percussion, many bells, live electronics,
and audience members' cell phones
Written for the the International
Bells have historically been a means of communication
over distance - to mark time, signal alarm, announce celebration, call
to prayer, etc. Now bells are used primarily as musical instruments,
but still carry with them these associations. Despite the changes in
long-distance communication, we still respond to the sound of a bell to
answer the door, or a telephone, or to see that a message has arrived to
Distance, acoustic space, and amplification profoundly effect our
emotional response to sounds, be that music or the sound of a lone voice
speaking. Depending on the proximity and the space, one might
experience the ringing of a bell to be painful or spiritual. A voice
from across the world can sound more intimate distorted through a phone
than it would in the same room.
"Bells" builds on some of my previous work both
in its use of live
processing of acoustic instruments and with using cell phones as a means
to creating a participatory PA system. The piece is concerned with
communication, with space, and with distance (between notes, sounds,
ideas, and physical distances between performers, audience, walls,
speakers, and so on).
ICE musicians in the space play the primary musical material, written
for wind instruments, percussion, gongs, and small bells.
The electronic component uses one of the earliest techniques in
electronic music: a ring modulator that creates phantom duos, dependent
on real-time input from pairs of live instruments, that plays the sum
and difference of any sounds made together by the performers.
Please un-silence your phone - Together the
audience and performers form another codependent pair, with
the audience providing the means of amplification and spatialization
for the electronics through speakers in their phones. Signals from the
ring modulator and other electronics are routed from computer as phone
calls. Audience members can dial and connect to one of several
conference numbers, set their phones on speaker, and become part of a
decentralized PA. The live processing reaches all the phones, having
first traveled along thousands of miles of wires and then beamed from
cell towers. The speakers of these phones will all play similar
material but each one crackles and distorts at different frequencies,
creating a secondary textural level within the audience.
The phones also receive other transmissions: the 4 phone lines carry
distant sounds of electrical interference from space, of messages in
morse code, and of "number stations" (shortwave radio stations widely
believed to communicate with spies in the field).
"Bells" is a look into the sounds and meanings of our means of communication - equal parts
concert piece, installation, and happening. It was written for the
International Contemporary Ensemble as part of their ICElab program,
presented by the Tully Scope Festival at Lincoln Center.
Tully Scope Festival - Lincoln Center, Alice Tully Hall Grand Foyer (NYC),
February 22, 2011, 6:00
The International Contemporary
Joshua Rubin, clarinet
Claire Chase, flute
Eric Lamb, piccolo
Nathan Davis, percussion (crotales, javanese gongs, triangles, wood block)
Spatialized crotales and triangles:
James Austin Smith
Ryan Streber, live electronic processing and diffusion
Jody Elff, sound engineer
Archival audio credits and resources:
thanvannispen for bell recordings (licensed by
Roy Welch for recordings of sputnik, http://www.amsat.org/
listen to INSPIRE VLF (very low frequency "natural radio")
listen to number stations
The amazing musicians of ICE, and Robert Gonyo and Whit Bernard.
The ICElab program (ICElab receives leading support
from The Andrew W.
Mellon Foundation, alongside generous funding from the Greenwall
Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and public funds from
the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the
Jane Moss, Lisa Takemoto, Yukiko Shishikura, and the team at Lincoln
Jessica Falvo for the reductive title.
Rand Steiger and CALIT2 for tech support.
Alexander Graham Bell for his invention.
Sylvia for inspiration.
Bells is presented by Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, and opens the Tully Scope Festival which runs through March 18. Visit TullyScope.org for complete program information.