It's a Wild Ride

It's a Wild Ride

By Emma Hospelhorn

It’s a wild ride, bringing a new composition to life.  Especially when that piece has so many different components – flutes, clarinets, and a score, sure, but also improvised sections, motion capture sound manipulation, and a machine that “listens” to our playing and responds.

Sometimes I feel like the electronics in this piece are a third player. That third player is not human, and not always predictable, and Ben Sutherland, the composer/controller, is at once translator and trainer and magician.

When Ben presented us with the first draft of Who Are We Are Here in December, we had no idea what to expect. We sat down in front of the score, and found intertwined lines of singing and playing that dove and dipped in sinuous, gorgeous ways. A technical challenge to pull off, but, we agreed, SOOOO COOOOL.

But what would the electronics sound like? We didn’t know. We put on wireless microphones and walked into the “kinect space” – the part of the room that the motion capture device can see – and were at once surrounded by echoes of our own sounds. We spent hours playing with the machine, walking forwards and backwards and spinning around and playing and listening back to our own processed sounds coming back to us. After a while we weren’t playing anymore, just intoning weird, sepulchral phrases that sounded hilarious when the echoes surrounded us. We started talking like valley girls – “Eww, mah god. This. Is. Sew. Kewl.” and the machine chattered back at us, mocking us, playing with us. The whole time, Ben sat at the computer, adjusting tolerances, changing rules – making sure that the machine could see us, first of all, and then adjusting the rules of what it would do with our sounds when it saw us move.  

Now, the machine knows us. It knows the piece. On Sunday, Ben will be at the computer, but all of the different kinds of electronic sounds that join us in the world premiere of Who Are We Are Here will be triggered because the machine was listening to us – it saw me move through a certain space, so it triggered a recollection of my own sounds. It waited and then heard us reach a particular pair of pitches, so it triggered a metamorphosis that compressed our recorded selves into a series of ever shorter samples, becoming a drum machine. It listened for a different pitch as we played along with it, and disintegrated into a drone that we sang along to.

The machine is SO COOL. You’ll see.  


Dal Niente Presents: Emma Hospelhorn, flute + Katie Schoepflin, clarinet
Sunday, March 6, 2016
Constellation Chicago
3111 N. Western Avenue
Buy tickets here!