Date of Submission
Project Advisor 1
When originally asked to provide a title for my senior project, I hadn't thought of one. I hadn't planned for an overarching narrative of any kind, but here I had to think of something, so I went back and looked at what I had already done (Senior Concert I) and at what I was planning for Senior Concert II and, thankfully, there were and are certain themes present throughout the project. I chose “The What Controller” as my title in order to reflect that almost none of the devices used in this project are meant to be manipulated precisely; rather, in spending many hours with a soldering iron thinking of new, odd circuits to use for the creation and manipulation of sound, I stumbled upon an interesting dynamic where actions during the course of a piece revolve as much around the way the machine is behaving as around any sort of preconceived “plan.” The performer makes the initial motion of turning things on and adjusting levels, but must then be ever mindful of the devices' behavior, perhaps being controlled as much as controlling.
As a weird-sound enthusiast more than a physics enthusiast, I've found it liberating to not know exactly what will happen before it happens when working with homemade electronics (often, I am only able to approximate) yet trust that it will sound good, will never have happened before, and will never happen again. The hand-built synthesizer with which I've produced much of my work, susceptible to changes based on the life of its battery, ambient temperature, and imperceptible turns of its knobs, can only approximate the same sound twice rather than match it, meaning while that music can certainly be composed with it, each time it will be different in a way more reflective of the device than of its player. Many other circuits I've utilized behave similarly. Many pieces also rely heavily on cassette tape, either looping or continuous, which I favor for its rhythmic imprecision, timbral inconsistency, and its ability to reproduce a recording in a strange, unique way rather than in a clear, exact one.
The inherent difficulty is clear in attempting to control sound-producing objects which cannot truly be controlled. When one makes music with a computer today, given the sophistication and intuitiveness of newer production programs, one has to do very little to add a sound or effect to a work, and for some, the power this affords gives thmplexem exactly what they want. Conversely, I've found that much of my work involving instruments and sound devices created by hand has consisted more of vain struggle than of mastery, and I've generally been more than happy with the results; as such, my senior concerts intentionally reflect that mindset.
All pieces composed for my senior project seek to embrace unpredictability by utilizing structures that allow ample room for improvisation and chance without necessarily becoming aleatoric, or “chance music.” Though I rarely utilize scores when performing solo, every piece performed could be performed again, or repeatedly, with some resemblance to the performance before or to subsequent performances. For pre-written pieces performed with an ensemble, as with the first piece of Senior Concert II, any “score” used is closer to a layout, utilizing schematics and diagrams to explain the relevant actions the piece should contain, rather than more exact musical instructions.These instructions, when they exist, are to provide a framework in order to allow for the maximum amount of machine-driven spontaneity. The final piece, which contains live, conventional instruments and rhythm, is still meant to take cues from the whims of the synthesizer as much as the agreed-upon notes and tempo, turning it into the same sort of struggle with machines. To summarize, “The What Controller” is about interaction with strange machines, manipulating and being manipulated. With any luck, it's as enjoyable to witness as it is to create.
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Schoonover, John Gilead, "The What Controller" (2012). Senior Projects Spring 2012. 79.
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