(The) Speaking of Characters, Musically-Speaking
“If you’ve ever sat in a forest or a garden and sensed the plants breathing, you’ll appreciate how the exhibit heightens and celebrates this sensation.” Music of the (delicious reddish) spheres (ref#1 LaTempa, LA Times, 2007).
“The computerized sounds were spacey and sometimes menacing, sounding at times like Chafe was trying to tame an evil subterranean beast” Aural challenge (Hao, Global Times, 2011).
The pair of reviews above caught the moods and temperaments of a custom-designed computer music synthesis algorithm “Animal.” The works described capitalize on Animal‘s great expressive range and use it to give voice to musical characters. One is an interactive music installation, Tomato Quintet, and the second, Phasor, is a contrabass and computer composition. This chapter will discuss how Animal’s moods and temperaments arise from its dynamics and dynamical response in performance. It will also situate these pieces between poles of New Media and traditional media and compare how Animal has been adapted to each. The musical characters achieved in these two pieces are different faces of a single, identifiable instrument and we will examine their dichotomous personalities. In the installation piece, updates from environmental sensors near vats of tomatoes are mapped to Animal’s parameters so we can listen to the tomatoes ripening. For Phasor, signals from a sensor bow are used to play the algorithm. Different strategies for performance and different roles for their audiences distinguish the two works, but manipulation of the Animal system is a central element in the construction of both. Tomato Quintet is performed by its tomatoes and by its audience, inviting interactive participation which builds understanding through “hands-on” manipulation, whereas the audiences for Phasor are observers and require that the soloist do the manipulations, coaxing the system and exploring its qualities.