For ‘Seconds of fear’, the 10 minutes opera that I composed for the Opera Forward Festival I decided to use tape and live electronics.
The line up was:
2 Sopranos, Trumpet, Trombone, Bass trombone, Electronics & Choir
The story is about a Human who needs to decide if to follow it’s Dark side, or the Light one.
Darkness is represented by the Choir, Percussion and tape (whispers)
Light is represented by Soprano 1 and tape/live electronics (comet tail)
Human is represented by Soprano 2 and tape (breath)
I worked with sounds which I recorded from the Sopranos involved in the opera.
From the piece of Serene I made the connections of:
-Pedal tone: Bring out different harmonics on the same pitch
-Owl/Crickets: Representation of sounds. In my case I used the original recorded sound and transformed.
-Moonlight: As an inspiration for the sound I want to achieve with Light.
-Manipulation of the timbre by using EQ and creation of different sounds/characters.
From Variations pour une porte et un soupir, a part that the composer is using a recorded sound, one of the important elements is the panning. How the same sounds can be perceive as two different characters depending on the panning.
Tape 01 is the representation of what the human is feeling. There are 3 main materials:
Mouth breath, nose breath and whispers.
The tape starts with a slow and calm mouth breath, which after Darkness enters on stage, becomes more anxious. The quite breath fades out, and the nose breath appears. I made 2 differentiations about the breath. The one coming from the mouth and the one made by the nose. The second one I connected to the breath of ‘maintain yourself quite/control yourself’. The mouth breath is the representation of the fear from the human.
When the choir appears (representation of Darkness, together with the percussion), they appear whispering. This whispers will echo in the mind of the human, they symbolise the external judgement which we create ourselves.
For the whispers, I mostly used volume and panning, in order to play only with the space. I tried some equalisation and noise gate, and at the end, I chose for the raw sound, completely natural.
For the recording of the breathing from the singer I needed to use the dynamic effect Expander. The sound of breath is a very soft one and in order to make it sound at the volume I wanted, I needed to remove room noise. René Uijlenhoet, my teacher of electronic music, suggested me to use the expander to do so. This plugin enhances the difference between loud and soft sounds. Loud sounds stays the same, and soft ones become softer.
In this example, I expanded the sound from -16dB and I chose the ratio at the maximum in order to hear the difference. Sounds which are lower than -16dB will become softer.
About the attack and release, I did not want to bring anything special, so I did not touch it.
In order to remove some extra fast unwanted noises, I cut a few milliseconds of the sound. I experimented till it sounded right to me.
While Darkness is appearing, the human is having her fears and it’s represented by the tape. On stage, the human is not singing, mostly is representing visually the tape, and will made her own breathing sounds (freely).
The tape has also a rhythmical relation with the percussion, and I added in the score the sound cues for the conductor.
*The choir apparition is in bar 16, whispering with the sounds ‘k, s, z, p, bz’.
Due we are using Gibberish, I found quite important to show a real way the sound of the breath, instead of making a representation. Also, that’s another way to connect the real instrument of the stage with the tape.
All the sounds are recorded with the same microphone I used in the previous tape, and the source is the singer who represents the Human character.
Work with the harmonics of the voice:
Many of the sound treatments from Brunyèl’s piece are related to the manipulation of the frequencies, so the use of EQ and filtering.
In my piece, for the Soprano 1 (who symbolises the Light), I visualised the sound as a comet. The real voice appears and when it fades out it leaves a shiny trail which stays there for a long time.
The character of Light, even if it is seen as the positive side, because she wants to keep the human at her side, she is a dangerous character. Therefore I chose to keep the tails at the beginning of the piece slightly too brilliant, and at the end, it they become warmer.
Then I thought about using the high harmonics of one pitch from the voice, and modify the timbre, by using EQ (to select the frequencies that I was interested in), distortion (to enhance the high frequencies to generate even more high frequencies), and reverb (to enlarge the sound).
Sound 02 is much longer than the real sample. I copied the real sample a few times and I overlapped them, creating a longer sound with irregular ‘dynamic waves’. I made that instead of creating a loop, in order to avoid a feeling of constant rhythm.
Once I’ve chosen the effects, I adapted them to each of the tones I recorded from the singer. For each pitch, I needed to make an adjustment in EQ and distortion in order to get a comparable sound. The higher she was singing, the more the voice was producing additional noise and I needed to adjust the effects depending on the pitch.
Once I had all the samples, I placed them in sample player EXS24. From those samples there was one which I liked more than the others for its texture, more rounded, and from this sample, I created other ones by transposing in order to cover a range of 2 octaves.
Finally, there where other try outs that I liked, so I kept them and added to the sample player.
I created the instrument with samples to work faster, in order to get an acoustic idea, interacting with the main melody.
Once I had the main idea, I used the audio files, changed their volumes and the panning.
Role of the tape & interaction with the voice
At the beginning, the tape is an echo of the real voice, so repeats and sustains for a while the pitches that the Soprano is bringing. At the beginning the character of Light appears like something ‘pure’, like a mirage or a dream. Is coming from the distance, seductive in an ‘innocent’ way. Later on, while she is getting closer to the human, the sustain of the pitches become longer till creating an ostinato, as a representation of the Light wanting to have the human at her side and trying to oblige the human to join her.
Slowly, while some pitches stay, more pitches are added in order to create tension and to create a final cluster.
The written notes from the tape are not on the precise apparition, neither on the same pitch. It is a guide which the conductor can see what is happening on the tape.
- In some specific moments, I added extra pitches, related to the musical material of Light in order to give her the needed pitch.
The last tape symbolises the mix of darkness & light, leaded by the human.
The tape is a mix of material 01 (tape 01) and material 02 (tape 02).
Due the characters are influenced by the human words and loose their ego and the wish to lead the human, I decided to play the recorded sounds as much natural as possible, without so many alterations in their timbre.
On the recordings of Soprano 01 (the character of Light), I almost did not touch the equalisation, only to remove some noises from the recording, and I made a second version with the tape delay, previously used, in order to have a longer sound and bring out a bit the natural harmonics of the voice. At the beginning I thought to not use any effect, but after trying the tape delay with the previous set ups, I liked the result, so I kept it.
Finally, In order to keep a long sound, I used the previous technique and changed some volume parameters.
There was a problem in one specific sample that I wanted to use. On the high register of the Soprano (with the pitch of B”’), the microphone recorded also the breathing of the singer, which was bringing a low noise on the tape. After discussing it with René, we agreed on trying to remove it a bit from the track, but leave it, because it was a natural effect. Below the orange line is the cut off of the high frequencies.
Division of the 3rd tape
I divided the tape in 3 parts. The first one is quite free related to the ensemble, and I’ll fade it out when the ensemble is fading out. I made it longer in case that the performed music takes more time. The second one, is the ‘call’ and should be performed right after the silence of the ensemble, which will start after listening the tape. The third one instead of tape, I’ll use live electronics, in order to give freedom to the ensemble.
The light material is blending with the choir pitches, (which symbolises a part of the darkness). Also is the call towards the Light. This time, the ‘echo’ is the one who calls Light to join the others.
After the climax of the ensemble, there is a silence where the tape plays a ‘B’ as a call to the characters, coming from far. Then the whole ensemble join the last call. The choir is singing a spread consonant chord (G-B-F#-E) and the tape plays those pitches (without the E) on a smaller register, so the G and the F# are performed in a cluster.
On the last bars, due the apparition and disappearance of the pitches need to be quite precise, I decided to bounce them separately and perform them live with a Midi controller.
Live electronics, creating the material:
First I created 4 new Software Instrument tracks, and I added in each the Playback, which is a plugin which plays audio files.
I added in each track the audio of the pitch that I needed (A# A F# and B).
Then I created a controlling desk on the program and map it with the functions that I needed: Play/Stop and volume faders for each track.
Finally, I connected the midi controller (nanoKONTROL2)and teach the program what I wanted them to do.
Now I have the possibility to interact with the rubatos of the ensemble, so the players and conductor can be free instead of adapting to the tape.