Posts Tagged ‘Disparate Bodies’

Should the concept of a standard musical performance be maintained, challenged, or removed entirely? Nearly everyone can close their eyes and imagine a concert of some variety – performers come, play a few songs which follow a specified setlist, and then the concert is over. The setlist is of course pre-determined and pre-written, and in many cases the audience is familiar with all or most of the songs performed. Improvisation offers a refreshing break from this standard. Some musical groups, such as Asima, may throw one improvised song into a concert to branch out – others, such as Disparate Bodies, rely predominantly on improvisation, using scores to define only structure.

Asima are a musical ensemble with a strong focus on vocals and percussion, though also featuring some pitch-oriented instruments. Many of their instruments were quite experimental, such as their use of a terra cotta pot as a drum. They also initiated the majority of their pieces with a small box creating a drone sound in the background, over which the entire piece was established.

Their performance, which featured mostly pre-arranged songs, did contain one improvisation. This improvisation was linked in quite clearly with the general sound which the audience had already come to associate with Asima – probably influenced by the musical timbres of the instrumentation available, as well as the band’s general tendency towards their own sound. Musical features of note were the presence of vocal dissonance (one was brought to wonder whether it was intentional, but it added quite a bit of tension to the piece and it can only be assumed that it was), some well-placed rests among the entire group, and the use of many notes which followed a different scale from the rest of the piece. Their method of communication was relatively standard, and it was often clear that the individuals were cueing each other through eye contact.

Eye contact, meanwhile, was not an option for the performance entitled ‘Disparate Bodies’. This performance was a collection of four pieces (sound studies) which placed far more emphasis on improvisation than Asima’s performance. ‘Disparate Bodies’ was a novelty of a performance – it was going on in three places (Northern Ireland, Germany, and Austria) and performers in all three locations were communicating via a network. The network turned out to be not only a medium for communication, but added so many factors to the piece that it arguably became an instrument in its own right.

The importance of improvisation varied between the pieces, yet was important to all four of them. A unifying theme of the entire performance was that of the restrictions set by the network. Network delays established subtle differences between timing cues. A very interesting factor was that the physical absence of many of the other performers removed the possibility for cueing through eye contact – meaning all communication had to be enacted either aurally (the most prevalent) or interactively (which was principal in part three, the synthesized piece being composed live through software). In the case of the first and last piece, however, ambiguous scores (resembling modern art) were followed which facilitated unity between the performers.

Overall, ‘Disparate Bodies’ was a very novel and interesting approach to a performance and made use of technology to an extent which would previously have been unimaginable to me. Where Asima made use of unusual instruments, Disparate Bodies took classical instruments and explored them in new ways over a new medium. While Disparate Bodies’ approach was the more cutting-edge of the two, these factors ended up defining the performances, with the music following them appropriately. Perhaps this is the future of music.

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A comparison of the Disparate Bodies network performance (29th Nov 2007) and FAINT (11th Oct 2007), both in the Sonic Lab at SARC.

by Daniel Gillen

I find the Sonic Lab a bit disorienting at the best of times, due to a fairly debilitating fear of heights and fascination with shiny things which light up.  Combine this with a facet of music which to me was at that point entirely unexplored and attempting to review a gig for the first time made the FAINT performance a fairly daunting event to attend.  This was a stark contrast to my attitude when attending the Disparate Bodies performance which I attended almost entirely on a spur of the moment decision in order to see what the differences between it and FAINT would be, having originally intended to use another performance entirely to write about here.

This difference in attitude naturally resulted in experiences which were at odds with each other.  I was more readily able to accept the surreal aspects of Disparate Bodies than I had been at FAINT.  Surreal aspects such as secondlife.com’s alternate reality and the real-time interaction between musicians across a continent.  Whereas with FAINT, for an hour they improvised a simply staggering range of timbres and dynamics, creating such unusual sounds that at times it was hard to know who was making which sound and how they achieved it.  Bizarre techniques, such as Davis using a violin bow on the drum rims and Schroeder playing both a kazoo and a sax at the same time were used to great effect, generating a myriad of what ought to be dissonant sounds and yet somehow worked together brilliantly.  This same manic energy was present in the Disparate Bodies performance, but I was ready for it this time.

I think the same thought process can be applied to the thought process we as Performance Workshop students operate with when presented with the task of improvising music.  I know I all too often suffer from indecisiveness and ‘sheep’ syndrome and make few attempts to try to play something completely different or challenging.  By making affirmed decisions about what and how to play, much more is conveyed to the audience and the performance is made far more interesting.

The very nature of a distributed performance will likely mean the performers involved will have fewer opportunities to play together due to geographical separation.  Whilst a new slant on improvisation might make for some interesting and fresh sounds, there is always the possibility the performance will suffer as a result of the musicians’ inability to ‘read’ each other.

The location of the performers had a few other surprising consequences, chief among which was the predisposition present in the audience of Disparate Bodies to listen primarily to the artists present in the room.  At FAINT, the three performers had fairly equal prominence and dynamic shifts by an individual were much more noticeable to me then those of the performers in Hamburg and Graz in Disparate Bodies. 

Perhaps this concentration on the sound made by what we can see with our own eyes instead of on a TV screen is a side effect of TV itself? The audio of characters and/or actions on a screen in films are normally louder than ambient noise and back-round music added.  A teacher from my old school complained of this same trend in society; of how music and sounds are deemed less important than what we can see.  This was an unusual thing to hear an art teacher complain about, but I agreed with him.

There does seem to be a pattern in that modern media forms are becoming more and more visual-orientated.  Even what were once solely audio devices in the form of the telephone network have been usurped by text and picture messaging on mobile phones and e-mails and (how appropriate) blogs.  Its is entirely understandable too, as all the methods stated previously allows time for consideration of the response to be given and a ‘smart alec’ quip can be thought up in the time it takes to write a text or e-mail.

This is, of course, entirely opposite to improvised music.  There should be as little predetermined as possible. As much as I like the idea of a network performance, my mind seems almost unchangeably wired to want to see performers ‘in the flesh’.  It’s the reason why I would go see a band play live even if somewhat ropey rather than listen to the album at home or, perhaps more fittingly, watch them on YouTube.  An Mp3 player is to me more technically impressive than a guitar plugged into a Vox, and in the same way there was so many intriguing elements to the distributed improvisation in its implementation compared with having FAINT play together live.

I walked away from Disparate Bodies amazed at what I had seen.  I preferred FAINT because I walked away amazed at what I heard.  The tight-nit understanding between the members of FAINT was intangible, and as such technology was unable to recreate it, making all the difference.

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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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These are the two reviews I have to do for project one, Perfromance workshop.

My first review is on a group named “Nizlopi” who were a group I had no intrest in at all until I seen their performance.
Nizlopi are one of the most exciting up and coming acts on the UK music scene today and certainly one of the most original and accomplished live performers out there. They are notably famous for their “JCB” song which got continuous air play some time ago. Nizlopi are singer/guitarist/percussionist Luke Concannon and double bassist/human beatboxer John Parker, together they produce a genre defying blend of jazz, hip hop and folk.
The gig was at the Empire in Belfast which is a very intimate venue, and even more so given the fact that the boys started off their set in the heart of the crowd, playing unplugged with everyone huddled around them. This allowed them to create a spine tingling atmosphere, with the crowd singing along in a whisper. I don’t know if they usually do this or if it was in the spurr of the moment but the audiences participation seemed to enhance the performance which made for great improvision.
With the crowd already contributing to the gig the boys got on stage and played out the rest of their set. John the double-bass player who studied Jazz at University went on long improvisations playing double stops, jumping octaves and counter melodies, resembling the styles of the famous Charles Mingus. This sounded excellent, but then he would began his beatboxing and the whole thing changed again. It was great.
Midway through their set they brought the tempo down and Luke gave his vocal chords a stretch. He ran through his scales without a flinch, often holding long sustained notes which sent a tingle down your spine. It was refreshing to see an act who had a great talent in every aspect of their performance. You were constantly antiscipating what was going to happen next, which kept you intrested.
Nizlopi’s approach to a live performance is much in keeping with their style of song writing in that it evolves through a spirit of spontaneity and improvisation. According to Luke (the lead singer) playing live and improvising comes naturally to him as he was brought up in a enviroment enriched in music, especially folk music.; “Our parents were very into folk and we grew up in a tradition of people just picking up an instrument and playing round a table”. It is easy to see how being around this enviroment has affected how they approach their shows as the two of them just get together, play music, and enjoy every second of it.

This is second of the two gig review I have to do for project one, Perfromance workshop.

The second show I am going to review is ‘Disparate Bodies, A three Way Network Performance’.
The show was at the Sonic Arts Research Centre and involved instrumental, audio-visual and laptop work. It was a three way network performance which ment that music was being performed live and simultaneously at three different locations – Belfast, Hamberg and Graz. The show was based around four different performances which included – Five (composed by John Cage), Piano Trio (piano improvisation), Net; Ambiences (laptop-synthesizer trio) and Disparate Bodies. The performance I am going to focus on is Disparate bodies. It included eight performers playing together but at three different locations.

➢ Pedro Rebelo (Piano)
➢ Franziska Schroeder (Saxophone)

➢ Andrej Koroliov (Piano)
➢ Nora-Louise Muller (Clarinet)
➢ Turo Grolimund (Flute)

➢ Elisabeth Harnik (Piano)
➢ Wolfgang Tischhart (Trombone)
➢ Clemens Fruhstuck (Saxophone)

This performance focused on improvisational strategies through graphic notation and temporal structuring. All musicians played to a score, but not a score as you know it. The score in my opinion resembled modern art to a certain extent. It was of shapes and colours, angles and curves. As an improviser you can interput these shapes and colours as tones and melody.
However there is another point to mention about the score. For a length of time before the performance the public were invited to shape how the performance would go by going online to the db_editor and editing the score by means of space and time. The changing position of each symbol was reflected in the order and duration of each score element during the performance. By dragging the symbols the public were editing two aspects of how the final performance score will be put together and displayed to audiences and performers
This ment that the performers had no idea of how the scores were going to be portrayed.
The performance itself started of with an eratic burst of playing on the piano, which I think was the signal, then everyone began playing. From the start the musicians were constantly improvising, you never heard any melody or note progression being repeated. Another point I noticed of the performers was that each note and piece they played was anticipated and timed to fill the performance, not every performer felt the need to be constantly heard, it was great to watch. You could also see them listening intensely as thay had no visual cues like eye contact.
The performance had a slight mellow middle then gradually began to build again, moving forward and louder towards an abrubt and sudden end. I don’t think there was a set time limit, the piece just felt completed, and it was brilliant.
A main factor of the night which I didn’t mention yet was the networking, it was amazing to hear eight performers playing live and improvising together, but who were not in the same physical space. You kept forgetting that the six other performers were in different countrys playing, unreal.

The gig I think was excellant and would hope to see one again, or maybe listen to it live on-line to experience the difference.

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