Monday, 27 September 2010

Auraloramas move Norden Farm

The first auralorama gig took place at Norden Farm last night (Sunday, September 26th) and received a pretty resounding thumbs up in terms of comments, compliments and a few albums sold.

The performance was part of the Norden Farm Centre for the Arts’ tenth anniversary celebrations and saw groups and troupes from all around the Maidenhead and Windsor area presenting micro-performances, which an audience of some 150, split into groups of 25, witnessed in various (sometimes unexpected) corners of the centre.

My auraloramas were performed alongside a continuous yoga routine, performed by Julie Potter, a tutor with Yoga for Harmony and were to be found, very moodily lit in the scene dock of the main Courtyard Theatre stage. Combined with Potter’s area, with leaflets and pot plants, it made for an extremely relaxing little corner for the wandering audience.

Before the first group arrived, I set a simple loop in progress, while Julie got herself ready with some stretches and we awaited the audience. Before too long, the first group arrived, although, to be honest, they seemed a little unsure of what to do or where to go or even how to take in what they saw before them.

I resolved to help the next group along a bit, hopefully giving them the chance to feel a bit more relaxed and spend a few minutes at least with us in order to take advantage of the atmosphere.

Julie and I caught a few moments to discuss our feelings with each other and we discovered that being together like this was influencing our own performances – very much in a good way. She is unused to going through her exercises without explanations – or even anyone else making the moves along with her. The auraloramas were keeping that feeling of ‘oddness’ at bay, as the flowing sounds helped her to follow her ‘performance’ through more intently. They gave her a focus and a channel simultaneously.

"It’s like water,” said Potter of the auraloramas. “It flows and maintains a level, which makes my exercises flow, too. It’s really very lovely."

When the next group arrived, I advised them to pass right into the space and a crowd gathered around Julie, while I noodled away behind them – which was just fine. The idea of the music was to create an atmosphere for the movement and that's exactly what it did.

We were both very much in a our stride by the time the penultimate group came by and as they left, they broke into spontaneous applause. It was a very good feeling.

The difference for me, having Julie there, was that I was made much more aware of what I was playing. When playing alone, I am often tempted to let rip, let things get a bit out of hand and really make some noise before bringing things back down again to create some contrast. I was very conscious, however, that Julie needed something continuous, relaxing and without surprises. I kept the soloing ‘within’ the sounds, rather than cutting through them. I really got into it. It was a really uplifting little session.

For more auraloramas, visit the Mechkov website here.

Friday, 10 September 2010

What is an auralorama?

The Norden Farm Tenth Anniversary Celebration Promenade Performance is coming. Huzzah! As I have mentioned at least a couple of times before, I will be performing some soundscapes (or, as I prefer to call them, auraloramas) at the event. This is all very well and while I am quite excited, I thought it only fair that I should let you know a bit about my method of making (what I think are) some delightful sounds.

Auralorama is the name I use for a simple system of utilising extended digital delay in order to create a loop of sound that can be continually added to. This means that a note played will ‘come around again’ and harmonies and counterpoint can be added with each passing of the loop.

The resulting sound, generally speaking, is an amorphous wash of harmony (or dissonance) that can be either (or both) dramatic and demanding of attention or ‘ambient’ and atmospheric, adding to a space’s feeling, as well as being a performance.

While my auraloramas are often played using ideas of structure that are premeditated or planned, no two ‘playings’ will ever be the same, due to the inconsistencies of delay length (controllable) and of my being human (uncontrollable). That said, the nature of the improvising and the inconsistencies is such that total improvisation will often occur and the player will have as little idea as to what is going to happen next as the audience.

Why do I do this? Simply, because I love the sounds that are created. A good band will always produce music that is greater than the sum of the parts. This is a way that one person can create music that sounds veritably orchestral, despite being played by one man and his guitar.

Auraloramas have evolved from a system of tape looping that goes back over 50 years. Here’s a brief look at the history of this remarkable way of making music…

The origins of tape looping are somewhat hazy, although it is largely credited to the composer Terry Riley, who began working with tape loops as far back as the 1950s. During the 1960s, Riley would put on all-night concerts, performing on an old pipe organ (which he would ‘power’ with the motor from a vacuum cleaner blowing into the ballasts) and on saxophone using tape delay. When the time came for a break, he would leave the tape loops playing in order to maintain a non-stop event. Riley called the system, using two stereo Revox reel-to-reel recorders, the ‘Time Lag Accumulator’. People, including entire families would attend these concerts, usually armed with food, drink and sleeping bags.

Riley first used the TLA on his 1963 album Music for the Gift.

And there tape looping might well have remained in an obscure left-field territory where classical meets jazz had a young Brian Eno, fresh from his successful few years with the nascent Roxy Music, reverted to his art college type and began experimenting with various forms of sound generation.

Eno would be the first to laugh at any suggestion that he is a musican, but his knowledge and ability in the studio, using technology and manipulating sound, whether synthetic or natural, is regarded by many as second-to-none.

He came across Riley’s dual Revox system around 1972 and immediately called upon his friend, the guitarist Robert Fripp, to help him create some sounds. The two worked for a few hours in Eno’s flat, with Fripp playing guitar notes through Eno’s VCS3 synthesizer and layer upon layer of sound was created. The finished loop was then played back and Fripp soloed over the top. The result was the album (No Pussyfooting).

From here the techniques grew in popularity and diverged in use. Eno continued to use the system (sometimes setting up several pairs of Revoxes) to create ‘chance music’, where non-synchronised machines would play simple motifs over and over, but at different time lengths and constantly shifting in relation to each other, creating a virtually non-repeating ‘sonic landscape’ or ‘soundscape’.

Fripp, on the other hand, saw in tape looping something approaching a personal discipline, which he called Frippertronics, for guitar playing that also fed his desire to play improvised music. From 1979 onwards, Fripp began touring, initially at small and unusual venues, such as pizza restaurants and record shops. He would create three or four loops and then play them back and solo over the top – in much the same way he had done with Eno.

By the early 1980s, digital technology had begun to surpass the possibilities that analog tape systems could offer and state-of-the-art, digital delay products became widely available.

Despite the critical success of Brian Eno (particularly and to a lesser degree Robert Fripp) the creation of soundscapes remains a niche taste and far from the mainstream.

While there are hundreds of artists around the world using delay systems to create loops, it is still difficult to find much outside the work of these two.

My approach, which I call auraloramas (aural panoramas) because I feel uncomfortable utilising someone else’s labels, follows more directly the work of Robert Fripp in that I use a guitar to create the notes and I value the discipline of being forced to contend with what I have played, rightly or wrongly, well or badly a few seconds later and deal with it, adapt it and add to it to a better end. (There is always the alternative of simply switching off and starting again when you make a mistake, but this is still widely considered a performance faux pas and, well, when mankind fucked up, God didn’t take that route either. We can only move forward from where we are.)

To date, the equipment I use is simple in comparison with Fripp’s ‘Solar Voyager’ set-up, which utilises expensive Eventide delay units and harmoniser and a couple of guitar synthesizers. My gear is a simple Boss Giga-Delay pedal (offering 23 seconds of looping capability) with an echo unit, a Boss ME-50 multi-effects and a Digitech overdrive, but I am planning to use a guitar synthesizer in the near future to exponentially increase the number of textures and effects.

And there you have it. Click on some of the links above to listen to the sort of sounds Fripp and Eno make (together, as well as individually) and I hope you like them.

Click here to hear a couple of mine, too (Meditation, Hillside Wind, Twilight to Night) – and you can take in a few of my songs, as well. I hope you enjoy them.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Norden Farm gig

Right, back to that gig I’ve got coming up. As I mentioned before, it is essentially the first time I have been asked to perform my auraloramas (some might say Soundscapes, but I prefer to leave others’ definitions for their work to them and think of my own) at the Norden Farm Tenth Anniversary Celebrations Promenade Performances… It’s a bit of a mouthful, but it does do what it says on the tin (or rather, on the website pages that announce it).

To say that I was asked is probably pitching it a bit – I put myself forward, although I like to think not in a pushy way. I asked, I sent in a couple of examples, I was told ‘come along’. I’m pretty chuffed.

But what, I hear you ask, is a ‘Promenade Performance’?

It is a bit of a misnomer, in my humble opinion, as it is not the performances that are moving, but the audience.

That audience is expected to be about 150 to 200 people, and it will be split into half a dozen groups, which will then follow a predetermined route around the Arts Centre, stopping along the way at the most unlikely of spots (a corridor, a cupboard, a disabled toilet… That’s a toilet for disabled people, not a toilet that has been rendered unusable), where a short performance will take place for ten or so minutes. Once complete, the group will move on to the next performance and the next group will take its place as the first performance is repeated.

It’s a very cool idea and is promising to be a really interesting and rewarding night out for all concerned.

It’s a double – even triple – whammy for me, as I will be performing auraloramas (in the scene dock as it turns out, which I am very happy about because it is a high-ceilinged space, so the reverb will be monstrous – coupled to that, one of the theatre’s techs said he would open up the scene dock lift doors and we can position one of the amps pointing up the shaft for even more reverb and spaciness), as well as having the mighty Maidenhead Players performing one of my monologues.

The Players are putting on the Angina Monologues, a series of short performances concerning old age. My wife, Lorraine Forrest-Turner is directing the monologues, and she has written one of them as well.

It’s all very exciting and is, I’m certain, the result of Lorraine’s and my extra effort in concentrating on our creative pursuits over the past few months.

The auraloramas will be accompanied by a local yoga teacher, Julie Potter, going through her moves… At least, that is the plan. I sent her, as we agreed, a couple of ideas for the sort of sounds I will be making, but have heard (ominously) nothing back from her. I’m hoping that I have got her email address wrong and not upset her with amorphous looped guitar harmonies… We shall see.

Anyway, the Players will have a table out front for people to sign up to the group for the best dramatic group in the area and I will be sneaking a few of my albums in there for the flood of appreciative supporters I am intending to garner…

(yeah, right)

So, get along – there is bound to be something there for you to enjoy.