Saturday, February 18, 2017

Rainforest Airport

The 2014 proceedings of SEAMUS (Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States), at Wesleyan University, offered several alternatives to traditional concert-hall diffusion of tape pieces.  One such alternative sought sonic contributions for an installation of David Tudor's Rainforest, in the sleek and modern Zelnick Pavilion.  The piece, simply, explores the resonances of found objects by exciting them with transducers, controlled by a multi-channel computer sound system.

Zelnick Pavilion is an interesting choice for sound installation.  The architects Robert Olson and Associates conceived of it to provide seamless accessibility between the two oldest, neighboring buildings, the Memorial Chapel and '92 Patricelli Theater.  Zelnick also serves as reception space and ticket-booth for the traditional concerts held there, and it hides air conditioning and other utilities for the buildings, thus linking them to a core of modernization.  Its function is immanent in its form; the pavilion lacks any sort of performance stage, theatrical equipment, or religious accoutrements, deferring these to the neighbors.  It has a wonderful, metallic tower that exists solely for elevator access to second floor of the chapel.  However, the space is useful in itself; the completely glass structure with generous eaves is full of even daylight, with arching columns and granite surfaces provide a decentralized art-space usually patronized by theses presentations and photography hangings.  
gothic chapel glass pavilion
The space is not unlike a mini airport in its angles, which jut out, reminding one of Dulles International in Chantilly, Virginia.  Our original plan for hanging the objects of Rainforest specified aircraft cable hung between the upper pylons of the space, with guy wires suspended down to the individual pieces.  The rigging material was quickly downgraded to nylon ropes and a series of temporary knots and wire ties that made the installation's aerial web into a postmodern (read eclectic, messy as if with manifesto, and finally, elements of home depot) visual element.  The objects were activated with various sounds during the couple days of SEAMUS, and at night, as "lobby music" for the formal concerts in the chapel.  It is often noted that David Tudor was an alcoholic, and the strong drink grappa featured heavily at Rainforest performances; coincidentally, the cash bar of SEAMUS inhabited Zelnick Pavillion along with the installation.
Rainforest in the airport-like pavilion.

Rainforest is a collection of found objects, each made into a loudspeaker by transducer.  Many of the objects have a resonant frequency, but this is not a universal condition; some have subtler spectra but louder non-linear noise, such as the gourd, whose seeds rattle at many frequencies.  Thus a Fourier analysis of the situation can be complemented by other sonic identities such as rhythm, space, noise.  My first foray into composing for Rainforest was a 24 channel Supercollider program that attempted to mimic the animal sounds of the jungle; it was a lyrical interpretation that did not rely on scientific analyses, rather it was to get the objects going with a variety of arbitrary birdsong. 


Memorial Chapel: Traditional Gothic Structure, Wind Organ.
How to approach composition for the midi organ: usually some approach is to play really fast stuff, unplayable by human. the console is interesting because it is cybernetic interface: the physical part of the organ is abstracted away and controlled at console, somewhat like Rainforest. There are two dimensions to controlling the organ: by stop and by note. There is a third, which is opening and closing expression shutters to control a little bit of dynamics. The pipes you see in front are diapason pipes, but hiding behind and in the shuttered chambers are a variety of timbres and voices.

Since the organ is played with air, and we are mentally porting rainforest to it, it is rainforest airport.
a paradoxical quest is how creativity is introduced into the endeavour; the rainforest installation was in close proximity to the chapel due to unique architecture of the complex, so a natural urge during installation process was to 'counterpoint' the installation and use the organ as part of it.  but what materials and how to port them?

  • the gestures of the supercollider tracks: undulations, pulses
  • idea of excitation signals
  • musicality, manually making music that works,
  • using resonances, difference tones between midi and the natural resonances derived...
  • exciting speaking tones, just the airy inception of each pipe.
  • playing the resonances as midi notes
  • a list of alcohols and liquors:

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