Distance Music: Original Concept

As sound travels to a specific location, it is delayed by about 1millisecond per foot to reach any given point. Distance Music takes advantage of this delay by placing sound sources at large distances from the audience. The composition accounts for these delays by having musicians farther from the audience play earlier, so as to make up for the time required for the sound to travel the distance. But, more importantly, if musicians and sound sources are placed at many points around the audience, antiphonal gestures can be designed into the sound experience. A Distance Music piece is intended to be performed at a particular location, such that a listener cannot hear it correctly at any other place unless the distance, altitude, and terrain between the listener and music groups at that place are the same as those of the modeled environment.
 For example, I composed my Distance Music piece, inSPIRE for 22 Brass, Carillons, C Bell and Distance, for twelve performance locations in downtown Orlando, Florida. The musicians read traditional parts, getting their tempo from me via a live audio transmission through radio. I designed the music such that audience members would experience the intended antiphonal gestures from a specific site. The people outside of the “sweet spot” heard a different version of the music as a result of their unique distance from the musician placements.
Proposed Work
Distance II will build upon the experience and success of inSPIRE by asking the audience members to change their position relative to the sound sources during the performance. They will be encouraged to walk along a paved path around the Orlando’s downtown Lake Eola. Specific antiphonal gestures will coalesce into recognizable forms at specific, posted locations. The sound sources will comprise of both machines, called “sounders,” and musicians. The sounders will provide a melodic pattern that changes according an audience member’s position. Three groups of musicians will be stationed high above on nearby roofs of buildings, performing music composed to compliment the sounders. Distance II will also include two solo improvising musicians. The work will consist of three movements, each five to seven minutes in duration and utilizing a different method of synchronization between music sources.
Sounder Construction 
Sounders are diaphones constructed of modified pneumatic valves. A large steel or carbon fiber bottle stores compressed air for each device. A low velocity stream of air allowed into the valve body via a radio actuated solenoid will set the metal diaphragm in motion. Tuning requires changing the size and/or material of the sounder’s resonating chamber. Development will hopefully produce diaphones capable of producing the loudest, clearest tone with the smallest amount of air.
Low-power radio technology from the lakeside will control each sounder. Each will be equipped with a controller board consisting of an Arduino Zigbee radio circuit and a simple solenoid actuator circuit. The composer will control the sounders from a laptop computer equipped with Max software designed to signal each solenoid. Both the Zigbee transmitter-receivers and the solenoid actuated air valves require only a modest battery pack to operate.
Sounder Locations
I will place 6 sounders aboard swan boats at fixed locations. Each swan boat captain will be instructed on how to navigate to their exact position via GPS and sight lines. Sounders one through four will be placed equidistant on the east- west axis of the lake. Sounders five and six will be placed on a line that perpendicularly bisects the east-west axis and will be placed close to the walking path.
Each sounder will be tuned to a single standard pitch and will emit that pitch as a very loud staccato note. The sounders will play their notes simultaneously at frequent, regular time intervals. Due to the varying distance of the six sounders at any given point on the walkway, each note, though created at the same instant, will reach that point at a different times and amplitudes. The result will be a short melody derived from the six pitch set that, as the audience moves along the path, changes in order and emphasis.
Brass and Percussion Locations
Three small brass choirs with two percussionists will be placed on each of three rooftops at stations northeast, northwest and south of the lake. They will read standard notation and will synchronize their timing in three ways:
  • Synchronize by metronome click over two-way radio. This method proved reliable with the inSPIRE project. Also, two-way radios are useful for communication between the musicians and composer.
  • Synchronize by listening to the other groups. Groups will respond to other groups in a call-and-response fashion across the large distance separating one from another. The sounders will not speak during this section.
  • Synchronize by using the regular pulse of the sounders below as their beat.
Improvised music 
Two wind musicians, inspired by the music they hear and comfortable with improvising and with engaging the audience, will move freely and create music. One of these musicians will be placed in a swan boat.
Audience Impact
People enthusiastically enjoyed inSPIRE, the first distance music work, largely because they understood and related to the work’s unusual concept. The combination of music and science will create a high level of excitement for Distance II if the audience is similarl
y well informed. Printed mat
erials distributed at the site will explain the concept of distance music and provide directions on how to interact with it. An iPhone application will be constructed that furnishes a live map of the event and includes musical notation expected at geometrically based points of musical interest.

 

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