The focus of the Laptop Orchestra of Louisiana is to explore real-time computational technologies and digital media for the purpose of ensemble music making. An orchestra has to start somewhere, and this orchestra began with projects and pieces primarily for 5–6 performers. However, I was interested in creating or performing music on an even smaller scale: a duet.
I approached Corey Knoll about collaborating on a project for two electronic instruments, since we had both been working on our own laptop instruments. Corey’s instrument, which was fashioned after acoustic wind instruments, used breath velocity to control amplitude and tone color. My instrument was a hybrid Mandolin and Saxophone Ugen STK Instrument created in Chuck. Control parameters, such as blow position, body size, and vibrato frequency were mapped to an M-Audio Trigger Finger. ASCII numbers were assigned pitch information.
Both Corey and I were creating instruments to be used to perform diverse pieces of music. We had a decision to make for the two concerts programmed Spring 2010: compose an original work or interpret preexisting notation by another composer. We decided on the latter and pursued Cartridge Music (1960) by John Cage.
Cartridge Music’s title comes from the original instrumentation as indicated in the score, “A cartridge is an ordinary phonograph pick-up in which customarily a needle is inserted.” However, the piece can also be performed as a duet for cymbal, piano duet, trio, etc., each with its own amplifier and loudspeaker. Realizing Cartridge Music with electronic instruments and amplified auxiliary sounds intrigued both Corey and I.
Cartridge Music is indeterminate, and the notation does not represent exact pitch and rhythm. The score contains several transparent sheets with points, circles, a stopwatch-arranged circle, and a dotted curving line. By overlaying the transparencies with a sheet containing a specific shape, various intersections occur that specify types of performed events. This type of notation is ideal for two newly created instruments that do not have a repertoire or standardized notation.
As the score indicates, ”All events, ordinarily thought to be undesirable, such as feed-back, humming, howling, etc., are to be accepted in this situation.” Although no blow-ups occurred during the performance April 14, 2010, one moment did catch audience attention. At one point, Corey blew into the microphone with slightly more energy and force, resulting in significant volume increase than the previous intimate auxiliary sounds (crinkling paper, plastic rubbing together, jingling keys) and sparse texture. I believe it was a nice awakening and was musically appropriate. Space, silence, complex and simple sounds, and unexpected textures created a performance both interesting to listen to and exciting to perform.
I believe adding a visual component will aid listening and enhance the overall effectiveness of the piece. One option could be to create a program that randomly overlays the various shapes (transparencies), and displays the score on the screen for the performers. The images could also be projected from the computer and displayed for audience members to see. I believe this will add another dimension to an already beautiful piece of music.