Space Drum (SD),
On display 11-25.8.2000, project carried out as part of the authors' workshop MEET held by the Animax Theatre in collaboration with the Bonn Music School. (Authors: Barry Roshto, Rob Gelhard)
SD targets children for whom the traditional possibilities offered by music schools have little or no appeal. The average age of the children who were able to experiment with SD while it was on display was fourteen.
A platform measuring 4x4 meters is equipped with a white dance floor for a floor projection. A data projector, a high-speed camera aimed at the action area and an infrared flood lamp are situated 6m above its center.
A 24-channel sound system hemispherically surrounds the action and viewing areas. At first, visitors see two groups of ornament-like, color-patterned structures projected on the floor in the darkened theatre. Three visitors at a time enter the area. They wear gloves fitted with infrared reflectors. When the gloves pass over the graphic objects, these turn out to be "buttons" that react to this "touch" with small movements and produce further graphic objects in other places. In particular, however, they can set audio/spatial structures into motion or interrupt them.
The most outstanding technical achievement of the SD installation is the use of a high-speed image registering and processing system. This permits the simultaneous tracking of six positions in the space (the six infrared reflectors on the gloves) at a rate of 120 frames a second (standard video image tracking has long been criticized by musicians because of its slow reaction speed). This means the instrument reacts very fast, which means it can be played with many rhythmic nuances. With precisely coordinated physical actions (breakdance, for example), the players can achieve musical results. The quality of these is directly related to the enthusiasm, personal involvement, effort and patience of the players. The capacity for group improvisation, whether musical or dance, is developed.
The sound material is divided into four parts, each forming the four focuses of an instruction unit:
1) The first preset consists of soft fields of sound that help the players orientate themselves at first.
2) The second preset requires slow movements. The ostinato background loop and a low contra-d form a peaceful acoustic "carpet" to which synthetic oboe sounds can be added. The three players stand in front of their objects - their instruments - and play on their own to get to know their palette of sounds. The common basis is a d minor pentatonic scale; the arrangement and register is different for each player. Games for two participants focus at first on melodic aural training exercises such as finding common notes or discovering a hidden dissonance ("wrong note"). This leads to a polyphonic improvisation - with six voices, the harmonic structure can soon take on interesting forms.
3) The third preset is a "sound library" that acts as a school for rhythm. A funky 104bpm drum loop and a crackling vinyl atmo provide the background.
As in traditional role distribution, the player on the upper right is the percussionist and has control over the basic rhythm, fills and hot brass hits. He/she also activates the bass "keyboard."
The bass player plays on a field of eighteen "buttons" divided into three rows. These call up notes and activate rhythmic repetitions. The repetitions of the notes are synchronized with the drum loop to create a solid groove feeling.
The third player has a collection of vocal samples of various durations and rhythm. After a short experimental phase, the teacher helps put together rhythmic patterns that give practice in playing single elements together. When developed further, this concept leads to the goal of the training: "rhythmic pick-up". The pupils are to learn to pick up rhythmic patterns by ear, then reproduce and continue them.
The fourth preset is also concerned with training in rhythm. A South American clave riff provides the framework for a tricky game demanding exact timing and quick reactions. The first task is the exact placing of bass drum and hi hat; then other sounds in chemicals beats style are added. At this point, the players begin to play and arrange a real song.
Other "buttons" on the floor projection can be use to help in the compositional process. These imitate a simple recording studio.