Robert van Heumen Composer Improvisor Laptop-Instrumentalist Sound-Designer
Software Developer
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Shackle Affair: Organ / further developent

Last Monday I spend another day at the Orgelpark, this time working with Anne (La Berge) and Trevor Grahl on more specific details of the parts of 'Shackle Affair: Organ'. I had some trouble getting started, for various reasons, one of them being too little sleep the night before. As the piece involved a lot of different aspects, both technically and musically, I find I really need to make specific plans for these development sessions, otherwise I get swamped in details and totally lose overview. So another learning moment. Next week I'll have another session and will make sure I'm a bit more organised.

Back to this session: I started out connecting it all: MIDI to/from the Sauer organ, audio from my computer to the speakers, audio from the dynamic mics in the Sauer to the speakers, to the Rat distortion pedal and to my audio interface for live sampling, audio from the little organ ('kistorgel') to the speakers, to the ZVEX distortion pedal and again to my computer for live sampling. My naive idea was to do this through the digital Yamaha mixer that was there. I've seen these monsters before, but never really worked with one. I'm sure they are very convenient once you know how to work with them, but it's not something you just setup as a first-time user. So that and too little sleep and there goes an hour (or two) without any progress. After getting a coffee with Anne I decided to leave it and just connect the organs one by one directly to the audio interface. Figuring out the connections at a later stage.

Another frustration was the Rat distortion pedal. I didn't seem to be able to have a decent volume, until I found out that these things just always feedback when you're sending them an signal. My conclusion: just open up the volume and let them scream, switching them off when you're not making any sound (any guitarplayer could have told me that, but hey, I found out the hard way).

I also decided not to amplify the Molzer organ. The Sauer and little organs are fine with the two mics on each, but I couldn't get a satisfying sound from the Molzer, so decided to use it only once in the piece, and then just acoustic. Limitation saves the day once again.

A MIDI issue with the Sauer organ was solved after discussing it with Trevor, who knows the MIDI console very well. I won't bore you with tech details, but just sending a MIDI reset message just before engaging register assignments works really well. Also, the MIDI reset message works great as panic key, so I can (in theory!) make the Sauer organ shut up from behind my MIDI controllers.

I was glad to also have some time finally with Anne and Trevor to discuss and try out musical ideas for the parts. Very inspiring to have someone interpret your instructions in a quite different way as you anticipated! That's why I love working with musicians and improvisors.

One last note: I have been struggling with the structure of the composition. The basic idea is to have about 10 parts in the piece that are presented to the players through the Shackle System: a visual cueing system where players have the power to cancel new part proposals by the system and also can request a new part at their conveniece. So parts of semi-random length will be proposed in semi-random order (semi meaning: between a predefined min/max value). Players can cancel those proposals, and in the middle of a certain part ask the system for a new proposal. There is no guarantee that in a set of about 30 minutes all parts will be played. This is fine for a Shackle set, because we play quite often, so it is actually nice that some parts don't cross the stage everytime, creating a unique performance at every Shackle concert. But for this piece, that due to its very specific instrumentation nature will probably not be played many times, it would be preferable that every part is played at least once.

The same can be applied to the order of the parts: in a Shackle set it is much better to have parts in a different order everytime, so a Shackle set has the same basic ingredients, but is always different - not only because parts can be interpreted differently everytime, but also because how we play a part depends for a great deal on what came before. But for this piece I do have a certain order in mind, and I would like to have an audience hear that.

So after talking to Anne about it, I decided to make it much less flexible: the order of the parts will be fixed, and the players will not have any influence on the structure. Except for myself: I will have the opportunity to cancel a new part proposal if I feel the current part is not done yet, and I will be able to request a new proposal if I think we're ready to move on. The parts will still last a random lenght (between a fixed min/max value) so the lenght of the piece will not be set in advance. But my ability to advance or extend the piece with cancelling or calling up proposals will make sure it will be within reasonable boundaries (probably between 20-30 min).

Over and out now. On my way to mail a couple of Shackle Sticks to the WORM shop.