presented in completely different mediums, by capturing and redisplaying the original a new performance is created. This works well with Kendall Walton’s theory on transparency in photorealism, he states that “photographs are transparent; in looking at a photograph of something one sees the thing itself”. So if we look at the documentation of a performance it can be suggested that we are literally seeing the performance itself.  For this reason I will consider the video of the installation to be a valid performance of movement one. Whilst the first performance will not be to an audience, subsequent performances can be displayed to the public. However, they will be performed with the notion of being audience-less, as this can be seen in the original and will therefore be part of any subsequent performance.

Movement Two

Movement two will aim to explore the potential of the space and piano to become something new. It will be a recomposition of the first movement using sound and potentially video recorded at the installation of movement one. Although it is a little early to talk on the form of the movement I intend for it to be formed of two distinct sections. The first will allude to the potential for the building to be restored to its former glory and the second will be based around the unfortunate reality of the buildings impending demise. As this will be a recomposition of movement one and I have yet to produce that I can’t say much else about this movement at this time. I will talk more about my concepts and processes for this movement in future blog posts once I have recorded sounds and begun work on its composition.

References:

Auslander, P. (2006). The Performativity of Performance Documentation. PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art, 28(3), pp.1-10.

Walton, K. (1984). Transparent Pictures: On the Nature of Photographic Realism. Noûs, 18(1), pp.67-72

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *