A presentation from the vs. Interpretation Festival and Symposium in July 2014

Emulation of the sounds of the natural environment may be one of the earliest manifestations of musical improvisation. Alvin Lucier’s (Hartford) Memory Space (1970) and Carbon Copies (1989) both explore this impulse, instructing performers to imitate the sounds of any indoor or outdoor environment (albeit pre-recorded), ‘as exactly as possible, without embellishment” (Lucier, A. 1989. Carbon Copies. Material Press: Frankfurt am Main). This paper describes a scoreplayer, implemented in MaxMSP, which analyses and visualises significant features of a sonic environment as a graphic score, allowing an improviser to interact with a field recording. The visualised score is scrolled from right to left across the computer screen. Playback of the source recording is delayed so that it is heard as the corresponding visual event arrives at the ‘playhead’: a black line on the left of the screen. The frequencies of principal features of the recorded environment are represented by the placement of rectangles in vertical space, amplitude by the size of the rectangle, and the brightness, noisiness and bark scale value of each event as the luminance, hue and saturation of each rectangle. The final three parameters provide an indication of timbral changes in the source recording. An analysis panel provides controls for the performer to view and scale data from the field recording, allowing the performer(s) to ‘zoom’ in or out on a particular range of data. Multiple scoreplayers may be networked together, allowing multiple performers to interact with varied frequency, amplitude and amplitude parameters of the same recording. The ‘Environment Player’ builds upon Vickery’s earlier work EVP, in which ‘electronic voice phenomenon’ recordings were visualised as a scrolling score in realtime. In the current work the performer may also choose to analyse the field recording to detect recorded speech or speech-like artifacts that may be present. These are represented in the score as standard text that is visualized using the frequency, amplitude, brightness, noisiness and bark scale values that are applied to non-speech sounds.
Lindsay Vickery is an Australian composer and performer. He studied composition with John Exton and Roger Smalley at the University of Western Australia and has written much ensemble and interactive electronic music, exploring readymades and collage as well as improvisation, nonlinear writing and computer–performer pieces.