Masters Project: 5. Circuit-Bending Toys (Part 4)

Concert Reflection
19th April 2017
St. Gregory’s Centre for Music

That’s it. This part of the project is over. It’s seems like no time at all has passed since I first introduced you to the Circuit Bending section. Before I go on to discuss the concert, I just wanted to say a huge thanks to the Canterbury Christ Church University Scratch Orchestra for being my guinea pigs. Without them the project would not have been as successful as it was.

As part of the CCCU’s Music and Performing Arts Lunchtime Concert series, the Circuit Bent instruments were presented in front of a small but enthusiastic audience. I had contemplated to write some programme notes, however time got the better of me, and I also wanted the audience to be attentive to the actions on the stage. Having reading material that explained it would have been a distraction. Instead I opted to provide a brief explanation of the project, and the poem descriptions that Natalie Perdu had written as each solo instrument was presented, including that for Gallatronia (the T.A.R.D.I.S. toy).

Unfortunately Gallatronia was only 97% complete by the time the concert came around (The only thing that needed doing was the putting back together of the toy). With that being said, the fact you could see the wires added an element of sci-fi to the whole performance.

Like the other instruments, there was a poem description of Gallatronia. Unlike the others, the poem was written a mere hour before the concert began:

Many times mysterious
Makes you go delirious
Study her star crossed brow
She’s so serious

Doctoring temporal flow
See the places
That she goes

Super Nova bright
Keeps the tempo tight

 

Overall I felt that the concert was a success. I babbled a bit more than I would have liked, but I put this down to pure excitement about the climax of the project. The Audience were also perceptive, and were amazed at how much sound you could get from so little movement. A couple members of the audience even came up to the stage to have a play with the toys after I had invited the audience to do so before the performance began. My words were roughly “Don’t worry, you can’t break them because I already have”.

In an earlier post I posed seven questions or criteria to evaluate whether this project was successful beyond that of a personal feeling, and intend to take a stab at answering them before I type up my official evaluation for the project module.

Did those involved learn a new skill?

To an extent.

Unfortunately due to the dreaded Health and Safety I was unable to allow them to actually bend their instruments with the soldering equipment. They did however get the chance to explore for potential sounds before I went home to bend the toys, and they also had the opportunity to learn how to play a new instrument.

Were the workshops engaging?

Without asking the members of Scratch directly, I can not 100% answer this. I can however base my answer upon my observations. (The answers may be somewhat biased, and I hope to reconcile this in the near future.)

During the first workshop the members were completely engrossed with discovering the potential sounds, and I had to almost force them away from their toys in order for the workshop to finish up in time to tidy up.

The second workshop involved them discovering ways of performing with these toys, and I had to actively stop them from coming up with a list the size of my arm, and start trying them out, and start finding the most affective ones for the upcoming performance. One such idea was that of creating circuits with the toys and our bodies. However, this was too unpredictable for the performance, although I do hope there is an opportunity that arises in the future to explore this  particular idea further.

The third workshop was more of a rehearsal, and was thus more focussed. Therefore engaging is probably not the word I would use for this session.

Did the musicians enjoy the process of chance-based instrument creation?

This is a question I can answer completely honestly without any bias:

Yes they did.

They were enthusiastic and willing to try new things, including things that were out of my comfort zone, such as body touching to create circuits, and the use of saliva on instruments that were shared. Therefore, the fact that they were willing to try these things, and push further than I had previously conceived, surely says that they were enjoying the process. In fact, I don’t think that we went over the allotted time for our part of the concert purely because I waffled a bit, I also believe that it was because they enjoyed playing their instruments so much they forgot the time.

Have the musicians come away from the project with a new look at electronic music?

I believe they have. But once again, this is a tricky question to answer fully. I certainly have, but this does not guarantee that they have.

Have the musicians over a short space of time, become confident on the new instruments?

Right from the start their learning began. They began out with not knowing what Circuit Bending was, and then managed to have full discussion on techniques they could use to play the instruments within 2 workshops. If this doesn’t show that they became confident on the instruments in a short space of time, I’m not sure what would have.

Did they present a coherent performance?

This question goes hand-in-hand with the last 2 questions.

In addition to all the work prior to the performance, which of course helps towards the coherency of the performance, is also how it was presented to the audience. Instead of presenting full and complete ideas, we presented the performance as a demonstration, showing off what the toys could do rather than compositionally sound ideas (whatever they are). In doing so, members of the audience could see what was happening, and what was generating the sounds. Nothing was hidden (except maybe the wires inside… not the case for Gallatronia).

So in essence, because some of the audience members came up afterwards to have a closer look and a play, I believe this shows that the the concept of my project was coherently presented.

 

At the end of this Creative Project, I can truly say that I have thoroughly enjoyed my myself. I look forward to applying the skills I’ve gained (technical and people based) to my Main Composition Project.

For my Main Project, without repeating what I said in an earlier post, the Circuit Bent toys will be presented as part of what I have called (for now at least) ‘an interactive console ensemble’. This ensemble will hopefully consist of; Circuit Bent Toys, an Atari 520 STfm, a GameCube, an Arduino, a Raspberry Pi, and possibly more. In addition, my tutor Alistair Zaldua has set me with a task of writing a composition specifically for Circuit Bent Toys, which I have to say has been a task-and-a-half, as this hasn’t really been done before. Not helped of course by the chaotic and unpredictable nature of Circuit Bent toys. They almost fight against being composed for, and instead prefer to be played with. Nonetheless I am taking on the task. I may even talk about this within this series of posts.

Keep checking this blog for updates on the Main Composition project, discussions on past compositions, and maybe even a review or two thrown in for good measure.

– Jason Hodgson (14th May 2017)

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