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The Prontre itself has no definition. In music, it can be roughly defined as a vague stasis, vague because its presence is never fully made clear. The Prontre does not refer to all static music, but to a process with stasis as the final result. The Prontre is built on the contradiction of stasis in constant flux. The Prontre is inwardly focused - it transmits but does not receive, it feeds on its own signal. Communication with the Prontre is essentially a one way street.
Turning this process into a live performance of any kind is difficult. The Prontre drives the music, but is not contingent on how the music is received. A whopping success, a train wreck, ‘So-So’ - all fine, as far as the Prontre’s concerned. But for the show’s sake, there has to be proper medium. All music obviously requires a medium to be expressed, but I am referring to a ‘Medium,’ as it appears in both refraction and Occultism. The Medium takes the Prontre signal and alters it, multiplies it, bends it, amplifies it, un-shrouds it - whatever is necessary to communicate this signal to a group of people. The Prontre signal is weak, and the task is tricky. A shoddy Medium can wreck a perfectly good Prontre.
My goal over the past year or so has been to find a live performance medium with the right refraction index for presenting the Prontre, or at least a vision of it, to an audience. Previous attempts took place in my room, alone, with an array of contact mics, cassette players, wineglasses, a chord organ and zither. Multi-tracking and editing were involved, and no audience was present. I mentioned earlier that the Prontre does not receive and feeds only on its own signal. Tapping into this signal is easy, if you are the player. The entrance points are wide open. Your process becomes the Prontre, and you are really only transmitting information to yourself. As soon as the receiver enters the picture, whether it’s a friend or an audience, the entrance points get smaller and smaller, and the question of proper medium becomes all the more important.
Overtaking The Face ultimately failed in its mission, though it did lay down some basic Prontre elements: repetition, stasis, silence, murky pitches and timbres, and ‘exposing the process.’ Out of the Ground You Threw It Into is an example of an exposed process. I would record an event with cassette player A and then play it back into the room. With cassette player B, I would record a new event along with the cassette player A playback. As this process is repeated, the recordings deteriorate and transform into unrecognizable entities. All elements of the process are totally exposed to the audience, down to the rewinding and switching of cassettes. The audience is witnessing a construction in progress - the moment the construction is completed, the piece is over.
Overtaking The Face failed because the music was not directed through one particular medium - the sounds were just hanging in space without a point of reference. The concert did demonstrate the self-destructive nature of the Prontre and its tendency towards confusion, which cannot be undermined. The first vision of the Prontre is diffusion, ‘things falling apart.’
SECOND ATTEMPT: FACE THE OVERTAKER
I soon realized that analog tape loop (sound on sound) is the perfect Medium for the Prontre to reveal itself. Both are governed by the same principles of repetition and self-destruction, by that contradiction of stasis in constant flux. The tape loop is static because it is always a fixed duration - if you cut a 10 second loop, that loop will be forever confined to 10 seconds. On the one hand, this repetition prevents the tape loop from forward progression, as it is always re-walking the same ground. On the other hand, new information must be added to perpetuate this cycle. And with each repetition, the old information degrades and changes until all semblance to the original statement is lost.
I would like to add that digital looping cannot be used to the same effect. For one, the digital loop only has an imagined length - with the click of a button, this length can be changed at any time. More importantly, the digital loop does not degrade with each cycle. New material piles up on the old and the loop becomes a congested block of information. The analog tape loop responds to different sounds in mysterious ways - certain percussive sounds will override certain sustained pitches, whereas a sustained pitch of different quality or timbre will destroy that percussive sound. Sometimes a sound disappears immediately, sometimes it sticks around until the last cycle. Digital loops treat all sounds equally and lack the strange responsive qualities of magnetic tape.
Seeing the tape loop medium as a way to make sense of the Prontre in physical terms, I decided that the entire concert consist of loops. The medium becomes a single, continuous form, a focal point for the music. Anything projected must first be channeled through the Medium.
Face The Overtaker has three parts, each employing a different tape loop process:
1. Sic Truc (selections)
A presentation of pre-made tape loops. The process by which the loops were made is totally invisible to the audience, all they see is the final product. The text is a cut-up of Thomas S Kaine’s New Oxford Guide to Writing.
2. Major Suns of Position Ensemble
An example of live analog tape processing. The players are navigating graphic scores of their prepared instruments while I select certain sounds to be looped. The tape loop functions here as a grotesque mirror of the players, an interruption. While they are moving through the scores, I send fragments to the loop and freeze them in time - the players watch their own frozen images deteriorate. Eventually, the looped material overtakes the players, who are still plugging away at their scores as if nothing happened.
3. The Overtaker
A straight sound on sound process, probably the closest to the Prontre. The loop is always running, old information is constantly being replaced by new. Like the Prontre, and much like the Ouroboros, The Overtaker loop feeds on its own signal and is constantly destroying itself. I cycle through a variety of sounds until an unbroken melodic line surfaces, at which point I climb the Prontre Tower and play a cassette player with contact mic gloves.
Entitled Dark Side of the Prontre, the finale is an excited wave of sound headed quickly towards stasis. Two people emerge from behind the tower in spherical masks playing maracas, referred to as ‘Prontre Wingmen,’ servants of the Overtaker. They’re on the sidelines, cheering the Overtaker on. Stasis is reached when the loop no longer has a clear start and end point and is only a sound mass of vague duration, at which point I climb down from the Prontre tower and turn the machine off. The second vision of the Prontre is ‘heading towards stasis.’
I woke up one morning a few years ago and wrote down a phrase - Dotres of the Prontre. Since then I have been trying to figure out what this phrase means. If the Prontre is what I think it is, then all I can offer are dotres.
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White, Colin, "A Vision of the Prontre in Two Parts: Overtaking the Face and Face the Overtaker" (2012). Senior Projects Spring 2012. 186.
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