Our initial experiments using musical software to interface with the Pulsefield brought some interesting problems to light. The most obvious was the amount of latency between the movements of the participants and the triggering of sounds. The first test used a basic synth and General MIDI sounds. As the subject moved, the sounds would trigger, but the latency was so significant that it was virtually impossible to trigger the sounds in a meaningful musical way. Our first solution to this dilemma was to use Ableton Live as a musical interface. This decision allowed us to use sounds that had variable attacks, as well as rhythmic audio samples that could be coordinated with the latency. In addition, we could control multiple parameters with each movement. For the initial test run, I designed ten Ableton sets that we hoped would work in a kinetic musical setting, and would be entertaining at the same time.
Each Ableton Live set was organized in Session View, which allows for a somewhat graphic layout of the audio samples. It was my opinion that tonal and harmonic limitations would allow for a slightly more enjoyable experience for the user; therefore, I decided to lay out samples sets on the grid that would work together compositionally under certain harmonic and rhythmic relationships. Some of these sets were based on previously composed pieces of music, while others were created specifically as material for new compositions. Since every user would uniquely improvise and vary their movements, the pieces would be somewhat different every time.
QUETZAL was based on a previously recorded solo guitar composition, created years earlier. Notes and phrases form the original recording were chopped up and triggered as individual sounds, effectively making the set an improvised reinterpretation of the song. GARAGE also received the same treatment; it was based on a piece for jazz piano written for my grandfather. DEEP BLUE and MUSIC BOX 3 started as mallet based compositions, originally played by the UCSB Percussion Ensemble, but now the transmogrified compositions were laid out for the Pulsefield. BENEATH’s disparate elements were once different sections of a score for a short film by a Santa Barbara-based deep sea diver; however, this piece didn’t work as well when tested. FIREBELL was based on a recorded improvisation with a fire alarm bell, of course, acquired years earlier during a stint installing home security systems. FORSKI, PRING, OLUMINUM, and EPISIARCH were all created from scratch using samples created in my home studio. The sounds were created using heavily processed guitar and bass, drum set, an analog modular synthesizer, a digital synth/sequencer program called Reason, and a granular synthesis program call Cloud Generator. These tracks were named after alien races from science fiction author David Brin’s Uplift series of books. After the initial test run, we fixed the latency issues and the performance issues disappeared. NEW GAMELAN was created for the second (and more successful) test run, and the sounds came from a set of samples of a Balinese Gamelan.
The sets are being re-examined and modified so more parameters can be affected during a Pulsefield session, and will likely be ready by the next Pulsefield event.