Speakers of the House
Last week it was nice to get a discussion going about amplification, especially in a chamber music context—blending acoustic and electronic instruments. Needless to say, my solutions would not be right for everyone, but hopefully they offer some guidance or ideas for possible approaches. It also goes without saying that we all often toil under circumstances that are less than ideal. Only the topmost artists can demand perfection from their hosts. Be flexible within reason, but don’t be afraid to have a non-negotiable point if it really is critical to your concept or the success of your performance.
When it comes to amplification, my overarching advice would be: Try to keep as much under your own control as possible. I bring my own laptop, obviously, but also my own audio interface and mixer. If I could afford to provide my own PA I would do so, but it is impractical and unaffordable. And my overarching advice aside, it probably wouldn’t really solve things, because each venue has its own requirements for coverage and so on. I’m planning to start bringing my own DIs though, because quality has been an issue with some of the ones I’ve been provided with in the past. Anyone got any tips for high-quality DIs that I could include in my portable setup?
Composer Tom Hamilton wrote me offline with some thoughts on my column and made some good comments about monitors and other things. Come on, Tom, don’t be shy, drop by the Comments section here and share with everyone. Also, Tom pointed out that conventional loudspeakers are part of the problem in blending acoustic and electronic sounds due to dispersion issues and mentioned the use of hemispherical speakers. I’ve seen these overseas, mostly in France where they seem to love oddly shaped transducers, but like Tom, I have not been fully convinced. Have any of you experimented with different speaker array shapes?
Daniel Wolf wrote from his outpost in Germany about a performance he heard of Gordon Mumma’s Rendition Series, for piano and laptop, where the problem of blend was attacked head on by actually placing small loudspeakers inside the piano, a nice solution that invokes Cowell, Crumb, Kosugi, Zappa, and others. His key point is “the assertion of the presence of each sound source as unique and localized,” which I generally agree with, but his context of unamplified performance in chamber music settings is a bit too limiting. For better or worse, my performances of Lauburu have taken place in venues ranging from standard-issue chamber halls to gymnasia to late-night clubs, where to be unamplified would have been unthinkable. Anyway, what if we don’t have a piano…maybe a Karlheinz-esque solution? Use your sounds to drive a tam-tam!
Matt Sargent tells us about his difficulties working with performers wearing headphones, and the resistance he got asking them to follow what I will call, for sake of brevity, the Ghost Karaoke technique. I’ve been lucky that all the players I have worked with have been game to try new things—I suppose that’s why they commissioned me in the first place. But performers wearing headphones, whether to deliver tempo indications or any other information, can itself be problematic for various reasons. Have others of you out there run into this? What solutions can you share, if any?
I look forward to hearing from you all. Once again, my email box is open, but if you’re writing me to further the discussion about what I’m posting here on NewMusicBox, I’d really like to encourage you to put your thoughts in Comments, so that everyone can have the benefit of your ideas. Until next week, keep buzzin’!