A remote instrument. That is the core idea of Here and There: a music instrument played by a musician in one place but sounding from a distant, further off place, not at the location of the musician. Thus the produced sound comes from the direct environment, the surrounding buildings, trees of vehicles. As if the performer is playing the environment. In stead of playing an electric guitar and amplifier in the same room, you put the amplifier in a garage with an open door, connect it wirelessly to the guitar in your room. You open the window in your room and start playing. You sound as a remote, guitar playing neighbour. Or you play synthesizer in a park and connect it to a small, portable speaker in the top of a tree to sound as the wind or a bird.
“Perform and combine two different instruments, one only producing sound at a large distance from you and one in or very near to you. Use any device – wired, wireless, digital, mechanical – to ensure that the sound of the ‘remote instrument’ is reaching you from a distance as part of the environment. Find a fascinating spot – stationary or moving – for yourself, the nearby and remote instrument.”
Originally – in the first version of 2017 – the concept of a remote instrument was linked to a digital music instrument: here the physical performance mode (the user interface) and the sound production are disconnected. For example, you can beat the key of a keyboard of a synthesizer or sampler and not produce a percussive sound but a flute. I thought: why limit this disconnection to one room? Why can’t I play a keyboard controller on stage that is sounding outside in a garden? Portable, rechargeable speakers have become widely available and payable in the last decade. So, the first versions of Here and There were realisations with a synthesizer or controller at one place and a portable speaker at another.
Next I figured out that distance – within a music instrument – can be created in various ways, electronically, electrically or mechanically. For example, you can pull long lines or ropes that beat percussion or make sound objects move 30 meters further. With electric extension cables you can switch on devices making sound – a radio, pump or fountain – in another room or space. With a simple tap and a long hose you can control a water installation from a distance. With a controller you can make a music percussion robot play and let it beat the stones of a building, 20 meters above a performer.
In the first place Here and There is an exercise or work for performers, and not a concert piece for an audience. It aims to connect and fuse with the environment by playing a remote instrument. At the moment I don’t know if it is also effective for listeners, it has not yet been performed for an audience. To use music technology to blur the line between between the ego of the performer on the one hand and the group or direct environment on the other, is an idea that popped up in the 1960s, more specifically in Musica Elettronica Viva. The musicians of this avant-garde ensemble did not work with clearly, recognizable music instruments but with contact microphones attached to diverse objects. They produced a kind of living, noisy sound mass. Moreover, they placed the speakers at large distances and mixed all the instruments heavily through the mixing panel. Thus, the listener didn’t hear the sound of a specific performer coming from the location of this performer. R. Teitelbaum of Musica Elettronica Viva described one of their performances as a combination of internal meditative processes and electro-acoustic techniques with the goal to create a kind of “space” designed to dissolve barriers between individual egos and merge them into a collective consciousness: “By mixing and highly amplifying each musician’s signals through a common (and cheap) sound system, the inter-modulation, distortion, inherent unpredictability of analog devices, and the physical displacement and movement of sounds between distantly placed loudspeakers created out-of-body sensations and loss of individuality in the dense noise textures produced” (CD liner notes on “OHM: The Early Gurus of Electronic Music”). Frederic Rzewski – also active in Musica Elettronica Viva – described a double self in confrontation with the soundmass in the speakers: “At times he perceives as his own the sound produced by another, at times he perceives his own sound as another’s. He experiences the possible identification of himself with the atmosphere in vibration” (book Nonsequiturs by F. Rzewski).
Usually the disconnection between sound source, performance gesture and sound production is experienced as alienating in modern audio technology. Imagine a crowded event and presenter with microphone, audible everywhere but invisible and impossible to trace. Using the same technology Musica Elettronica Viva invented a technical setup and performance practice that did create a kind of connection and community between performers and audience. In Here and There I extend this connection-through-disconnection idea to include places, outside indoor concert halls, where there are more actors than music performers and audience. By designing a remote instrument, distributed over the direct environment, a performer cannot easily distinguish own sounds from environmental ones. His/her music instrument sounds from a distance, causing the performer to listen to the background environment. The music instrument spills over into the environmental instrument, by which various humans, animals, objects, the wind, etc. are making sound, regardless of the performer’s intentions.
In this final part I explain three realisations and recordings of Here and There. First, I give a rather long description of a version by Vincent Caers, next, I take a short look at two of my own realisations.
Here and There #1: Vincent Caers at the Meerdaalwoud
Vincent Caers is percussionist, sound artist (a.o. in the Collectief Publiek Geluid) and artistic researcher at LUCA School of Arts. He also plays live electronics with self-designed software and patches. The location where Vincent performed Here and There in August 2019 was a green space called De Speelberg, next to the wood Meerdaalwoud, not far from the city Leuven. As you can see on the photographs the location has walking paths, open fields and a parking, all surrounded by trees. The place and the sounds have a quiet character: a passing-by hiker, the wind through the trees, birds, insects and now and then a car on the parking. Further away machines (on a building site?), trains, air planes and cars were audible.
Vincent chose this location the day before the performance, when he tried out possible places, wireless systems and batteries together with me… and had trouble with sudden rain. These tests showed that it was advisable and practical to limit the setup and instrument choice. Larger setups (with controllers and external sound cards) reduced the battery life, caused technical complications and produced less play time and more stress. Finally, Vincent only used his laptop as remote instrument, wirelessly connected to a Bose Soundlink speaker, positioned about 25 meters behind him – in the direction of the wood –. He was comfortably laying under a sculpture (an archway of branches) to which he had attached a few percussion instruments – Chinese gongs, bells – as ‘nearby’ instrument. On the keyboard of his laptop he played with a self-designed lsl.lpsr patch (in Max): this is an algorithmic sequencer producing 8 independent loops and patterns. He could adapt both details and overall features while improvising. Lsl.lpsr is inspired by the variation and transformation techniques of the French composer Philippe Hurel.
The realisation was one long improvisation session of Vincent, lasting about 50 minutes. Here you can listen to live fragments: fragment 1 and fragment 2. The complete recording was done with two AKG C414 microphones and a Roland R26 recorder. The soundscape of the environment – and the remote instrument – were hard to record well: overall, they were very soft, therefor the recording is amplified slightly. In the first fragment the nearby instruments are clearly audible, the bells around 1’05” and Chinese gongs around 2’16”. In the second fragment – recorded five minutes later – there is no nearby instrument, only the remote instrument (Vincent on his laptop) and environmental sounds (a plane flying over and something like a brush cutter or chainsaw).
Afterwards Vincent told me that in his studio he usually works on details with good monitor speakers or in concerts reacts to musical triggers from co-musicians but in this performance the atmosphere and sounds of the environment functioned as input. Usually he knows his live electronics patches and can guess the direction in which they evolve. He knows how the live electronics react to his performance gestures, adaptions and previous decisions. In the realisation of Here and There the situation was more vague and unpredictable. Some gestures on the computer patch were less or not effective and therefore, almost automatically, he started adapting himself to the surrounding soundscape. Mixing with the environment was clearly experienced.
Here and There #2: Hans Roels in Gentbrugge
The location for this performance of Here and There was an unpaved road in Ghent. At one side there were railroad tracks along this location, on the other side – behind a few trees – there was an industrial park where trucks were being loaded and unloaded. It was a beautiful day in September 2018 with a strong wind; the atmosphere of the location was a mix of natural elements (sun, wind, trees) and human, industrial activity.
I performed on the touchscreen of a tablet as remote instrument, wirelessly connected to a Bose Soundlink speaker, located 20 meters further in a few bushes. On the tablet I controlled a self-designed Pure Data patch – via the app Mobmuplat – with which I mainly produced glissandi with granular synthesis (of a piano sample). As nearby instrument I played on a wooden box, touching it with a vibrator. This is a fragment of the live recording.
Here and There #3: Hans Roels in Sint-Amandsberg
This is the main memory of this realisation of Here and There: it was bitterly cold with a strong, freezing wind. To warm up I started moving a lot in the performance. The recording happened on 1 March 2018 in a park near to my home in Ghent. I used a mini-synthesizer (Korg Volca Keys) as remote instrument, sending the output sound to a simple mobile phone. This was tied to the reed moving back and forth. Ice pieces and a percussion stick functioned as sound objects and nearby instrument. To drive away the cold I started beating the ice more energetically after a while. This is an unedited fragment (about four minutes) of the live recording. You can hear the howling wind through the tree branches and the reed. This extra 10 seconds fragment features the synthesizer, twice with a short break in between. In the first fragment it is difficult to distinguish the synthesizer from a few birds, not scared by the cold wind.