My need to compose is frequently driven by questions. Why, for example, since 1570, are there so few multi-part vocal pieces? What would it mean to write one today? As a resident artist at the Banff Centre for the Arts in Canada, I was able to develop some alternative modern approaches to traditional polyphony, concentrating on methods for improving clarity between parts and creating, huge, spatial textures in a 35 minute piece for one hundred singers, one to a part.  I’ve been interested in the opportunities that writing one to a part vocal music can bring for developing some extraordinary sounds in choral pieces. The possibilities for large, monolithic blocks of sound, contrasted against subtle and carefully positioned individual lines are extremely exciting in this format. I’m going to call this type of writing, for want of a better term, macropolyphony. Probably risky, I know, as Ligeti has famously claimed micropolyphony, but this isn’t related to that process. I’m working on methods for how parts might interact and inter-relate across extreme expanses of textural space.  If composition could do ‘big-data’, this would be it. Continue reading

new album: ECM release Being Dufay

John Potter, tenor voice
Ambrose Field, composer and live electronics

Ambrose Field created Being Dufay in 2007, using extracts from Guillaume Dufay’s songs and motets sung by John Potter. From the outset, it was conceived both as a studio album and an hour-long concert event. In this live realisation of a studio sound world, Dufay’s music is presented intact, not something weird and alien, but rather an ‘investigation’ into the potential already in the original material. John sings the Dufay lines, while Ambrose digitally modifies newly composed material. The result is a rich, contemporary sound world which retains the essence of 15th-century Franco-Flemish polyphony.

ECM are releasing the CD of Being Dufay early in 2009, and the first launch event takes place in the Resonanzen Festival at the Vienna Konzerthaus on January 21st.

Being Dufay in rehearsal

Being Dufay in rehearsal

Worldscape Laptop Orchesta

Our research paper describing the music and technology behind the Worldscape Laptop Orchestra has had the good fortune of being selected for the International Computer Music Conference (ICMC) in Belfast this August.

(c)Phil McPhee

photo: (c)Phil McPhee

In creating the Worldscape Laptop Orchestra I wanted to push the available technology as far as possible in enabling group musical expression on a mass scale. Seeing no point in duplicating the work of other well known laptop orchestras (such as Princeton’s notable ‘Plork’), we instead chose to focus our work on concerns specifically relating to musical and technological scalability. New music was written for the ensemble by composers Alex Harker, Jethro Bagust, Angie Atmadjaja and myself, examining the aesthetic dynamic which results from having 50 digital performers in the same room at the same time.

The Worldscape Laptop Orchestra does not constrain people aesthetically, and the works created represent a whole spectrum of digital music from chip-tune to Jazz inspired sonic exploration. We’ll get some video up shortly. The relationship between participants, their music and the technology changes with each piece we perform.

The worldscape laptop orchestra rehearses with Google Earth Video Interface

photo: (c) Phil McPhee

The ensemble has little in common with traditional ‘orchestras’: we are not attempting to emulate the sounds or performance practice of the nineteenth century. Instead, we hope to contribute in a small way to the massive expansion in digital arts exploration being conducted today, searching for new aesthetics and technologies which rely on the intersection of art and science. We developed our own in-house software in C, pure data, and max/msp for machine and performer communication, specifically using new wi-fi ‘N’ technology standards to cope with the high data rates. All performances were entirely wire free!

The Worldscape Laptop Orchestra was supported by Apple Computer Inc, and was part of a three hour immersive media production ‘Worldscape’ presented at the University of York, UK. in Sept 2007. I’d like to thank everyone who took part in this remarkable event for making it possible.