Lear on the Second Floor

a few months ago, composer anthony davis contacted me about a chamber opera he was working on. that opera turned out to be "lear on the second floor," a re-imagining of shakespeare wherein lear is a neuroscientist suffering from alzheimer's. anthony wanted me to portray her madness and disorientation. i was happy to oblige, of course...

source (and for further reading): uctv

i worked most closely with soprano bonnie lander. we had already worked together on a few other projects, including a bizarre sock puppet show (which will be documented here soon). i also collaborated with double bassist mark dresser. i processed and sampled both of these excellent musicians in realtime, and blended their sounds with field recordings of rain, sirens, and coyotes.

for live sample manipulation and effects routing, i used my granular sequencer app called nonsequence. nonsequence allows me to define scenes, using graphical editors, to determine thirty or so parameters on several different timescales. using nonsequence, creating stochastic or self-similar patterns is relatively simple. i can also navigate these scenes live, as new data streams into the system-- from, say, a performer. these features make nonsequence my go-to app for live processing. more on that later.

i also used a network of four spectral processors, each of which performed a fourier transform of incoming data, and applied a "shift", "stretch", "average" and "gate" routine to the spectrum. these nodes were arranged in a fully distributed feedback network with weights that were hand-tuned to produce interesting results. i could also nudge these weights, and the arguments of each spectral routine, in realtime. the system was capable of self-oscillation-- i used a compressor to make total saturation sound nice and soft. rather than giving myself controls that mapped linearly, i mapped many parameters to a relatively small number of controls, hand-tuned the ranges of these mappings, and focused on playability. this turned out to yield much more aesthetic results than my earlier toilings with fully independent linear mappings.

my contributions to the piece were largely blocks of improvisation, although i developed an overall game-plan for each block. that being said, i frequently had to think on my feet. getting linux to play nicely with a newly acquired motu traveler was not easy. during the dress rehearsal, my system crashed between cues, but i was able to bring everything back up before the next cue. no one suspected a thing! happily, that was the only crash of the production.

i am very grateful to all the performers i worked with on this project, and to steven schick for conducting. it was great working with the director, mark dechiazza. of course, my warmest gratitude is reserved for anthony davis for writing a part for me in his killer opera. it was a pleasure.

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