MEDITATIONS

The Meditations album is a compilation of private performances from August, 2014 to May, 2015. These four tracks are entire performance sets where I utilized a no-input rig for its uncertainty and tactile responses. The literal and metaphorical feedback from the machine listens and guides the improvisational experience and performance in subtle transitions and textures.

When thinking back to recording and performing Meditations, the first things that come to mind are my explorations into no-input mixing and feedback as a sound source. For some time I had been interested in looping and feedback provided a space to explore beyond the sequencing and placing of samples that I was accustomed to within digital audio. Starting with an audio mixer with some built in effects, I patched together feedback loops that passed through the built in reverb setting. The initial tones were dry and rough, the minimal tone control on the channels allowed me to shape the feedback, though still quite aggressive. Passing through the built in reverb developed a softer edged tone set, which was more akin to acoustic feedback, though distinguishable as synthetic. Thinking of feedback as a loop, more so than a sequence, is to be concerned with the phase and technical relationships of the sound itself.

 

My approach to sound in this manner is greatly due to my initial exposure and interest in Steve Reich’s composition “Come Out” (1966). The piece featured a recording of Daniel Hamm “describing how he had been beaten by police and had to show he was bleeding in order to get to the hospital. He said, ‘I had to like open the bruise up and let some of the bruise blood come out to show them” (Miller, 2008). Both “Come Out” and the previous work, “It’s Gonna Rain” (1965) utilized tape loops, or “speech-loops” as Reich referred to them, to construct both the structure and the content of the work. This use of repetition intrigued me and when I heard the evolution of the pieces, I was mesmerized.


As “Come Out” progresses, the two identical tape loops Reich used would disconnect and reconnect. Their repetitions would slowly move apart, resulting in changes in the words we could perceive with clarity. Often also emphasizing the punctuation or cadence of the speech recording. This emphasis and shifting time creates a moving rhythm that evolves gradually. This emanation is what mesmerized my ears. Shaun McNiff describes emanation in Trust the Process: An Artist’s Guide to Letting Go as “emanation is a process of one thing emerging from another” (McNiff, 1998). McNiff is approaching the use of emanation in regards to working in a series of paintings while utilizing the same movements and brush strokes. “Whether you are making large works or small ones, images grow from other images and the process of being produced” (McNiff, 1998). In this regard, Reich’s speech-loops achieve the same form of illustration over every repetition. Consistently using the exact same vocal brush strokes that slowly evolve over time. Reich’s repetition and McNiff’s emanation have come together to inform my work’s minimalist nature and the patience in the slowly evolving structures it presents.

Each performance took place either in isolation or with a minimal audience of two to three. Patching and discovering the sound palette for the evening took place before recording, though the recordings were live and single takes. Remembering the individual experiences is rather muddy; I can describe the general atmosphere of the performances, however. Typically between midnight and two in the morning these recordings were taking place. A time where I could truly not be disturbed, interrupted or the like and in a place emptied and secluded after hours. Where the room was dimly lit and empty of objects. The glow of lights softly colored myself and a wall behind me. I never wore anything particularly special, everything was kept fairly casual. Whatever was comfortable, I would often remove my shoes and socks. I setup my moderate rig on a small table facing the potential audience, but primarily facing the monitors. It was most important to perform at a comfortable, but enveloping volume, to have the performance resonant. The room would not be shaking, but you could feel the sound as much as you could hear it. The resonance of the live performance was a wonderful experience that I had hoped to capture in this collection of recordings.


Meditations may not have been very conceptual, though it began my exploration of true expressive art therapy methods for myself. The letting go of the control of rigid composition and embracing improvisation with noise and drone gave me the chance to create a real voice to express thoughts I had struggles vocalizing. This process became the core to my sound practice’s purpose.

References

Miller, P. D. (2008). Sound Unbound: Sampling Digital Music and Culture. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

McNiff, S. (1998). Trust the Process: An Artist's Guide to Letting Go. Boston, MA: Shambhala.

Reich, S. (1989). It’s Gonna Rain. On Early Works [Digital Mp3]. Nonesuch Records, Inc. (1965).

Reich, S. (1989). Come Out. On Early Works [Digital Mp3]. Nonesuch Records, Inc. (1966).

Michael G. Maxwell

Felnyrii

 © Michael G. Maxwell