Performance Post-Mortem

The other day, I was invited to take part in a concert hosted by the Albany Sonic Arts Collective with Jason Lescalleet and the Pitcher/Chen/Van Nort Trio.

I don’t intend to review the concert–I’m not a good reviewer. I get caught up in the music and a few disjointed points might stick with me later, but not enough to write up a concert in a way that does anyone justice. The best I can do is tell you that the entire concert rocked, which lacks specificity. Instead, what you get is my self-reflexive take on my performance.

This concert represented my first attempt to perform my own music. The last few concerts I’ve been involved in have involved performers or works for audience. Actually putting myself out as a performer carried a huge amount of risk.

I found out about the concert at the last minute. I got 15 minutes. I hoped to play a couple of pieces from the vs. series, but Toy Piano vs. computer didn’t get debugged in time. I still wanted to play a varied set, though, so I decided to play vs. computer 3 times: first with percussion, second on toy piano, and a third time with percussion. That would break up the percussion and give the set an overall arch form.

I hoped changing instrumentation would add enough musical variety. Vs. computer is written to scale to different percussion setups, so I was able to map it to toy piano, even if that mapping was less than ideal.  I didn’t want the clunkiness of switching to a completely different piece of software in the middle. If there had been projection, I would have had the audience perform an Eartude between percussion and toy piano instrumentations. I didn’t want to break up the music in such a short set to futz with another patch to add something like Combat Music to the set.

I am not Rob Esler or Lisa Tolentino. I guess that’s fairly obvious. They are amazing and highly skilled performers. When Rob plays vs. computer, he isn’t just playing percussion really well, he’s got enough skill to play the game: play in the instrumental sense, not play in the game-playing sense. The score of the game is sonified, so he can actually control the processing that happens to him by getting more or less points. He can play the piece twice in a row and change the difficulty and end up with really different musical outcomes. I haven’t had the privilege of hearing Lisa perform vs. computer, but when she played percussion vs. percussion against Rob, she won. I think she’d blow vs. computer out of the water.

They’re badass performers; I’m not. I played the game on its easiest setting. I lost both times on percussion and tied on toy piano. I really thought I had a decent chance of pulling a win on toy piano. I won in rehearsal, but in performance it didn’t happen.

Things I learned:

  1. With regards to the game sonification, ties in vs. computer are fairly boring relative to either winning or losing. If I could’ve just squeaked out a win with the toy piano, the entire set would’ve been musically more successful.
  2. That win-loss contrast is really nice if the game is to be played repeatedly in a single performance. If I’m going to perform this again, I probably have to go back and extend the range of the difficulty slider to make the easiest setting even easier.
  3. The vs. series has a lot of potential. I really love working with performers. If I can write one piece of music with a difficulty slider that lets it be something I can play but can still present a musical challenge for a virtuosic performer, that seems like a plus.
  4. I should probably come up with some kind of master patch that lets me more conveniently play multiple pieces with completely different processes on the same concert without having to open and close different patches. I shouldn’t restrict myself to playing different versions of the same piece because I have a short set and don’t want to waste time swapping out patches.

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