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Posts Tagged ‘Atau Tanaka’

For this assignment I have chosen to review Olaf Rupp’s acoustic performance and Atau Tanaka’s much more technological approach to improvisation. I specifically chose to review these two performances because I was fascinated with the way that the artists were able to manipulate their instruments and also the means in which improvisation was carried out.Simalarities can be drawn between the two performance’s, but going by first impressions they seemed to be on completely differeny levels. The most notable difference between the two pieces was the instruments that were being used for the performances.

Olaf Rupp’s choice of instrument was a classical guitar, fitted with nylon strings. There were no effects used to alter his guitar’s sound in any way, this meant that the main improvisational factor of the performance was how he physically played his guitar. My first observation when Rupp began to play was his abilitly to manouvre around the fretboard with such speed, while still being able to precisely pick out the notes. This shows that he is a highly proficient musician and has taken the time to master his instrument before trying to expand his playing through improvisation. To me this is an important factor when thinking about performing and improvised piece. The more you know about your instrument then the further you can implement your knowledge to find new and innovative ways of playing it.Rupp demonstrated many impressive techniques of playing his guitar, most notably the way he would play the notes with his fretting hand, and the speed of his picking hand. Sometimes Rupp would have his fingers on the strings but not have them pressed fully down to the fretboard to obtain a harmonic like sound. Another way he demonstrated improvisation while playing was to shake the guitar to produce a vibrato like tone from the guitar.

Throughout the piece I was looking for a structure that Rupp may have set out before he played. I found it difficult to break the piece down into sections or follow it as a progression through different stages. For most of the performance the tempo seemed to stay relatively the same, slowing down in some places, only to return to the same pace set at the beginning. This gave the piece a slightly repetitive feel to it, but it was still interesting to watch and listen to. The lack of rythmic variation was compensated for by Rupps’ impressive technical ability on his instrument. He was able to produce a wide variety of sounds from his guitar, some of which he used more frequently than others. For instance there seemed to be a recurring trend of aggressive short notes, almost as if he was stabbing at the strings to achive this affect. He would also use his instrument percussively by banging on the strings and also on the actual body of the guitar.Another observation I made about this piece was that it was a solo piece, so it was soley improvised by Rupp. He didn’t have anyone elses ideas to feed off or build upon. It was purely his improvisational skills being put into practice. In my opinion this was a reflection on his knowledge and abilities on the instrument. I believe that Olaf Rupp has contributed much time and effort into learning his instrument before moving on to try and improvise with it. The main improvisational factor in the performance seemed to be the distinct variety of techniques used by Rupp to play his guitar.

The second piece that I will be rewieving is Atau Tanaka’s contrasting performance which moved away from the use of traditional instruments as we know them and moved towards the direction of the digital domain.Before we could actually see this device in working action, there was a presentation with a description of how the device worked and the history behind it. The equipment that Tanaka was using consisted of two straps, to be fitted onto his forearms. These straps were fitted with sensors which would read the movement of his muscles as he tensed/relaxed his arms. The sensors would detect these movements and they would be sent to a laptop via a transmitter. The laptop was running a piece of software which would interpret the data recorded by the sensors and convert it into audio content. This content was then output through speakers so it would be percievable by the audience. With Tanaka’s equipment I felt that the actual software program on the laptop was the instrument. The sensors were merely a means of implementing this instrument.

Once the explanation had finished Tanaka set up the equipment, known as the BioMuse, and the performance began. He used a variety of different arm movements to manipulate the sound that was being produced. The first sound that was being produced resembled the characteristics of air. This is quite a vague description but it is had to describe exactly how it sounded. It sounded like he was manipulating the frequency and volume of an oscillator/several oscillators that had be programmed into the laptop. By certain movements he was also able to control the speed at which the sound seemed to be moving at. The audio content then progressed to a much deeper prolonged sound, almost like a constant droning tone. Again he was able to improvise the sound by the motion of his arms while tensing and relaxing the muscles in his arm. The instrument didn’t seem to require a great deal of musical ability to play, as there were no apparent ‘playing techniques’ that can be found with traditional instruments.

The performance was set out in two main sections, the first section being the ambient/droning sounds that I have just talked about. The second section was much more structured and included constant beats and melodies. When I first heard these beats and melodies being played I struggled to understand how he was implementing use of improvisation within his performance. But as I thought about it more, the motions of his arms conveyed a stong sense of improvisation. Since the audio samples were being controlled by his muscle reflexes it was completely improvised. It would be impossible for him to exactly replicate the exact movements again. This means that each time he performs with the BioMuse it will be a different performance.

Both of these concerts were brilliant and clearly involved use of improvisation. It was interesting to see Atau Tanaka’s new technology being implemented and learn about how it has been developed but I preferred Olaf Rupp’s performance. He demonstrated a high level of musical ability and was able to perform a captivating improvisation piece.

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For this comparison on the use of improvisation in two performances, I decided to try and find two very contrasting artists. And thankfully enough I couldn’t have found two more differing performances to go and see. The first of these was Atau Tanaka, who performed in SARC on Thursday 29th November at 1:10 pm. This was not so much a concert as a kind of seminar/lecture that included a performance/demonstration, but it is mainly the performance I will focus on. For the first part of this performance, Atau introduced the equipment he would use. He firstly described the brief history of how the equipment came a bout, and then a description of how it works. The instrument that he would use is known as a BioMuse. It consists of two straps placed on each forearm, which would pick up impulses and muscle tension under the skin. Each strap had two sensors, and each was attached to a transmitter by wires. This transmitter would send the signals to the laptop that Atau had set up. This would then use processing software to convert the data to audio output. Once he had given his introduction and set up the equipment he was ready to begin.

The main thing to be said for the performance that followed was that it was completely improvised. Due to the nature of the instrument he was using, it seemed as though writing a score for it would be impossible. He began by using a wind-type effect, and controlled the amplitude, tone and pitch of the noise with the movements of his hands. He would start with them quite close together, using very slow movements, and then gradually became more aggressive with his movements, giving a wide spectrum of differing sounds that were quite pleasing to the ear. Every so often Atau would press a button or two on the laptop and the output signal would change, and gradually the sound would become more melodic, with different instruments becoming more discernable with each change in his general movements. I noticed that Atau would sometimes move in a kind of dance, possibly to keep the same rhythm he was using or just for another dimension to the performance. This was the general structure of the performance, until he finally closed with a diminuendo, after playing a Mo-Town type beat for a period.

The second performance that I went to see was that of an absurdist electronic music composer known as Dan Deacon. He hails from Maryland in the U.S. This gig took place in the Pavilion bar on the Ormeau road in Belfast at 9pm. The artist started by bringing his “music desk” into the middle of the floor and started connecting all the different wires and gadgets, (which were all held in place with luminous tape!). This equipment included a keyboard, mixing/effects board, a lighting rig, a delay pedal, and various other electronic gadgets for sound manipulation.

Once he was ready, he called everybody around him, until he was surrounded on every side by the audience. He then told everybody to kneel down and close their eyes, told the bar staff to turn off the lights (so he could control the lighting with his own setup), and then started into his first brilliantly synthetic techno tune, upon which the crowd all got up and started raving madly! This basically set the trend for the whole gig. In between songs he would talk to the audience about his gear, and also tell insane stories, as well as randomly thought out theories. Throughout the gig, he had the crowd chanting random words, doing loads of strange but fun activities, singing along to the tracks when he would stop, and at one point left his desk to go to a specific person to help them with the tune of a song! I should also tell you that Dan Deacon raved just as hard to the music as anyone in the audience.

At one point the music just stopped mid-song, and Dan was just looking at someone in the audience. We all notice that the guy is standing right in front of the desk with a pint, texting on his phone. When the guy realises and looks up Dan Says “Who are you texting man?” Everyone just laughs and he slams back into the techno.
As for the actual songs themselves, I think Dan did a lot of improvised stuff on the night. Even though there were structured songs with lyrics and a general layout, he attacked every verse from a different angle. You could tell when he found something new that he liked, because he would play it again, and then manipulate it or change again in some way.

I think the main way that Atau and Dan’s performances differed was the use of audience interaction. Even though Atau talked to the crowd before and after the actual performance, during it he mainly concentrated on his own playing. This contrasted greatly with Dan Deacon’s unconventional way of bringing the audience into the actual performance itself. This was maybe down to the different venues, as perhaps Dan had a lot more freedom with what he was allowed to do, whereas Atau had been asked to put on a performance and knew exactly what he would do. The audience interaction greatly helped and added to the use of improvisation in Dan’s performance. By getting the audience to sing along, he was creating another set performers with which he could feed off and converse musically with. He kind of became a conductor, in the way that he was controlling the actions of the crowd. Through his talking with them he also introduced humour which was completely improvised, given the topics we were discussing.

I also realised that there was a possible argument that Atau was not actually creating music in his performance, but mainly controlling the pitch, volume, tone and duration that the pre-set sounds on the computer were played. But I suppose in theory this is what all musicians do with the sounds that are available to them with their instruments.

I should also comment on the content of the music that was played; how much was improvised, and what was predefined. As Derek Bailey suggests, “Anything written down serves not as a perfect expression of the music to be played, but as a starting point, a guide…” (1993, P.39). I think this was definitely the case with Dan Deacon’s performance. There were pre-written songs, but having listened to most of them beforehand, he changed all of them in at least some way, and a great deal in most of them. Some of this was down to how the crowd reacted to the tasks they were given, but I think it was mainly to do with what he felt like playing at the time. But even this approach cannot be compared with the methods used by Atau. I’m sure it’s possible that he has recorded tracks using his instrument, but I would imagine any songs would be near impossible to re-create exactly on-stage. I’d say that the only thing that was pre-empted in Atau’s performance, was the actual way his hands moved. He mentioned that he had been playing the BioMuse for about ten years, and so it is possible that in that time he has developed a certain style, or series of rhythmic patterns to use on-stage. But for the most part the actual musical performance was completely improvised, and probably more-so than Deacon’s.

Another way in which the performances differed was the way in which each artist controlled the environment. For Atau’s performance, our very own Chris Corrigan controlled the mixing desk and lighting, whereas Deacon did his own. I think this gave Deacon another powerful improvisational tool, where he could change the lighting and sound of the environment to suit the mood of what he was playing, or getting the audience to do.

To summarise I would say that the actual musical performance of Atau Tanaka was probably a lot more improvised than Dan Deacon’s. It was clearly a performance that was created from nothing there and then, by the rhythmic moving of his arms, and the dance-like movements of the rest of his body. Deacon’s music was definitely improvised to an extent, but he still had the basic structures of the songs he had pre-created to fall back on.
However, to be fair Deacon’s brilliant audience interaction techniques made it a performance that seemed to go completely against the grain. It felt like a new kind of gig.
The way he controlled his own lighting and sound definitely added to the improvisational theme that I was looking for. I hope this isn’t too long.

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Disparate Bodies 29th November 2007 Disparate Bodies was performance over a three way network link between Belfast, Hamburg and Graz, each city having its own audience. I was a member of the Belfast audience. During all of the performances musicians in all of the three locations were playing together to create a larger ensemble. The concert was made up of four very different pieces. All of these made use of improvisation in some way.

The first piece, ‘Five’ a John Cage composition saw five of the musicians playing long sustained notes creating chords. As the piece has a score with very specific instructions about pitch the main improvisatory element is the rhythm. During this piece there was no visual interaction between musicians that I was aware of, as only the audio link was operational during this piece. I as a listener was less concerned by what was happening in each specific location due to the lack of video, allowing for a closer focus on the overall timbral content of the music, in fact this almost led to the impression at times of the one instrumentalist that the Belfast audience could see, ‘Franziska Schroeder’ (soprano saxophone) producing more of the tones than she actually was.

The next piece was a Piano trio improvisation with one pianist in each of the three locations. During this piece video and audio from the other two locations was provided. Each of the musicians thoroughly explored the sonic possibilities of their instruments. The improvisation was very fluid and at times built to an intensity that would in theory usually require the improvisers to be on stage together. One result of the network on the improvisation from my perspective was that the performers seemed to rely less on visual interaction with the other performers, and it appeared that for the most part the performers were almost totally guided by their ears, perhaps allowing for this intensity to build.

‘Net:Ambiences’ A laptop and synthesizer trio followed this. The trio again consisting of one member in each of the three locations. Using computers and synthesizers to improvise the performers created a soundscape. The piece in a way was an amalgamation of the sound from all three performers to create a complete frequency spectrum.

The final piece ‘Disparate Bodies’ by ‘Pedro Rebelo’ made use of graphic scores which in themselves were an improvised element of the performance. The public helped shape the form that the scores took by editing them online. The musicians then interpreted this information through their playing.

Atau Tanaka 29th November 2007 The seminar/performance by Atau Tanaka in the Sonic Lab at SARC began with in introduction into the work of Atau. Focused mainly on his influences and work with various biosensor instruments and giving a background to the instrument he is currently using. This was then followed by his performance. This solo performance saw Atau using two biosensors on each arm, these sensors pick up nerve impulses, amplify them and convert them to the digital domain. With these sensors he was able, through a wide range of arm and hand movements, to manipulate sounds using a laptop. Throughout the performance ‘Atau’ changed the sounds that he was manipulating. These ranged from ‘airy’ sounds and ‘droning’ bass sounds to instrumental loops, all of which were greatly altered using just arm movements. By moving his arms in certain ways Atau was able to change volume, filter the frequency content, change the speed etc. of the sounds being played. As all of the sounds were pre chosen the main form of improvisation was in the alteration of these. When watching Atau perform there was a definite resemblance to a dance. This is interesting because it is traditionally music that influences the dancer’s movements. Atau’s performance seemed to be exploring the music created as a result of ‘dance’.

In both of these concerts improvisation was a key element. In any ensemble improvisation the way that the performers interact with each other is a major factor in the quality and direction of the improvisation. In the Disparate Bodies concert it was apparent that the musicians were forced to interact differently than if they had all been playing in the same space. As many performers use eye contact to communicate during a performance the reliance on the ear seemed to take over when playing in this way. In comparison the Atau Tanaka performance was more of a study in the way a person can interact with a computer to create music. The interaction with other performers was not necessary and left the entire piece open for Atau to take it in any direction.

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In the following review I will be comparing the improvisational performances of Olaf Rupp and Atau Tanaka from their performances in the SARC building at Queens. The reason I chose these performances was due to the fact they were widely different from each other, Olaf Rupp playing an acoustic guitar and Atau Tanaka using computer equipment. The only factor relating them both was their improvisatory style.

Olaf Rupps’ instrument of choice is a Nylon strung Classical guitar. This sound was altered in no way by effects or digital enhancements, the only technological device being the sound system the sound was amplified through. The first observation I made was that his playing style seemed to be heavily influenced by flamenco, as many of his rhythms and playing techniques were flamenco in nature. He showed a total mastery of his instrument, which could be seen from his technical accuracy, speed and knowledge of the fretboard. The majority of his improvisation was made up of highly technical passages played at high speed, this was occasionally interconnected with slower passages, which had a much sparser texture and simplicity. Some common chord shapes were repeatedly used throughout the performance in different positions of the fretboard, these short sections gave the piece some unity. The performance was made up of one single piece, which I believed was too intense for the average listeners attention span. Even I, an enthusiastic guitar player, found it hard to maintain concentration after 20 minutes of this display of technical wizardry. The tempo was too constant and lacked enough variation for general interest. Also due to the long duration of the piece I noticed many recurring passages and ideas, such as common chord shapes and arpeggios, this itself got repetitive and uninteresting after a while, although, as I said before, it gave the piece some unity. On the other hand there were many positive aspects to the performance, such as the wide array of sounds Rupp was able to get from his guitar, his impressive tremolo finger picking style and his inclusion of various techniques such as string bending, slides, vibrato (by shaking the strings and also by shaking the guitar itself) pedal point and chromatic passages and his percussive use of the guitar. This itself was an interesting aspect of the performance as he played many passages percussively through beating muted strings and striking the body/neck of the guitar itself. Another interesting aspect of his performance was the way in which he moved his guitar through the space around him, in order to alter the natural guitar sound, creating a pan/vibrato effect.

Atau Tanaka is the next performance I am going took at. He could be labelled as being from the new school of music as he uses computers and technology to create improvisational music. I have seen various different performances using the latest technology to create music, but this was the first time I had ever experienced the body being used as a technological musical device. Music is created via a Neural Interface Development Platform, called the biomuse. This device consists of wires connected to sensors on the body which acquire and analyse any human bioelectric signals which are created. Code created from this is then sent onwards to control other processor-based devices, such as a laptop computer. This is a highly innovative and interesting instrument to be used for improvisation. This instrument involves very little mastery due to the fact it is impossible to accurately recreate the same sound intentionally due to differences in performer and nerve control. The performance consisted of Tanaka playing various samples through his computer and manipulating them through movement in his hands and forearms. He had slight control over the tempo and pitch of the music, the tempo being controlled by the speed at which he moved his muscles and the pitch being controlled by the amount of pressure he exerted upon the muscles. His performance was more or less one complete piece but made-up of distinct sections, these sections were determined by his use of different samples. The first three sections were more of an introduction to biomuse rather than an improvisation in my opinion, although they were still improvisational in nature. The final section had a set beat and chord progression complete with melody, this first lead me to believe it wasn’t in coherence with true improvisation but seeing as it is was merely being used as a “backing track” and the fact that it is extremely difficult to replicate any sort of musical phrases with such unpredictable equipment, the music created by Tanaka would be completely improvised. The performance was completely unpredictable which added to the level of interest but this didn’t prevent the performance from being tiresome in parts.

In conclusion both performances opened my eyes to new areas of improvisational music. I believe it was much easier for Tanaka to create truly unprepared music due to the equipment which he was using but I personally found Rupps’ performance to be the more impressive of the two. Maybe this was due to his impressive skill on the instrument or the fact I could relate more to his instrument of choice, but personal preferences aside both performers showed unique talent in their field. They were highly interesting to watch and listen to, both in their performance and in improvisational technique. This itself made attending both performances a worthwhile experience.

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The two concerts I have chosen to review represent the two most contrasting improvisatory performances I have witnessed recently, having only two things in common; both where unrehearsed and without a score, and both were in the SARC centre. Guitarist Olaf Rupp’s performance was one continuous flowing piece, without any real protracted stops or extended silences. He experimented quite heavily with different and unusual playing techniques; one he used frequently involved moving his right hand in a way that resembled some sort of mechanic spider to me. He produced overtones and harmonics using this picking style that sounded nearly synthetic, managing to expand the sound of one guitar into something almost choral in presence. He also moved his guitar against his body as he played, altering the way in which sound reaches the audience at different parts of his performance – even sweeping it in arcs from side to side to create panning and frequency filtering effects. It was clear to me that Olaf has spent a lot of time devising and practicing the alternative techniques and ideas he uses on stage, to make the most of the acoustic guitar he plays. Where a lot of musicians might use some sort of artificial sound enhancement, he has found physical and technical ways to achieve his ends. It is my guess that he had achieved true mastery of his instrument before he ever attempted to improvise with it like this. It occurred to me at the time that he may possibly have avoided anything melodic, placing emphasis on rhythm primarily. There were some tuneful passages that were actually quite delicate in stark contrast to the intense and dark nature of his ‘mechanical spider’ playing. I would hazard a guess that his improvisations are strongly influenced by his mood and state of mind at the time he begins to play, and that he makes little or no decisions before he sits down as to how he will structure the performance, maybe except for a timescale.

Atau applied some predetermined factors to his performance. He used sensors attached to his forearms, two on each, which would pick up nervous electrical impulses sent to his muscles using electrodes. He had chosen a bank of samples and synthesizers to be fed data from his movements, and sectioned his performance based on each new sound. The movements in his arms contributed a certain parameter value each, for example volume, pitch, speed (for samples) etc. With this set in place, he simply moved his arms in whatever way he pleased to shape and control the sounds he had programmed. It could be said that Atau’s sensor based ‘instrument’ cannot be mastered, or at least resists it heavily – to my mind it would be astronomically difficult to use his system in a classically defined musical setting. However, there is no real skill one needs to learn to operate the sensors; the use of your forearms will suffice. In terms of his improvisation, I’m sure he already had some ideas of movements which made the most of each sound he chose, but there is always experimentation and the fact that he may not have been able to replicate any movement exactly. Also, his heart rate affects the sound of his machine, as it will make his nerve impulses different. His heart rate is unlikely to be exactly the same as the last time he performed with this equipment, or when he may have practiced or experimented privately with the numerous samples and synthesizers he used. The final section of his piece had something that Olaf’s performance didn’t: a melody and basic time signature! Atau had numerous percussion samples, along with bass guitar grooves and horn sections from what sounded like Soul songs to me, which he controlled and altered by way of “dancing” to the pre-recorded music. His movements accentuated different parts of the sound he played with and triggered other samples to play in place of the original ones, creating interesting breaks that he could never repeat if he tried. His body was truly contorted in this section as he really began to come out of his shell and search for the sounds he wanted to hear.

In conclusion, both artists are definitely fall into the improvisational category, as neither one knows exactly what they are going to play until they begin, and neither could hope to accurately repeat any performance they might do. However, both set themselves certain limits and allow themselves certain familiarities (for example Olaf uses his guitar, and Atau his sensor rig), as without these they may find it simply impossible to produce something on par with their current repertoire.

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