Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Private Constellations Installation

Poster announcing installation of Private Constellations

This last spring something really exciting went down that I wasn't able to talk much about because I was so busy getting ready to head out to Russia. But this project is in an exciting new branch of musical creation. Private Constellations was written between fall 2012 and spring 2013 and created as a 'sound installation' (something like a museum exhibit, where the sound is constantly playing). A large playlist of composed sound files was loaded onto twenty-one computers in a room, each playing different things at different volumes and different times. 

I have wanted to create something like a living web of music for a long time. The philosophical idea behind the piece is to create a unique musical experience for every person who experiences it. Just as countless individuals have looked at the stars over the millennia and declared various combinations of stars to be ‘their’ constellations, I want to give each listener the chance to experience something vast and yet unique to them. No two listeners will have quite the same experience when encountering the piece, for several reasons. First, the piece has a nearly infinite number of possible combinations. Second, the listener can choose their own route through the installation. Finally, each individual can choose how long to listen.

This piece was created to take advantage of the technology and space of the BYU Advanced Lab for Musical Applications (ALMA) - reinventing the space as a sound sculpture installation. Private Constellations was presented and recorded April 25th, 2013.

In order to create the materials for this sound sculpture, five different sound clips were extracted from different music sources. The idea was to have an eclectic mix of samples that would be blended through electronic manipulation into a cohesive group. Each of the five samples was manipulated into about twenty-one different variations, using a diverse array of effects in the program Audacity. These included variations of reverb, decay, tempo change, tremolo (used to create new envelops for the sound), wahwah, phaser, distortion, and others. Noise removal and other filters were used in unusual ways to further enrich samples. For example, a section of actual music would be selected as the ‘noise’ to be removed, resulting in unpredictable and beautiful results. High/low pass filters were set to the unexpected extremes to emphasize certain parts of the spectrum of each sample. Some tracks have repeating patterns fading in and out, transforming, accelerating or decelerating at different rates. The final results range in length from eleven to one hundred ten seconds. Additional tracks consisting of random lengths of silence were created, and all one hundred and twenty eight tracks were input into an iTunes playlist set to randomize and loop.

The video above shows a brief clip of how the installation looked going in!

Each of the twenty-one computer/piano stations in the ALMA lab were commandeered for this project, with their sleep function disabled. The randomized playlist is loaded onto each one, and the computer/keyboard speakers were set at mid to low volume levels. The result was an immersive field of sound that could be toured and experienced in different ways.

I can definitely see myself doing similar projects in the future - this was a very satisfying experience. I really enjoyed how it subverted the traditional model of only hearing classical music at a concert. Each person gets to choose their own concert, and have a unique experience. As a composer one of the most urgent directives driving my creativity right now is reaching out to listeners in new and exciting ways, and Private Constellations is an exciting step in that direction.

No comments: