Creative Response

One of the four submissions for trimester two is the creative response. This is a piece of music composed in response to one of the seminars that explores compositional methodologies. The musical piece discussed here is response to the Ambrose Field session at Leeds College of Music 17/13/2011. In this session Field described the compositional processes and objectives in his Anagram project, a piece for electronics and vocals using early music as inspiration. The creative response piece is titled Ave Verum Corpus (Manipulated).

Aims and Objectives.
This creative response is an artistic enquiry based on Ambrose Field’s notion of digitally manipulated Renaissance music, that is, early music sources set in contemporary backgrounds. The piece was produced using the same compositional objectives and rules as employed by Field in his Anagram project.

Field’s Anagram project is piece for electronics and vocals. Here, Field is concerned with combing technologies and people along with ideas derived from 16th century Renaissance music. The piece employs recontextualised found materials and timbral extension organised through a set of compositional rules and objectives.

The source material used by Field is by 16th century composers. In the Anagram project, this source material is first edited on the page to produce a vocal edition for the singer to work from, a recording of the material is then produced for Field to manipulate. ‘This process is transcontextual, a process by which taking something from one context and taking something from another context and slamming them together you get some kind of new meaning but you haven’t had to do anything to either of your source materials. This is a powerful compositional, musical idea’ (Field, 2011). The sources are not corrupted but are presented exactly as they are and performed as stylishly as possible. This presents an alternative, postmodern viewpoint on the original music.

Ave Verum Corpus (Manipulated) borrows stylistically from Field’s Anagram in the same way that Field borrows from 16th Century composer Gombert’s Musae Jovis. That is, a solo vocal line floats above an intricate and moving dense texture. Field echoes this in his response to Gombert through a manipulation of textures. This is done in two ways. Firstly, sound treatments and processing are applied to fragments of recorded vocal through a granular re-harmonising which links timbre to the that of the soloist, thus keeping a sonic unity. Secondly, played synthesiser parts are added. In Field’s piece, these pad-like textures are framed in a mid-90s aesthetic by employing Roland D50s and other technologies of the era. It is the notion of combining technologies with the human performance of early music, whilst maintaining a constant aesthetic that underpins this creative response.

Field proposes a set of self imposed limitations on the working processes. These rules are applied for practical reasons as the combination of computers and live performers generates many avenues for potential exploration meaning the project would take too long to complete. The rules help to focus the piece and achieve specific objectives.

Original compositions are re-performed and recorded, not sampled from other recordings.
The source material can be re-organised in time. Fragments may appear out of order to their original position.
The source material can be shaped, edited and re-positioned but not re-composed.
All parts are to be performed. There is no automation or command lines, for example.
New material is generated by re-interpretation of the structural design of the original pieces.
The piece is to be respectful to the source material, not a pastiche.

Production of Ave Verum Corpus (Manipulated).

Selecting the source material.
The composer chosen as the focus for this creative response was selected with two criteria in mind. Firstly, to be from a similar period to that of Field’s and secondly to have a local (Lincoln) connection. The source material was chosen for aesthetic reasons; the piece was to be vocal music, slow in tempo, in a minor key and not have too much complexity in terms of polyphony. The piece chosen is the motet Ave Verum Corpus by William Byrd (1605).

The first stage was to record the Byrd piece. For this, a four-piece vocal ensemble rehearsed and performed the piece and this was recorded into Pro Tools using a Rode NT1A microphone. The whole choir was recorded in mono as a guide and then each member of the ensemble recorded their part individually, again in mono. The vocal parts of bass, tenor one, tenor two and alto could then be processed separately. No click track was used during recording as the piece was to be created “off the grid” (that is, no timing correction or quantization was to be used). The room tone on the recordings was kept to a minimum through the use of an acoustically dry room as a neutral recording was desirable for the manipulation and processing stages to follow.

Manipulation and additional parts.
Field is interested in timbral extension not, however, in dissonance or micro-polyphonic imitation. Harmonic, polyphonic densities are created digitally to fill out the spectral space in both Field’s piece and my own. To achieve this, the Reaktor Player ensemble The Mouth was used to process the vocal recordings. Here each performance was in turn manipulated through the Reaktor plug-in and various parameters of the sound’s timbre and envelope were modified to give each part its own place in the composition. The bass vocal was used to create the majority of the new parts. Each part was then re-recorded back into Pro Tools as an audio file rather than as a real-time processed part. This process was repeated three times building up different textures with each pass. Three performed MIDI parts were then added. These are harmonic drone/texture parts created using Absynth and Ultra Analog VA-1 played in through the Korg Kontrol 49. Again, these parts were printed to disc as audio files.

Structure and Mixing.
The overall structure of the piece was not changed, however, to shape the piece, some sections of the voice parts were removed. The only surviving part in its entirety is the bass vocal. This was a creative decision in the process of composition, the desired effect was to have the piece build up with successively added layers. The section 3m 30s into the piece is the most dense. Here all four vocal parts play together along with the supporting synthesised elements. The new synthesised and manipulated parts were balanced against the original vocal recordings. Sound shaping was achieved through traditional methods of EQ, compression and spatial positioning (panning and reverb), all done within Pro Tools.

Rode NT1A
Digidesign MBox2
Korg Kontrol 49 USB keyboard
Pro Tools LE8
NI Reaktor 5
NI Absynth 5
AAS Ultra Analog VA-1

Thanks to Phil, Tom, Ben and Dan.

Ave Verum Corpus (Manipulated) Mix 2 by mandrill1