Empirical studies of ConDiS Conducting (part2)

When I started to work with conductor Halldis Rønning at the beginning of October 2017, I soon realized that I had been on a slightly wrong track. My expectations of having the conductor “grabbing” the sound throw it into the air and making live sonic modulations were not real. Although possibilities that I proved to be possible (see a demo video of Pan control and Fx control), it was not the job of the conductor. Therefore after the skype meeting with Halldis, I went back to the drawing board and throw out both the Pan control and Fx control units of the interface.

The conductor interface before October 2017 with Pan and Fx control.
The conductor interface after October 2017. Without Pan and Fx control.

The following weeks the collaboration with me sending more and more detailed versions of the Score of Kuuki no Sukima led to the point that we decided to meet in Trondheim on October 31st for an intensive workshop. That included going through the composition with a playback from a virtual computerized version. That way Halldis could rehearse conducting the performance following the written instructions on when to start and stop the piece when to change tempo and how to change the overall volume value when needed. To my relief, the rehearsals went very well, Halldis felt quite comfortable using the ConDis System and was from the beginning very positive about this experimental. I found out that all my effort to write in the score the use of effects meant almost nothing to her. She was not used to reading increased delay or decreased feedback information and therefore she felt this information just made the score more complex to read. In an interview, I had with Halldis after Nordic Tour she told me that it would be nice if she could see some kind of indication of the loudness of the electronic sounds. She still telt the hairpins too complex and complicated to read on the conducting score.

This led me to the conclusion that perhaps I needed two kinds of scores. One score for the Composer and the Conductor to analyze and understand what the electronic was supposed to do in context with the acoustic music. The other score would be a performance score for the conductor to use during a performance with much less information and much more like a classical musical score.

A bit disappointing, since I really thought that I had come with a simple solution to extend the classical notation vocabulary. Simple since it was so closely based on the tradition of using hairpin graphics to express a change in instrumental volume values. It was my sincere belief that using the same icon, slightly altered, to express changes in electronic effect values would be the perfect simple solution. It still is my sincere belief that a simple solution has to be found, perhaps it needs to be thought of from a totally different perspective, a different angle. Perhaps I haven’t realized it because the answer is too close.

For the purpose of extending my own compositional goal, that is, to be able to write live interactive electronics into the musical score. To write them with the same precision as the instrumental notes. To have them conducted and performed with the same expression.  I have developed a writing that I understand and can use to express my compositional needs. Therefore, the solution of having to write two versions of the same score, one score for musical preparation and another simpler for performance, is a solution that I can live with at least for time being.

Working with Halldis that day was more than rehearsing and talking through the function of ConDiS but also a walk through the notation that I use for extending technique especially in the string part. In Kuuki no Sukima I use more extended instrumental technique than I have ever done before. In the pre-compositional process, I felt an urgent need to explore new lands of instrumental sonority and experiment and explore the possibilities, hence to the title “Kuuki no Sukima”.

The title can be transcribed literally as “the gap of the air” or even ”in between the air” both very suitable for the composer’s vision of creating a sonic landscape of sounds that are somewhere there, in-between or in the gap of being a sound or a pitched note.

If sonority is a vibration of a traveling air pressure, could there be a gap?

Could there be a sonic world somewhere there in-between the air?

To get a better grasp of the sonority that I was looking for I asked three performers of the Trondheim Sinfonietta to be available that day, to be with us and realize, through discussions and performance some of my notation or written indications.

To create my own library of extended notation graphics I decided not to invent the wheel but to do some research on other composers works using external techniques. Especially useful I found the notation of composer Kaija Saariaho (Laconisme de l’Aile, 1982 ) and flutist/composer Robert Dick (The other Flute, Flying Lessons).

In my blog on March 9th, 2017 I wrote the following:

Closer look at the Score

I wrote in my blog Kuki no Sukima – Starting the performance:

“This has also led to the conclusion that I have to change the order of the button so that the index finger (button 2) is not used for metronome setting but rather for start/stop messages. The middle finger (button 3) will be used for jumping forward messages and ring finger (button 4) for the metronome setting. That should give a bit more natural finger combination since most of the indications are start/stop (2nd button), jump forward (3rd button) and metronome setting (4th button)”.

These changes did not work mainly since the conductor did not like to change settings that she already had realized. Hence back to the original layout.

The volume problem that I did write about in the same blog, i.e. how to set the volume to a sudden value at the beginning of the piece was solved by giving the conductor two measures to activate the volume control  as 

This solution seemed to work very well since it:

  1. gave the conductor more confidence adjusting the electronic volume
  2. gave the opening a bit more breath or space to open up
  3. showed clearly the use of ConDiS
  4. aesthetically more graceful opening

The other changes that were made from the first performance were that now the conductor gives a start playing sign by clicking 3rd button on the first downbeat before clicking the 2nd button four times to set the metronome.