45 Delusions with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company

45 Delusions was commissioned by the Walker Art Center for an event with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company (MCDC) as part of the Common Time exhibit and performance series. The piece was performed and recorded with the dancers on March 30, 2017 in the Perlman Gallery at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. My setup included Rhodes, Moog Sub 37, PreenFM2, Korg KP3+, and a Moog Minifooger Delay. Graham O’Brien performed on percussion and electronics triggered from his drums.

John Keston's Setup for the Common Time Event

My Setup for the Common Time Event

The score is two pages. The first page (pictured at top) is the timeline for both performers. The timeline is vertical and made up of cells that last between one and five minutes each. Frequently the cells correspond with each player, but they are arranged so that at times they overflow. Rests are also included as cells. Each cell includes brief instructions and/or graphics that give suggestions to the musicians. Some of the instructions are expanded on the second page of the score.

Graham O'Brien's Setup for Common Time

Graham O’Brien’s Setup for Common Time

The second page also includes a list of forty five delusions. These include terms such as alternative facts, capitalism, corporate culture, equality, freedom, fossil fuels, greed, justice, and so on. There are also a few technical delusions such as erotomania (belief that a celebrity is in love with you) and lycanthropy (belief that one can turn into an animal). The second page explains the delusions and what to do with them:

DELUSIONS
Anything that might be considered or is delusional. These are not necessarily medical or technical examples of delusions and may involve individuals, societies, or organizations. Prior to performing the piece, each musician chooses one “delusion” applied to each cell within the score.

Take a look at the PDF at the end of this article to see the complete list of delusions as well as expanded instructions for some of the cells. Obviously this is an improvised piece of music, but this approach steers the improvisation in directions that would be unlikely to occur freely. Particularly the timing. As one performs or listens to the piece it is possible to discern distinct variations as the musicians transition from one cell to the next. If you are inclined to listen to the piece in full, try following along with the score and placing a SoundCloud comment where you hear the cells change. The timing on the recording doesn’t exactly match the score, but it’s pretty close.

The reasons I took this approach are multi-faceted: (1) It keeps the piece moving. Often free improv tends to stagnate as ideas are repeated and refined. With this approach the challenge is to express ideas with concision and then move on to the next (this is possible, albeit rare, in free improv – we call it channel surfing). (2) It is possible to strictly define the length. We used a timer that counted up to 30 minutes. One quick glance at the timer illustrates the need to move on to “High Speed Arps” for example. (3) Mood, dynamics, and theatrics can be injected to create a narrative with scope and meaning. It is a way to ask questions, discover sounds, explore, and experiment. (4) It enhances my musical engagement. I am influenced by my collaborators and surroundings, but I’m also interpreting the language of the score, and hopefully to the benefit of the musical output.

45 Delusions by John C.S. Keston (148K PDF)

Novation Circuit Randomized Patches

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In my mind, sound design is at its best when it is a process of discovery. At its worst it can be an unfortunate exercise in mimicry. I am fascinated by the process of discovering sound through happy accidents. One of the techniques I have exploited frequently in this regard is synthesizer patch randomization. For example, the Yamaha TX81Z sounds great when randomized, or better yet, “degraded” with shuffled parameter values interpolated based on a time unit or clock division. The PreenFM2 has patch randomization built directly into the instrument!

So, it wasn’t long after picking up a Novation Circuit that I had the urge to use a similar shortcut to mine fantastic and otherworldly sounds from the unit. Full MIDI specification for the Circuit is available so that development of a standalone randomizer is possible, but Isotonik Studios published a free Max for Live editor in partnership with Novation. Max for Live patches are inherently editable so I decided to start there.

Send Random Values

It took me a couple of hours to get into the guts of the editor and setup a drop down menu for randomization. The drop down has choices to either “randomize all” (not quite all parameters), or randomize one of seven sets of grouped parameters like the oscillator section, mod matrix, or LFOs. At his stage I haven’t included the EQ section, voice controls, or macro controls. I probably won’t add the EQ, but the macro controls might offer some interesting possibilities. The image above shows a simple subpatch I made that takes a bang and outputs the random values for the oscillator section. Unfortunately, I can not legally share my mods based on Isotonik’s and Novation’s EULAs. However, you’ll need little more than a basic understanding of Max to do this yourself. Checkout the video and let me know what you think in the comments.

Solo Electroacoustic Piano Teaser

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This teaser for my show tonight at Jazz Central Studios includes a handful of snippets from my rehearsals of the electroacoustic piano pieces I’ll be performing. It’s all acoustic piano with processing that includes delays, live looping, freezing reverb decay, and reverse. The last snippet also includes the use of a felt mute between the hammers and the strings. The tone is much darker, softer, and subdued.

Interview: The Mind of Video Artist Chris LeBlanc

keston_leblanc_05

Chris LeBlanc is a video artist who I have been collaborating with frequently for the last year and a half. The body of work that he has produced in this short period is remarkable. His improvised visuals for musical performances include mash-ups from rare VHS tapes of bizarre B-movies; usually of the sci-fi, horror, or fighting genres. He augments these mix tapes with circuit-bent Nintendos and a vast collection of other analog video devices to produce uncanny, audio-responsive, visual experiences that enhance musical performances and draw in listeners. Recently he added a modular video synthesis system to his rig and salvaged a nine-by-nine CRT video wall for display.

On Thursday, October 22nd Chris produced visuals for a solo performance of mine at a club with a projector and fifty-one flat screen monitors dispersed throughout the venue. Chris managed to display his video art on the projector and all of the flat screens during my performance. This lasted for about half the set until an irate bar manager found him and made him put the hockey game back on a few of the flatscreens. In addition to his performances he creates music videos and stills using the same equipment and similar techniques. After our most recent show I thought it would be great to share a discussion with Chris here on ACB. I interviewed him on what drives his decisions as an artist and how he makes his analog imagery so engaging while using content and technology from a bygone era.

Read on for the interview with Chris LeBlanc plus more videos and still photo examples of his work. Continue reading

Hi-8, Bleep Labs, Moog Sub 37, Minifooger, Elektron Analog 4

Sub37+A4

This analog-sourced audiovisual piece is a collaboration with video artist Chris LeBlanc. The visuals were performed with a Hi-8 camera running through Tachyons+ and LoFiFuture processors, and keyed with a Bleep Labs synth. On the music end I’m playing my Moog Sub 37 through my Minifooger Delay and synched up to an Elektron Analog Four. I sent Chris separate signals from the Sub 37 and the A4 that he used to make the visuals respond.