Thoughts on last night's performance

In this article I review my performance last night at the plug:dos headphone festival in San Francisco.

First, the venue itself. 5lowershop is in a warehouse near the junction of highways 280 and 101 in San Francisco. It’s at the edge of the Bernal Heights neighborhood.

The venue and its surroundings have that seedy edge-of-the-city feel that I probably wouldn’t want to live in but nonetheless often find intriguing and romantic. It’s just another part of the quintessentially “modern” world.

The interior matches the exterior, a jumble of areas within the warehouse, including the main performance area. The space is quite porous with the outside, and I noticed several cats wander though, including the grey fellow and a small black-and-white kitten. They were presumably feral cats attracted by the warmth, activity and possibility of food. Feral cats are an inevitable part of urban environments, but it’s still heartbreaking to see them this way. I was also concerned for them because of the dogs that were present, fortunately the dogs seemed to be pets and quite mellow.

The atmosphere of people crowded in a warehouse listening to headphones was quite unusual to say the least. Some of the performances were quite interesting, including a serinate for voice and hammer-dulcimer, and of course several acts mixing guitar, analog synthesizers and turntable. The analog synths didn’t strike me as a good fit for headphone performance, and thus avoided them myself (as described in my article on the preparation), but they did a good job of keeping the sound within a reasonable range.

Despite the best efforts of the organizers, whom I liked and thought did a good job overall, things tended to run rather late, and I ended up going on 9:40PM, two hours after my scheduled performance. But I think it went well musically, pretty much meeting my expectations for mixing ambient and rhythmic/punctuated material while keeping things mellow for the headphones. I did bounce around and repeat elements more than I expected, but such is the nature of improvisation, reacting as things unfold.

The equipment (Dell Laptop, Emulator X, E-MU 1616m, E-MU Xboard 25) performed flawlessly. I did make a direct recording on the laptop, and will be posting that shortly. I am also planning to make that the first release in my planned podcast series.

UPDATE: you can now listen to the audio from this performance. Enjoy!

Preparing for tomorrow's performance

My upcoming performance at the the plug.dos headphone festival provides some special challenges. Because the audience, both at the venue and online, will be using headphones, I need make sure my sounds and processes are headphone-safe, i.e., low volume with no clipping, glitching or large volume-spikes. More positively, I can take advantage of a uniform stereo listening environment with deliberate pan and positioning effects.

The need for steady volume and stability rules out the use of feedback and high-resonance filtering that I use in a lot of my recent music. Thus, the Evolver is out. Many of my Open Sound World patches are probably not approrpriate, though stable-volume patches are certainly doable.

I am focusing on Emulator X controlled with a MIDI keyboard (E-MU Xboard25). Thus, my preparations have focused on selecting existing sounds from the E-MU sound library that meet my technical and aesthetic requirements, and creating some new sounds. One preset that I spent a lot of time building is a modification of my additive synthesizer for Emulator X, consisting of eight independently controllable sinewaves. In addition to MIDI control of amplitude and frequency, I use a function generator to add amplitude modulations do the sinewave components of the timbre. Additionally, each “note” played has an independent pan position, spreading the sound across in the stereo field. I have also modified some existing sounds to include stable amplitude-modulation effects. The end result is a highly-controllable pallete of sounds from which I plan to make an ambient but punctuated sound scape, with a few rhythmic elements for good measure.

Logistically, this will be a very simple performance to travel and set up, just my laptop, the E-MU 1616m sound module, and the keyboard. I am looking forward to a relaxed, simple and enjoyable experience.

I'm not posting any advance examples, so you'll have to listen online to the show to hear what I'm describing. Hopefully I will be able to post a recording after the fact.