Back from Banff

A couple of weeks before starting my residence program in The Banff Centre I wrote a short post about some ideas I wanted to work on. My goal was to implement a binaural listening system that could be both effective and inexpensive. Broadcasting the sound using radio frequency could be the best way to avoid wires and the limitations of bluetooth systems, and earphones seemed to be the best listening solution.

So far so good, but I was a Banff newbie and I did not know the windings of the many roads I could transit until I got there. Our group, (Winter) Musicians in Residence, was a most varied one and everyone there was eager to share thoughts and collaborate with each other.

Faculty members were scheduled and available for everyone in the group on an individual basis and gave some lectures or informal chats on different subjects. A good thing about faculty was the fact that they were a heterogeneous group of people with most diverse backgrounds. Academic performers and composers as well as singer songwriters mingled with the people who formed our group. Some of us were more classically trained and some others had a popular background. Banff Centre‘s motto: Inspiring creativity, was not just a nice phrase, it meant exactly that. The outcome was effective and affective 🙂 ♥♥

I would like to highlight some of the people whose inspiring information is of great value in my ongoing investigation of a binaural implementation.

Martin Bresnick (composer in faculty), told me about John Chowning. In 1976 Chowning discovered the FM (frequency modulation) Synthesis. An algorithm that eventually was implemented in most synthesisers. As a composer he was interested in creating the illusion of 360 º and his work Turenas (1972) is a very interesting example of this. Martin heard some of my playing and he generously came around with a proposal I immediately accepted: the arrangement of one of his latest works, Parisot, (premiered 13th of April). This is a piece written for 12 celli and the idea is to arrange it for multilayered recorders and spatialize them. But to put it shortly this are Martin’s words:
I think you would do a great job with this – overdubbing all the recorders, enhancing the antiphony, and maybe even taking some of the little solos and making them all “live” for you.

Stephen Fearing (singer songwriter in faculty), gave me very valuable advises relating my gear and some practical info about parametric VS graphic equalizer. As he put it bluntly: …you don’t want to be dependent on the sound guy, he could make your show a great one or just fuck it. You’d rather be in control of your own sound as much as you can.
This remark might sound irrelevant to a “classical” musician (not to a jazz, rock or pop one!) but if you are using any electronic processing you must be in control of its quality as much as you are in control of the instrument you are playing.
Here’s one of Stephen’s fantastic songs: Early morning rain.

Henry Ng, (audio production coordinator at Banff) showed me one of his compositions, Extension (or perhaps, the medium), written for electric bassoon and digital signal processing (played by Michael Sorensen). The score has very interesting notes that explain the binaural setup. Henry masters Max Msp and knows a great deal about sound and its spatial possibilities. Apart from discussing different software for sound spatialization (such as Spat from IRCAM) he told me about binaural mics other than the best known – and very expensive – ones: 3Diosound or Neumann’s KU 100 dummy head. Henry mentioned in ear mics… but what is “in ear”? Apparently this is a high-end as well as cost-effective solution for capturing the sound source exactly as we hear it since we actually “wear” the mics in our ears… WYHIWYG (what you hear is what you get). This link shows different options.

Jess Rowland (musician in residence), she came around with amazing info about Maryanne Amacher whose work deals mainly with psychoacoustic effects. Specifically what she called ear tones, known to us – recorder players – as difference tones. Those added sounds that one would hear when playing a pure major third or a pure fifth. I remember this happening when tuning pure intervals in a recorder quartet. I could actually hear the sound as coming from inside and the source changed when revolving my head. As these sounds don’t really occur (they do in our ears) the measurement and or classification is a complicated issue. This adds to the more “metaphysical” part of listening and the perception of sound related to its spatialness. And this is a decisive factor in binaural listening.
Jess herself was a discovery for me. Her performance was an amazing display of originality and creative power. The closing piece, AutoDADActic, was entirely played by Jess using the Textedit software from her Mac laptop, which she later sacrificed during a performance at NY’s Spectrum. Here’s a link of an excerpt of Laptop destruction. Something most of us dream about doing but none dare to 🙂

Anthony Tan (musician in residence) was very helpful as well and introduced me to the existence of free software such as Octogris, an interesting alternative to Spat mentioned before by Henry Ng (runs only in Max Msp) or the expensive Spat V3 by Flux (1.159 €!!). Anthony‘s music is highly independent from any style and his Statement makes for an interesting point of view. He goes back to a seemingly lost tradition of composing/interpreting/improvising, a fairly normal if not mandatory characteristic that lasted until the beginnings of the 20th century.

I would like to extend my thankfulness to each and every one of the people who populated those amazing northern regions of the world. The staff, faculty and many groups of residents proved to be a most welcoming and creative force impulse that will hopefully last until my next going back to Banff.

Upon Cage is an improvisation I played there, may this be a dedication for those mentioned and unmentioned people at Banff.

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2 thoughts on “Back from Banff

  1. I worked with MaryAnn Amacher, back when I was a resident at the Banff Centre. I remember that in order to manifest her “Ear Tones” she needed to play sine waves through speakers at tremendous volume. She had been assigned to a couple of different small studios at the centre, and had blown out the speakers in each, so finally she wound up in Luscar with me, listening over the big S.O.T.A. speakers which may very well be in there. She only managed to blow a couple of the drivers in those. I remember doing all her sessions wearing earplugs – the first and only time that’s happened in one of my sessions, anywhere. I don’t know if there are any pictures from the control room for those sessions, but it would be interesting to see all the people diving for cover when she fired it all up.

    Liked by 1 person

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