Ambient "backdrops" for performance - any thoughts?

Discussion in 'Ask Steve Lawson & Michael Manring' started by MKS, May 21, 2002.

  1. Hi,

    I'm working with a guitarist/songwriter/singer who really fancies doing some "arty" gigs where we play (possibly improv) over a backdrop of sound. He's looking for something that's neutral, no bpm, no defined key structure. Washes of sound kind of thing.

    He'd like to perform at art venues, and places where the audience would be more open to pure performance and music as sound rather than the traditional pub/club type of gigs. So, lots of questions:

    - Any ideas of suitable venues for more "out there" performances in the South East?

    - Any ideas of what kind of "backdrop" we could use? Do you know of any readily available resources? I was thinking of constructing something using ambient noises (cliches ahoy!): low conversation, wind, water, outdoors (birds, traffic), LFO's out of sync, getting DL4's and really tweaking some recognisable sounds (bells, cymbals), lots of reversed stuff with huge reverb... Another thought would be to have something that's rhythmic but not tied to a time signature. Similarly something that's tonal but not tied to a key signature.

    - Any experience?

    I have said that he should just give you a call, Steve... I thought that this sounded kind of similar to what you and Max do looping, so your thoughts would be appreciated.

    Cheers for now,
  2. wulf


    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    What equipment do you have available? A relatively simple way of getting a unique backdrop would be to go somewhere with a minidisk recorder and microphone. Record the sounds and then use that as a foundation for what you create in the installation setting.

    If you've got more gear, how about recording several such tracks and then programming a computer to trigger them as people approach certain areas of the installation - that way you're responding to a wider range of inputs and are interacting with the audience. Of course, that would require various electronics and programming skills :rolleyes:

    A cheaper way to experiment with 'audience participation' would be to mark different areas of the room as defining certain keys, moods or rhythms. As people move through different areas of the room, you focus on the areas where most people are standing, with the occasional nod to sections which others walk into.

    Can't help on the venues, but wacky ideas are my speciality ;)

  3. Wulf - thanks for the ideas. The idea of audience generated music depending on where they are standing is a really neat idea... I also love the thought of fully automating that, but unfortunately I think my technical skills don't stretch to that. :(

    My thought was actually to record some stuff and then play it back off CD (very easy, but not flexible), or to record a sample and then loop (not quite so easy due to hardware requirements, still not overly flexible) or to bring a PC and have computer generated music (logistically difficult but not impossible).

    Which made me remember the KOAN software which does computer generated "random-ish" music. I could program up some wav files and then have KOAN play them in a fairly random manner. :cool:

    Anyway. More wacky ideas are definitely welcome...

  4. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    Sorry for taking so long to reply - I've been in virus land in the computer on my studio of late, but it looks like I've finally beat it (hurrah!)

    Ambient stuff? just about anything really, so long as you allow it to direct the music, not the other way round, should 'work' - street recordings, bird song, water, traffic, tube trains, old people talking nonsense (recording an elderly relative talking about their childhood would be fantastic!!)

    Or, perhaps more difficult, but certainly more 'interactive', would be to play a venue that doesn't require the audience to be quiet, and then to loop and process the noise of the people milling around (art gallery, library etc.) - especially if you had someone doing to wandering anound with a hidden remote mic... suddenly what someone says quietly to their friend in the audience is amplified, looped and played back through a phase sweep, then flipped backwards... :oops:)

    ...If you're getting into this stuff, it's time to invest in an Echoplex or Repeater, methinks! :oops:) Or, judging by JPJ's comment in the first issue of BGM, Kyma looks like it could be a great system for random triggering...

    So to start, go simple - record something on the beach, and see where that takes you...

    have fun!

  5. Gosh, yeah and Kyma's a snip at $3300...

    I think I've got a copy of Koan on an old Computer Music CD from way back... Check it out though. Some of the things it can do are a bit bananas... Mobile phone ringtones? Flash music? Erm...

  6. wulf


    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    You could try playing your disk of ambient noises through your looping box (that second channel on the DL4 has got to be there for something...).

    28 seconds x multiple layers of the background track (maybe with a bit thrown in reverse for good measure) would probably give a suitably interesting foundation to build on.

    As far as the inflexibility of the cd goes, you could record a disk with lots of fairly short tracks and then put your cd player in shuffle mode. Voila - technically easy because you can do all the mixing at your leisure, but still challenging because you can't predict what the next section will sound like. If you make the start and end of each mini-track relatively sparse, you probably won't even hear the switch between one track and the next.

  7. stephanie


    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA
    This sounds like my kind of music! :) I don't know anything about technical/computer stuff :confused: but I like to play my bass against some CDs I have with Nature sounds- waterfalls, brooks, rain, thunder...just improving over it. Sounds nice. :)