ccloudlab1x2

ccloudlab1x2 was the second extract of ccloudlab1, the first laboratory of CompositionCloud. ccloudlab1 served as a framework for the development of a 45-minute performance for the 2017 edition of Happy New Ears, the new music marathon of the Hochschule für Musik Basel, experimenting with self-made musical instruments and exploring nontraditional forms of notation. ccloudlab1x2 focused on the use of audio recordings as real-time musical scores, taking the form of a multiplayer music game titled stuckJunk-v1. stuckJunk-v1 is based on the audio recording stuckJunk, which documents the process of me trying to fix my junk drawer (in which something was stuck). the intention was to develop a performance for a master’s recital of Daniel More, a contrabass player with whom i also collaborated on ccloudlab1. this performance was eventually titled ccloudlab1x2v1 (the first variation of ccloudlab1x2) and the title ccloudlab1x2 was given to an earlier performance, which was part of AKUT, the concert series of the composition students of the Hochschule für Musik Basel.

the text below describes the process of developing these 2 performances, addressing some of the questions that arise while playing stuckJunk-v1. chapter 5 of this book (click to open as PDF) was based on it.
 
 

the first performance

stuckJunk-v1 was first performed by Arian De Raeymaecker, Cheyenne Häni, and Daniel More.1 initially, i held a series of individual meetings with each of them to design the playing setups to be used for producing the sounds.

Arian, a guitarist and composer, brought an old rusty guitar to which he added a self-made pickup, and prepared the strings with various metals clips. plucking the clips produced sounds similar to those of vibrating_rulers, so we decided to create a playing setup in which the sound world created by different rulers is extended by the sounds of the amplified prepared guitar. we chose the following rulers: 2 brass bars, one 15 mm wide and 2 mm thick, another 20 mm wide and 2 mm thick; 2 PVC bar, one 19.5 mm wide and 2 mm thick, another 29.5 mm wide and 2 mm thick; 1 cooper rod, 2.9 mm in diameter; 1 galvanized steel threaded rod, 5 mm in diameter; and several aluminum needles and wooden skewers, 2 to 3 mm in diameter. all the bars and rods were 1 meter long (apart from the first PVC bar, which was 60 cm long), and the needles and skewers were 20 to 30 cm long. we used a wooden table as a surface and taped to it a small piece of aluminum foil. additional auxiliary objects included a contrabass bow and a hacksaw.

with Cheyenne, a recorder and baroque bassoon player, i developed the altered recorder mouthpiece that was used in 7iS-iSSx1_arm-GP (in which the end of the mouthpiece was covered with the closed end of a tubular balloon), exploring different kinds of recorders and tensions of balloons, as well as bassoon mouthpieces connected to straws (and then to recorder mouthpieces). we ended up with the following setup: wooden soprano mouthpiece, tight balloon; wooden soprano mouthpiece, loose balloon; plastic soprano mouthpiece, 1/2 loose balloon; wooden alto mouthpiece, loose balloon; plastic alto mouthpiece, tight balloon; wooden tenor mouthpiece, tight balloon; and several bassoon reeds connected to straws.

lastly, with Daniel i developed a playing setup incorporating various types of electric motors, different resonators, and rubber bands (objects that can be traced back to the 8th and 10th brainstorming sessions i had for CompositionCloud). we used the following objects: 4 different models of electric toothbrushes (Oral-B CrossAction, Oral-B BRAUN, SensiDent, and Trisa Sonicpower), one of them hacked so that its speed could be controlled with a fader); 3 electric frothing wands (2 GEFU and 1 Xavas), one of them slightly bent so its speed was significantly lower; 1 nose trimmer (CIATRONIC NE 3595); rubber bands; a wooden box (40x30x23 cm3); a large ceramic jar; a thin wooden strawberry tray; glass jars; beer cans; a large plastic bowl, and various plastic packages.

Daniel also brought a contrabass bridge and tied it to the wooden box with several rubber bands, making it possible to hang motors and beer cans. this displacement of the bridge gave the setup a somewhat defiant meaning, since Daniel intended to perform with this playing setup at his master’s recital as a contrabass player. to get a more direct impression of the setups we created, see the photos and videos below as well as this photo album.


 
simultaneously, i was also developing stuckJunk-v1 and had the first working version of it when we were almost finished designing the playing setups. we then scheduled 2 rehearsals to practice playing the game, and these rehearsals can be heard in the playlist below (notice that these videos consist of only the audio and a static image).

the first track (ccloudlab1x2-1) is Arian, Cheyenne, and Daniel’s first attempt to play stuckJunk-v1. after they finished, i asked them to describe how they had felt while playing, and they all said it was a challenging experience, explaining that they had to deal with multiple stimuli and perform multiple tasks simultaneously: following the game, deciding how to move on the board, listening to the recording with one ear and to the sounds they were producing with the other, and making music with instruments that they had just started to explore. handling all of this improved after they tried playing the game again (ccloudlab1x2-2), and it was clear that practice will make it easier to overcome this difficulty. on a more metaphorical level, this quasi-sensory overload experience can also be related to the literal overload of junk that caused the drawer to become stuck.

another issue we dealt with, was how to balance accomplishing the objectives of the game and making interesting music, a question that remained somewhat open (and perhaps, should remain so). obviously, the objectives must be followed, otherwise the game will not end. however, it also seemed to me counterproductive to prohibit occasionally ignoring the objectives set by the game, as simply wandering around the board for a while allowed the exploration of its musical potentialities.2

afterwards, we spent some time discussing how the recording was to be interpreted. in stuckJunk-v1, this can be one of the following, depending on where one is located on the board: “imitate what you hear” (I), “play as if you were junk inside the drawer” (J), “play as if you were the junk stuck in the drawer” (sJ), “play as if you were trying to fix the drawer” (F), “play as if you were the drawer” (D), or “pause” (P). note that while the first and last instructions tell the player what to do, the others just tell her/him what to think, and are accordingly very open to interpretation.3 therefore, in order to establish better communication between Arian, Cheyenne, and Daniel, i asked each of them to describe in words how she/he interprets each instruction (with the exception of “pause” (P), which is straightforward and did not require any further discussion). below is a summary of their responses.

Arian:
I* - making noisy sounds with several rulers. sometimes plucking the rulers.
J - this is the least defined, maybe similar to "imitate what you hear" (like Daniel's J). maybe the very distinctive high-pitched plucking sounds.
sJ - this could be anything that is played abruptly, a kind of staccato, like resisting something. 
F - mostly low-pitched plucking. just feels this way. the hacksaw was also used for this.
D - something big and slow. examples include slow vibrations of rulers, long guitar and feedback sounds, as well as everything that has to do with the movement of the drawer (pulling it back and forth).

Cheyenne:
I* - difficult because of the instrument. maybe following the rhythm of the recording. maybe air sounds and percussive sounds.
J - something "lazy", as if being there by accident.
sJ - loud, high recorder sound ("screaming"), like being stuck without being able to move and wanting to get out.
F - a distinctive gesture, for example, repeating high recorder sounds that go down. also the reeds.
D - long, quiet sounds.

Daniel:
I* - making noises with the plastic packages.
J - focusing only on a single aspect of the sound. a bit similar to "imitate what you hear".
sJ - something "stressed", mostly rubber bands.
F - sounds of motors played with some agitation.
D - hitting the edges of the wooden box with the metal cap of one of the jars.

* "imitate what you hear" (I) does not necessarily mean imitating only the sounds coming from the headphones. imitating the sounds the others are doing is also possible. this was especially helpful for Cheyenne, whose ability to imitate the recording with the altered recorder mouthpieces was quite limited.

as can be seen, these notes are heterogeneous. most of the notes do refer to specific sounds (Arian’s I, J, F, and D; Cheyenne’s I, sJ, and F; and Daniel’s I, sJ, F, and D), and some of them consist of broader descriptions of sounds (Arian’s sJ and D; and Cheyenne’s F and D). all the interpretations of the stuck junk use additional (and rather similar) metaphors: “like resisting something” (Arian), “like being stuck without being able to move and wanting to get out” (Cheyenne), and “stressed” (Daniel). Cheyenne also used “something ‘lazy’, as if being there by accident” for junk inside the drawer (J), and Daniel interpreted J as a mode of listening, “focusing only on a single aspect of the sound”. for both Arian and Cheyenne, the drawer was associated with creating large musical spaces (Arian used the adjective “slow” and Cheyenne “long”).

in general, however, they all agreed that the way they interpreted the instructions was also very flexible and mostly context-dependent, and this flexibility is also evident in the relative ambiguity with which some of the descriptions above are formulated. see, for example, the use of words such as “sometimes” (Arian’s I), “maybe” (Arian’s J and Cheyenne’s I), “could” (Arian’s sJ), “something” (Arian’s sJ and D; Cheyenne’s J; and Daniel’s sJ), “anything” (Arian’s sJ), and “everything” (Arian’s D). in the second performance, a stricter approach to interpreting the instructions was explored.

the third and the fourth tracks, ccloudlab1x2-3 and ccloudlab1x2-4, are 2 games that were played before and after this discussion. although it might be difficult to realize only from listening to these (at the time it was not yet possible to save log files of the games or monitor them from another computer, as i was involved with solving other bugs), at least according to Arian, Cheyenne, and Daniel, having a clearer idea of how the instructions are interpreted by the other performers (as well as making it clearer for oneself) did help. to play better as a group, i also suggested thinking of the different instructions as different perspectives on a shared situation. in other words, playing as if one “were junk inside the drawer”, could also mean playing like junk inside the drawer depicted by the player who is playing as if she/he “were the drawer”. finally, below is a video of the performance.4


 
 

the second performance (ccloudlab1x2v1)

in the second performance, which was part of Daniel’s master’s recital, Arian, Cheyenne, and Daniel were joined by visual artist Kostas Tataroglou, who also documented ccloudlab1 and created this teaser for it. in ccloudlab1x2v1 (the title given to the second performance), Kostas played stuckJunk-v1 just like the others, however, rather than interpreting the recording by producing sounds, he was producing visuals, playing several drawer- and junk-related video clips he recorded, and processing them in real-time with the live video mixing software Resolume, which he controlled with a KORG nanoKONTROL 2. in addition, Arian’s playing setup was also slightly changed: we removed the guitar and the aluminum foil and added a brass rod 6 mm in diameter in order to focus more on the rulers.

for this performance, we scheduled 2 rehearsals as well,5 with the intention of making it easier to follow the game by listening to it. my plan was to devote the first rehearsal to playing all the 6 possible duos, and to ask the performers to write short descriptions of what they are going to do for each instruction. contrary to the descriptions they gave when we developed the first performance, this time i asked for something more concrete, even schematic, such as simple descriptions of specific sounds or families of sounds. to do this gradually, for the first duo, the performers were asked to write the descriptions only after they had played; for the second duo, they were asked to write half before and half after;6 and for the third duo, they were asked to write everything in advance. i also encouraged them to vary their interpretation of the instructions, both for the sake of musical experimentation and to make the game slightly more challenging. to be able to see what they were playing in real time and analyze it afterwards, i developed the possibility to monitor the game from another computer and to save a log file of it, so it could be replayed. below are videos replaying these 6 duos, and below each video are the descriptions the performers wrote.7

Arian (green):
J - pitched sounds by plucking rulers
sJ - bowing 2 needles
F - rubbing threaded rod with wooden skewer
D - bowing thick rod

Daniel (blue):
J - rubber bands
sJ - frothing wands
F - toothbrushes
D - metal cap

 

Cheyenne (red):
J - mixed recorder sounds
sJ - "screaming"
F - flutter-tongue
D - reed sounds

Kostas (magenta):
-

 

Cheyenne (orange):
J - mixed recorder sounds
sJ - "screaming"
F - flutter-tongue
D - reed sounds

Daniel (green):
J - frothing wands
sJ - rubber bands
F - toothbrushes
D - nose trimmer

 

Arian (green):
J - bowing wooden skewer
sJ - slapping plastic ruler
F - bowing needle
D - plucking rulers

Cheyenne (orange):
J - mixed recorder sounds
sJ - balloon noises
F - reed sounds
D - air sounds

 

Arian (cyan):
J - stroking table with copper ruler
sJ - sawing everything
F - plucking rulers
D - bowing threaded rod

Kostas (magenta):
sJ - color

 

Daniel:
J - frothing wands
sJ - rubber bands
F - toothbrushes
D - metal cap

Kostas:
sJ - color

 
replaying games provides information (that is impossible to obtain only by listening) about the behavior of the players. one can observe in which rectangle each of the players was located, to which other rectangles she/he could move, and to which she/he chose to move. accordingly, the videos also reveal some inaccuracies in the interpretation of the instructions: short rectangles were occasionally ignored and slow responses to changes were also not very rare. that being said, it is possible to follow the games quite easily, and it is clear that the performers did their best.

replaying games can also expose when the players tried to accomplish the objectives and when they chose to ignore them. the videos above show that the performers were all committed to the game, and the only significant exceptions are Arian’s and Kostas’ delays in finding the stuck junk in ccloudlab1x2v1-1 and in ccloudlab1x2v1-5: in ccloudlab1x2v1-1, even though Arian was located next to Daniel when Daniel found the stuck junk, Arian chose to go to the other side of the board and came back to find it 5 minutes later; and in ccloudlab1x2v1-5, Arian found the stuck junk at the very beginning of the game, but Kostas ignored this and went in another direction.

Kostas’ delay in finding the stuck junk, however, was probably not intended, as he was also slightly confused and overwhelmed by the game. moreover, besides marking the stuck junk by changing the video from black and white to color, it was difficult for him to play the game, produce visuals, and follow a predetermined interpretation of the instructions at the same time. therefore, Kostas and i decided to meet again without the others for an additional rehearsal, in which we found out that keeping things simple – such as marking the stuck junk by changing from black and white to color – works the best. Kostas wrote similar descriptions also for the other instructions, and we then discussed what it means to “imitate what you hear” with visuals rather than sounds. one thought was to simply use relatively less effects for this instruction, pointing out its literality in comparison to the other, more metaphorical instructions. another thought was to refer to “imitate what you hear” as the “default” playing mode, and then to modify it when the other instructions are to be followed, according to the simple but specific descriptions Kostas gave to them (for example, changing from black and white to color).

below is a video replaying a game we played together (i played on a wooden skewer and a glass of water, which were recorded with distortedZoomH5), and below that are the descriptions we wrote.
 

Goni (red):
J - high-pitched plucking
sJ - hitting glass of water
F - touching microphone
D - low soft plucking

Kostas (magenta):
J - speed accents*
sJ - color
F - flashlight*
D - freeze

* even though Kostas did write these descriptions before playing, he did not manage to realize them. afterwards, they were used also in another game we played but not recorded, as well as in the next rehearsal and in the performance.

 
the second rehearsal, which was also the last one before the performance, was devoted to practicing playing a 4-player game, as we planned for the performance. like before, i asked Arian, Cheyenne, Daniel, and Kostas to document their interpretation of the instructions. the playlist below includes the videos of the 2 games played in this the rehearsal and the one played in the performance, and below the playlist are the descriptions Arian, Cheyenne, Daniel, and Kostas wrote (this time the same interpretation of the instructions was used for all the games). because of an unfortunate technical problem, we could not save the visuals Kostas produced during the performance and the log file of the game that was played (ccloudlab1x2-10)8.

Arian (red):
J - dropping rulers
sJ - bowing and sawing rulers
F - plucking rulers
D - dragging rulers

Cheyenne (cyan, orange):
J - mixed recorder sounds
sJ - "murmuring" (but also "screaming")
F - reed sounds
D - plastic alto mouthpiece

Daniel (blue):
J - frothing wands
sJ - rubber bands
F - toothbrushes
D - nose trimmer

Kostas (magenta):
J - speed accents
sJ - repetitions
F - flashlight
D - freeze

 
4-player games are not very different from 2-player games, except that in 4-player games there is the possibility that one of the players will find the stuck junk right from the start (as happened to Arian in both ccloudlab1x2v1-8 and ccloudlab1x2v1-9).9 in addition, accomplishing the second objective, “all players should play at the same time as if they were the junk stuck in the drawer”, tends to be more difficult in 4-player games than in 2-player games. this should not be too surprising as, naturally, the more players there are, the more difficult it is for them to be in the same rectangle at the same time. for example, in ccloudlab1x2v1-9, it took Arian, Cheyenne, Daniel, and Kostas almost 5 minutes to accomplish this objective, while in ccloudlab1x2v1-2, ccloudlab1x2v1-4, and ccloudlab1x2v1-5, it took the players less than 45 seconds to do so.

of course, there are also other factors involved. in ccloudlab1x2v1-1 it took Arian and Daniel almost 3 minutes to accomplish this objective because Arian found the stuck junk only after he moved to the longest rectangle on the board (162 seconds). whereas in ccloudlab1x2v1-8, the stuck junk was located in a medium-long rectangle (40 seconds), and when Cheyenne finally found it all the others were already surrounding it. therefore, accomplishing this objective in ccloudlab1x2v1-8 took less than 90 seconds.

the stricter approach to interpreting the instructions meant that accomplishing the second objective also had an explicit impact on the music: the combination of the sounds and visuals intended for playing as if one is “the junk stuck in the drawer”, was heard and seen for the first time only when the players accomplished the second objective. therefore, it is safe to assume that in ccloudlab1x2v1-10 this objective was accomplished at about 10:15, even though the log file was not saved.

another influence of the game on the music is that the ending of stuckJunk-v1 is almost always a solo of the player who is the last to reach the end. this is evident in practically all the games we recorded. furthermore, Daniel’s behavior at the end of ccloudlab1x2v1-8 is also worth mentioning: at 10:39, 4 seconds before reaching the end, Daniel changed his mind and moved to another rectangle, exploring the board for another 2 minutes (possibly because Arian also chose to explore the board for a while before reaching the end). this information is available to us because the log files expose not only how the games were being played, but also some of the dilemmas the players confronted while playing, as well as their final decisions.

to conclude, a few words should also be said about how we approached presenting the performances to the audience. in both performances, it was important for us to give the audience the feeling that the performers on stage were playing a game together, that they were interacting with one another in a playful manner. that being said, in both performances we also decided not to project the game, and the audience’s understanding of what was occurring was limited, as they could not know what the performers saw on the screens of their laptops or heard in their headphones. in the first performance, this was also because of a technical consideration (recall that it was impossible to monitor the game back then), but in the second performance, we simply thought that projecting the visuals Kostas produced would be enough. obviously, projecting the game could have enriched the audience’s experience. perhaps also incorporating into the performances a short explanation of the game, maybe in the form of a live demonstration or a video tutorial, would have been necessary, if the audience would have been expected to really follow what was projected. conversely, focusing too much on the game could have also distracted the audience from listening to the musical outcomes of playing it.

ultimately, it seems to me that what is at stake here is the role of the audience: are they invited to listen to music or to follow a game? or maybe to both?
 

notes:
1 the performance took place on April 7, 2017, as part of AKUT, the concert series of the composition students of the Hochschule für Musik Basel. (back)
2 perhaps, the only reason to focus solely on the game is to avoid a very long performance. (back)
3 when following the more open instructions, the role of the recording is to give the player an idea of what kind of junk, drawer, etc. is to be imagined. so, for example, when playing “as if you were junk inside the drawer”, the player should imagine that she/he is the specific junk that is portrayed in the recording. (back)
4 the audio was recorded by Justin Robinson. (back)
5 the first rehearsal was on June 4, 2017, a little less than 2 months after the first performance, and the second rehearsal was on June 14, 2017. the performance was on June 22, 2017, at the Hochschule der Künste Bern. (back)
6 unfortunately, i did not ask Arian, Cheyenne, Daniel, and Kostas to indicate which descriptions they wrote before they played and which descriptions they wrote after they played. (back)
7 because of technical problems, ccloudlab1x2v1-2 does not include the visuals Kostas produced, and ccloudlab1x2v1-6 does not include the replayed game. (back)
8 the static image is the one Daniel chose to be the cover of the concert program of the recital. the audio was recorded by Jan Gubser. (back)
9 this is because “sJ” can be assigned only to 1 of 11 specific rectangles (click here for more about that). therefore, if there are 3 players or more, it might occur that the instructions assigned to all 11 rectangles are visible to the players (each player sees the instructions assigned to 4 rectangles: the one in which she/he is located and the 3 to which she/he can move). at the time, the game did not take into account if these 11 rectangles are actually visible to the players or not. accordingly, in ccloudlab1x2v1-8 and ccloudlab1x2v1-9 Arian found the stuck junk even though it could have been located in the other rectangles that were not visible to any player (this is fixed in the version of stuckJunk-v1 currently available for download). (back)

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