Thursday, 5 May 2011

3 Minute Pop Song




Bill Vine, Owen Green and Sean Williams settled quite quickly on the idea of shaping a piece using a 3 minute pop song as the form. After a short but incisive discussion about possible structures and ordering of elements such as verses, choruses, middle eights, bridges, hooks, intros and fade-outs we settled on a simple structure of :

Intro
Verse
Chorus
Verse
Chorus
Chorus

I raised the importance of the hook to give the tune a particularly memorable sonic identity/stamp, and we thought about inserting a hook as a discreet element, but through playing and trying various ideas, the device used for the chorus has become a hook in its own right so the hook element is folded into the chorus.

I wanted to use the squeezy horn I bought in a car boot sale last weekend near Arundel but Bill wasn't convinced although I'm hoping to smuggle it in somewhere, probably not in this piece though.

I found a video games controller with four classic arcade games installed at the same car boot sale for £1.50, and I wanted to use the audio output from this as an instrument for the chorus. Having tried the four different games it was quickly clear that the Pac-man sounds worked best. This chimes with an interest of mine to use ubiquitous things, sounds and stuff as it is easy for people to identify with such sounds or sound making things. Pac-man is also a temporal reference that some people will recognise immediately, some people will find familiar and some people will not be familiar with or aware of at all, thus provoking different classes of audience reactions.

The structure of each verse proved a little tricky to nail but as Owen had suggested using breathing as a way to measure each part, e.g. 8 breaths for a verse and 4 for a chorus, this ended up working very well but in a different way. The breathing of each player was very mismatched, mainly due to the different physical actions involved, so Bill and I didn't feel it was working well enough to make it clear to each other when the verses and choruses were happening.

The Breathing device was used ultimately as a metaphor so Owen would represent the breathing out phase, playing his bowed cardboard box, and Bill would play the inhalation phase. Each verse lasts for four breath cycles.

Choruses would start with a round of sonic Pac-man, faded up post intro tune, and length is dependent on the time it takes for the Pac-man to be eaten by a ghost. At no point have we used a screen so the Pac-man material is all based on our own memories of playing Pac-man, but there has been no confusion about the semiotics of these sounds at all. During the chorus, everyone plays, although Owen's sound is filtered through a low-pass filter at 500Hz to give Bill more room in the spectrum.

Instrumentation
Owen - Bowed cardboard box and SM57
Sean - Altec 9067b hi and low pass stepped filter, Namco Plug-it-in-&-play console game and Volume pedal
Bill - Arduionome and Max/MSP

Signal flow starts with Owen making an acoustic sound which is filtered by Sean and processed by Bill. It's a bit leaky with some background noise seeping into the mic, some clicks and crunches emanating from the filter as it is switched independent of signal input. This is a good thing as it makes the whole signal chain less than 100% dependent on Owen to make a sound.

The piece lasts about 3 minutes but depending on how many power pills I can eat and how long I can evade the ghosts, choruses could extend the length of the piece. This is tricky with no screen and I haven't played Pac-man for some years so my memory of the maze is sketchy. We all feel that it is not necessary or desirable to plug the device into a screen at any stage in rehearsal or performance.

The title is yet to be decided upon...

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