Speaker Synth at Monkey Town
I performed my Speaker Synth live for the first time at Monkey Town in Brooklyn last night, opening for ASDF Semicolon. I am very lucky to have had a live experience with Speaker Synth to test out issues like sound quality/dynamics/levels, compositional timing, and general performance techniques. Overall, the performance was successful and well received. People described it as intense, beautiful, surprising, surreal, and punk rock.
Setting up for the performance
My set up was on the floor in the center of Monkey Town, so that people could view the top of the Speaker Synth and witness my interaction with it. I chose not to amplify to instrument. The space is small enough that the speakers could be heard, and I felt that adding amplification might detract from the simplicity of the instrument's "voice". I had one microphone set up for my voice, but chose not to add any effects, again, staying true to the simplicity of voice. My laptop with the Max patch I use to sample and sequence the speakers was amplified through the PA system, and I chose to add reverb and delay at times to enhance the separation of sonic space between the sampled sounds and real time instrument.
I outlined a general structure of techniques I wanted to explore during my set, which I loosely followed. I began by introducing the instrument, each speaker one at a time was finessed to output a desired tone. I let the sounds breath, taking time for the audience to hear and appreciate the feedback sounds alone. Then one at a time, I grabbed a sample of each speaker and began to run them through Max. The room began to pulse a tempo. I moved back and forth between addressing the mixing of the the Max patch while also playing the Speaker Synth. This built up to an intense, full sonic space. At its climax, I pulled a stop on all the audio. Silence. Then brought it back full volume, then stop again. I wanted to create an awareness of how powerful the feedback is and how it consumes the room. Finally, on another stop, I came back to sound but with only one speaker of the solo Speaker Synth instrument. Here I played back and forth with the single speaker and my solo voice. I let my voice waiver on the notes I was hearing from the speaker -- in and out, in and out. This voice was fragile in and out of tune. I began to bring Max back into the mix, this time also sampling my voice to create a blend of human voice and speaker/electricity voice. This montage took time to build up to another all consuming, powerful sonic space. Eventually the performance ended with all sound fading out leaving just one speaker.
In general, I was pleased with the decisions I made, although I am still reviewing the results and asking people for their personal feedback. The only "mistake" I made was hitting a preset in the middle of the performance that created a crazy volume jump which took me by surprise and I responded by cutting out all volume instead of adjusting the house mix levels smoothly. Aspects of the performance I am reconsidering involve how to incorporate a human voice -- something I definitely want to do. I could be the only voice, but I would need to mix my audio level differently and probably have my singing interaction be stronger. Although the speakers waiver in their sound output, they are never lacking intensity and drive...my voice sounds too weak to really parallel the speakers. I still think I would prefer to hear multiple singers reflecting the multiple speakers. I am also considering how to compose an actual score for voice and Speaker Synth.
generative, electronic audio, voice