• Charlotte New Music Festival, 6/21/13
555 is a short piece for electronic toys. It features a loose structure based on the connections between instruments - speaking, pulsing, clicking, glitching...
The instruments used:
circuit-bent Speak & Read
Atari Punk Console (Altoids tin)
Stylophone fed through a Korg Monotron
small Behringer mixer
two Marshall mini-amps
Home studio performance:
Live performance at Charlotte New Music Festival, June 2013:
Further info (from my dissertation):
Having improvised with these objects a number of times, I was familiar with the sounds each would make. I grouped their sounds into timbral classes, such as vocal sounds (radio and Speak & Read), repeated tones (sequencer and Monotron), sustained tones (Stylophone, Monotron, Atari Punk Console, and Speak & Read), repeated clicks (sequencer and APC), and static/noise (radio and APC, to an extent Speak & Read). I let these characteristics guide how I structured the work. Here is the basic outline:
• Introduction: APC static, Radio static, S & R glitches
• I: APC sustained tone, Stylophone/Monotron repeated tones
• II: Stylophone/Monotron slow tones, Sequencer fast tones (1 pitch)
• III: Sequencer vary speed and add pitches, Radio static bursts
• IV: Sequencer and APC fast clicks, vary speeds
• V: Sequencer fast tones, Stylophone/Monotron fast tones
• VI: Stylophone/Monotron fast tones, S & R low sustained tone, Sequencer fast tones, APC intermittent bass tones, Radio static
• Coda: Radio static, S & R glitches
Each section emphasizes a particular characteristic, such as noise, repeated tones, or clicks. Successive sections are bridged by one instrument, which morphs from one of its timbres to another. For example, the APC begins with unstable static sounds in the introduction, then plays a continuous tone in Section I. As in Mirror Universes, my goals in 555 were to highlight a few capacities of each instrument and to display their similarities with other instruments.
555 demonstrates some of the objects' capacities, but not all. The APC is notorious for shrieking high tones, which I leave out. The Monotron features a ribbon controller that I do not employ at all. I use the Monotron's filter and low frequency oscillator (LFO) to process the Stylophone, but I do not generate tones with it. While I use all three major functions of the Speak & Read (glitch, loop, and pitch shift), I loop vowel sounds only. By limiting the capacities I demonstrate, I hope to create a coherent soundworld. I hope to rescue these objects, as best I can, from the underdeveloped and improvisatory contexts in which they are often found.
These objects are toys and hobby projects, not ''proper'' instruments. I am attempting to use them seriously in a musical context, although I grant that the audience may view my piece as a feeble attempt at humor. Playing with these small devices immediately conjures a sense of frivolity, even as I try to compose for them the same way I compose for other instruments. When I first performed this in a Charlotte, NC piano bar, I was met with some laughter and also a modicum of disgust from patrons expecting something ''normal'' on their evening out. This piece resists such expectations.
Recalling Attali's Composing era, I am taking pleasure in the instruments. I am taking pleasure in their rudimentary sounds, their similarities, their differences, and their locked-in functions. Though I use toys, I downplay their cuteness, in contrast to pop-oriented toy musicians like Brett Domino or the Modified Toy Orchestra. However, I am using the instruments to signify. I signify that I am an experimental composer. The instruments act as nodal points between, for example, Reed Ghazala and myself. In the experimental/noise music community, these toys are proper and expected instruments to use; it is another tradition of which I am now a part.
555 is a postproduction piece (recalling Bourriaud) and a piece of carpentry (recalling Bogost). I use existing elements and form a network to see how they exist together. All objects in the piece are actants on each other. The mixer, cables, and amplifiers bring the sounds of the other instruments together. The Monotron filters and gates the Stylophone. I patch the objects together, turn on their power buttons, and turn their knobs. Their timbres act on my creative process. From object-oriented ontology we get the idea that objects and humans are equal. As both composer and performer, I let myself become part of a network of equal objects.