A Bow In C
This instrument and performance is an homage to Terry Riley’s 1964 piece, “In C.”
“In C” is a semi-aleatoric musical piece composed by Terry Riley in 1964 for any number of people, although he suggests “a group of about 35 is desired if possible but smaller or larger groups will work.” It is a response to the abstract academic serialist techniques used by composers in the mid-twentieth century and is often cited as the first minimalist composition.
My fascination with minimal music unfortunately does not start with Terry Riley’s In C. However, over the years since my discovery of the piece I have long been mesmerized by its simplicity, its emergent qualities, and its hypnotic nature. I foresee this type of project influencing my future ideas for thesis.
The goal of this project was to create a system which afforded the user to compose and perform In C using a single 10-turn potentiometer.
Terry Riley’s 53 phrases were digitally transcribed into MIDI in Ableton Live. All phrases have been set to the “Vibra Roads” instrument. The “Analog In” and “Insert” widgets from the NET Lab Toolkit were used to create this project. In addition to the Arduino I/O board, Adobe Flash, and 10-turn potentiometer.
A high C is played at eighth notes, this is called the “Pulse.” The Pulse begins once the Bow is moved. Depending on the start position you may be on a phrase which is also loaded instantly. You can request for the instrument to be reset to the start position. 53 short “Phrases” (loops) ranging from 1 to 32 beats can be called by drawing the Bow. These Phrases are called by the bow’s resting position. The duration (number of loops) of each Phrase was a variable which changes between 4, and 8 times. The performance relies on the user to determine and keep track of the phrases by active listening. There can be only 6 phrases played at a time, and phrases cannot be duplicated within a set of 6. After 3 seconds of no action and all phrases have been played, the “Pulse” layer stops and the instrument awaits for the next user. The duration of the performance is dependent on the user. The learning curve is to memorize the phrases and their positions and their number of loops.
My intentions were to create a musical instrument, and like all musical instruments, requires time, patience and most of all practice. Creating a system which required several days of rehearsal to develop familiarity with the very nature of the physical interaction as well as deeper connection to the phrases, their positions, and the duration of the loop. If there was more time available to perform I feel the music would have been more of an impact if I had the opportunity to exploit the hypnotic nature of the music itself.
Some of the suggestions from the group were to devise a way of making the process a bit easier. I had been playing with the idea of creating “frets” on the bow to inform the user of their position and which phrases they were on. However, I felt that the idea would take away from the initial concept relying heavily on active listening.
Please, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like more information.
A special thanks to Radiolab‘s short on “In C” with Michael Lowenstern and Zoe Keating, without which this project wouldn’t have been manifested.