Laptop Ensemble Debut

Have you ever heard or seen a Laptop Ensemble or even a Laptop Orchestra performance? Ok, you probably had to read that twice and do a sort of “double-take” because the words “Laptop” and “ensemble” or “orchestra” are newly paired words. They were for me too a few years ago and ever since, I’ve contemplated a bit more about the idea. I still prefer to see musicians actively playing a traditional instrument, but it’s not an easy task either to ‘perform music” on something that is not quite an “instrument.”

Well finally, I got the courage to actually program a piece for a contemporary music ensemble to perform Patchwork Pants by Zach Zubow. It was the great quote from John Cage that I kept “in my pocket” so to speak when trying to contemplate such an idea of “laptop ensembles” and such.

“The first question I ask myself when something doesn’t seem to be beautiful is why do I think it’s not beautiful. And very shortly you discover that there is no reason.” – John Cage

And now that I’ve been learning a bit about them: the variety of tools, the programming aspect, the music, and philosophies on the ideas of computer music, I’m finding that I enjoy them just the same as other types of music without out my pre-conceptions about what music IS. It’s been an interesting journey to say the least and I’ve grown as a musician, educator and composer.

I came across Mr. Zubow’s fun composition because he had submitted a work for percussion & electronics. I was really intimidated at first, but after a bit of perusing the files, practicing, and inquiring with the composer, I became comfortable with the challenge. Here is a video recording of the performance that was played during the Festival of New American Music in Sacramento back in November 2012.

I think the Contemporary Music Ensemble at Sac State will be taking a short break for the upcoming semester. However, I’m sure it will be back in the Fall for the next festival. 😉 Perhaps I can have my own laptop composition performed at that event? We’ll have to see as there’s lots to do already.

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Some Highlights in 2012

I don’t write often but I’ve realized I do have lots to write about; or at least more than I previously thought. There is a lot that I like to do and I feel luck enough to have a majority of my time being devoted to music. Fortunately or unfortunately, before I find time to write, I’ve done a number of new things. And while sharing immediately is fun, I often like to “sit with my thoughts” before writing or talking about them. Needless to say, topics stack up and eventually never get written. But the ideas & thoughts never go “to waste” and I have been growing as a musician and educator.

So here’s an overview of the last few months between today and the last post approx.

In May 2012, I attended the Stanford Laptop Orchestra in San Jose. I had been wanting to attend for quite some time and glad I finally was able to do so. While you might be thinking ..”A Laptop Orchestra?!” I have to say I thought the same thing. Now I feel differently about it. I will share some thoughts hopefully before the year is up.

That event also inspired me to curate a similar idea here in Sacramento. So I programmed Zach Zubows Patchwork Pants for a quartet of laptop musicians. I think I will attempt to program at least one new laptop piece every semester for our Contemporary Ensemble. I’ll share the video that I have of the performance, too.

You can probably tell I’m fascinated with technology and music. And you would be correct. In fact one project that I’ve been working on is the Resource Guide for Solo Percussion & Electronics. After being resurrected this past year I’ve managed to find an interested publisher! Hurray! But that means the real work is just beginning. That’s okay. I’m ready. So bring it on!

But my year has also been filled in the last several months with lots of exercise. Cycling is another love indeed. I felt really strong with my riding this year. At the 2012 Waves to Wine Event in Sonoma I rode the 75/50mi route and never felt better afterwards. I truly could ride a 3rd or 4th day in a row. I was “on Fire!” Lol

There was also plenty of relaxing. No, I mean, “RELAXING.” Those times when “we” do nothing at all are very rare. As a result I was able to spend 3 days at Paradise Point in San Diego. There were daily pool visits accompanied by many drinks over the course of a day. 😉 Lots of reading was accomplished and to “top that off,” I finally had access to a TV (since I choose to not own one) in order to catch some great Olympic feats. Those athletes are so inspiring!

I won’t tell you about all the times I’ve relaxed like that. You might get the wrong impression. lol 🙂 Although, Kayaking, family “get togethers,” and friends all play a big part of the wonderful life I have.

Speaking of which, isn’t it time to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life?”

Hope your holidays are the best! Cheers.

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Some Max/MSP Patches

Sorry for the delay in posting but I’ve been working on some really fun projects…. Like Max/MSP, an application that is basically a visual, object oriented programming language. Languages have rules. Therefor, Max/MSP being a type of programming language also has rules. However, you are programming using Objects and “we” use virtual patch chords to connect them together. Learning the language is both the fun and challenging part. 

I’ve found Max/MSP to be quite rewarding as I’ve mainly approached from the viewpoint of an educator. Essentially, I’ve taken what I’ve learned so far and tried to build software that suits my needs. For example, think of the elementary music theory exercises that you use daily: scales, chords, intervals. You can build software that will do this in Max/MSP.
Here are just some of the things that I’ve done so far and have much to learn.
I first started with time. So I built this very simple metronome. It was actually more challenging than I thought especially if you want different metric values for the click. I.E. different sounds for quarter note clicks, eighth note clicks, sixteenth note clicks, etc. The user can type in the meter markings and the tempo or simply drag up/down. The dial works, too. Here is a snapshot
There’s definitely more work to do. But so little time. Bad pun; I know. 😉
Next is a simple app called Keyboard Note Recognition. It randomly asks the User to find a given Pitch Class by pressing the SpaceBar. The user can click on the appropriate piano key and get feedback if it was correct or not. The user can also choose among naturals, sharps & flats. The software also keeps track of items attempted and correct. Here is a snapshot:
I’ve got a bunch more and they continue to get better. I’ll post more when I’ve progressed a little further. I have been working on an audio recorder application of sorts. I’ll probably discuss that next time. 😉
Leave some comments, tips or more ideas. I’d love to hear them.
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