Date of composition: January 2018
Instrumentation: Flute and live electronics
Duration: 10-15 minutes
First performed on February 1st 2018 in Middleton Hall at the University of Hull.
The title of the piece – Fiery Verticals – is borrowed from Francis Bacon’s approach to caging in the dark, despairing and godless figures in his paintings of popes. Bacon places these figures within a transparent cage, constraining and trapping them, rendering their isolation palpable. In an analogous way, the flautist battles for their space inside the cage-like structure of the electronics part; recognisable but desperate to escape. In this piece, the flautist is asked to make tiny adjustments to embouchure, position and fingering patterns while the electronics part morphs the live signal randomly (but nearly-predictably) within a closely-constrained cage of possibilities.
For all the discomfiting crisis of Bacon’s style, it’s the detail in the brush-strokes that fascinates me. How does he get those teeth to appear so hellish? How does he render the torment so pitiful? For this piece, I wanted to step as close to the flute as I invariably do when I’m in front of a Bacon canvas. Close-microphone techniques allows us to attend to the tiniest fluctuation of air, whistles, intonation and timbre. Amplify that and stretch it beyond its time (not unlike Bacon’s obsession with popes) and there, revealed, is a microscopic world of sound that is so easily lost through the distraction of desiring a linear melody.
In this piece, the flautist is asked to make tiny adjustments to embouchure, position and fingering patterns while the electronics part morphs the live signal randomly (but nearly- predictably) within a closely-constrained cage of possibilities. The flute, so undeniably horizontal, is made vertical through live processing and warping. The flute resonates with the computer via live processing that draws out and amplifies microsonic details that may otherwise be passed over; dense textures and broad sweeps of sound across the full frequency spectrum are generated from the tiny seeds of sound.
The flute should be amplified using, ideally, a very close clip-on mic (such as a DPA 4060) that points towards the mouthpiece aperture. This signal is fed straight into the audio interface of a computer. The signal from the live flautist is used for live processing and can be routed back out to reinforce the live sound. The playback system should be of as high a quality as possible and should include a sub. The piece can be performed on a stereo system, but will have a more immersive effect with additional speakers.
A performance requires the accompanying MaxMSP patch, which has a very straight- forward user interface for controlling input and output routing and levels. There is also the option to apply EQ and reverb processes to the input signal within the patch (though this can also be done with outboard equipment). Live processing is divided into two categories: 1) the main timestretch process; and 2) bass components. This division allows for control over the levels of each element so that a good balance can be achieved in the venue using the faders presented in the MaxMSP patch. All sounds in the electronics part are processed live – there are no pre-recorded samples or pre-prepared components.
Cues for the patch are given in the score and should be triggered with arrow keys or the space bar by the person operating the computer. The current cue is displayed in the patch.
Equipment required to perform this piece:
- Clip-on or very close mic (DPA 4060 or similar)
- Computer running MaxMSP
- Audio interface (stereo outputs or greater)
- Stereo speakers plus a sub (or more speakers for a wider spread