conText: An ElectroAcoustic Music Concert

conText was a concert program that I presented with several other collaborators at the following times and locations:
Sept. 6th @ 7pm at ASU West’s Art Gallery

Sept. 14th @ 7:30pm in the GCC Performing Arts Center

My collaborators were with the Phoenix duo known as Pincushioned which consists of Dr. Doug Nottingham (GCC and my PAR mentor), and Dr. Barry Moon (ASU West), and my own personal duo known as Rules of Play with my wife Lisa Tolentino.  Casey Farina from GCC’s Animation program provided visuals and a piece of his own.
This concert took many months of planning and was a combination of pieces created by myself, Pincushioned and other composers.
I learned a lot about the process of design and composition during preparation for this piece.  Design often comes from the viewpoint of solving a problem.  Whether that problem is something like “What should our logo look like?” or “How can we adapt to facilitate the needs of the disabled?” there must be a process that leads to a solution.  Composition, at least in the form of music, is a much more fluid and open interpretation but ultimately follows similar patterns of design and design thinking.  When these two processes meet it is typically called sound design.
There were two problems I came across, each of which pertained to two separate works on the concert program.  The first concerned a piece I wrote call Vows which is written for a couple and friendstrument.  The genesis of the work comes from the friendstrument which is an electronic circuit that produces sound only when two people are touching each other.  The couple then begins to move and touch each other via scripted choreographed movements which result in different sounds.  The problem I faced with this piece was a very typically problem with avant-garde music performance, what is the predominant feature of the piece? — the sounds, the performance or choreography?  The solution I think is in the balance of all three, which ultimately became the piece’s biggest weakness.  I will continue to struggle with this work and come up with a better solution.
The second problem was more practical but ultimately became an aesthetic problem too.  I wrote a piece call ILOVEYOU Stuxnet which is a mockera (mock opera) based on two computer viruses that fall in love.  It is written for two to three voices, percussion and electronics.  The voices are all altered to portray their respective characters in the text.  The problem that arose was that the altering of the voices subsequently made the legibility of the voices more difficult to hear.  One of the main points of the work is to hide the performer’s actual voices as much as possible while still maintaining the integrity of the text.  But as we found the computer processes we chose to alter our voices ultimately became a liability to the work.  The solution was not simple.  Things did get better with a higher quality sound system but is still a challenge I am working on today.
There were plenty of problems and solutions concerning this concert.  Avant-garde music and performance is not a place where practical meets aesthetic and it is not a place for complete freedom either.  You have to balance the layers of abstraction together to find a way to communicate an idea but also allow others to interpret what that idea might be.