Positive Feedback

performance details, audio, documentation - Providence, RI (2013)


In early 2013, I was commissioned to create a piece of music for the 3rd annual Experimental Music Concert put on by the Media Lab at a local non-profit, Community Music Works. I decided early on that I wanted to teach the students in the Media Lab about sound collage, field recording, and non-traditional performance techniques. I chose simple methods that would be easy to understand and performed by kids - ages 10-14 - with limited musical experience.

Through a series of winter workshops, I introduced them to early examples of musique concrète - specifically the 5 Etudes de Bruits by Pierre Schaefer. We also worked on a series of listening exercises. I would give the students portable recorders and have them explore the building, recording whatever they found interesting. Meanwhile, some of us would remain in the living room with instruments, usually providing some kind of reference drone note. We would take these recordings and play them back, at first just listening, and then accompany the new sounds with strings and percussion. After gathering a few week's worth of recordings, I edited them into a 10 minute sound collage.

The piece was performed in the summer, in the auditorium of the Knight Memorial Library, in Providence's Southside. It was my intention to create a performance that mirrored some of the activities we were exploring in class, turning it into a live demonstration of our workshops. I also wanted to focus the audience's attention away from a fixed location (the stage), and to disrupt the traditional concert setting (and expectations of performance).

The piece began with the playback of our sound collage, slowly joined by the piano and string players. As each student entered with a simple 3-note phrase, they would gently put down their instruments, grab a portable recorder and a pair of headphones, and move into the audience - making noises with chairs, radiators, percussion, and whatever else they could find. We hoped to discover the sonic potential of this auditorium.

Eventually, the performers would return to the stage - handing me their new recordings on the way to their instruments. 

We then created a live mix of the new recordings, broadcasting them back into the space and turning the whole performance into a feedback loop. 

(poster by Xander Marro)