‘I am a double bass player doing research. The research is part of a ‘Lifelong Learning’ approach to the subject, not as an instrument maker or composer, but as a player and improviser.’
Reflection on my Research Question:
What is the influence of technology in the collaboration between composer and player?
Why go through the trouble of developing these electronic tools for my instrument? Why would I want to generate Midi from a regular double bass?
The parameters of an instrument determine the musical outcome; sound, range, color, pitch etc.
The characteristics of a keyboard are different from those of a string instrument. Keyboard instruments provide mainly percussive output as opposed to the sustained possibilities of a bowed instrument. Another difference is that bowed strings have the possibility of playing the same note on different strings, which results in unusual musical possibilities and musical variety. That’s why a double bass, with its very ‘human characteristics’, brings a nice balance between ‘cold and warm’. Cold (digital): the Teflon like perfection of electronics. Warm (audio): the warm and natural sound of the double bass.
So, what is this Hybrid Bass?
It is a Midi compatible instrument. There have been previous attempts to incorporate Midi on string instruments but, as far as I know, it has never been done in this particular way with an acoustic double bass that distinguishes between the audio outcome of every individual string.
Every string has an individual pick up and the signals coming from these microphones are first sent to a small pre-amplification device, before they reach the interface that transfers an analogue sound into Midi. Midi events are now recognized by both synthesizer and the computer.
What is MIDI?
MIDI is an abbreviation for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. It is a technical standard that describes a communications protocol, digital interface and electrical connectors and allows a wide variety of electronic musical instruments, computers and other related music and audio devices to connect and communicate with one another. A single MIDI link can carry up to sixteen channels of information, each of which can be routed to a separate device. MIDI carries event messages that specify pitch and velocity (loudness or softness), control signals for parameters such as volume, vibrato, audio panning from left to right, cues in theatre, and clock signals that set and synchronize tempo between multiple devices. These MIDI messages are sent via a cable to other devices where they control sound generation and other features. A simple example of a MIDI setup is the use of a MIDI controller such as an electronic musical keyboard to trigger sounds created by a sound module, which is in turn plugged into a keyboard amplifier. This MIDI data can also be recorded into a hardware or software device called an audio sequencer, which can be used to edit the data and to play it back later.
As we all know, a keyboard is the most commonly used Midi controller. Why use a bass instead? Because the bowed instrument is essentially different from a keyboard that can only send the Midi message once, while the bow triggers new data continuously and therefore can interact with the computer in a totally different way.
How to improvise on this newly equipped double bass?
Introducing new tools and possibilities on my instrument expressed through improvisation that exposes various ‘musical and digital’ set ups resulting in ‘frames’, songs or sound environments. I am working from 9 songs/frames stored in software: MultiVoicer and Cakewalk. I shall introduce them in the future in VLOGS on You Tube. Quirijn Altena YouTube Channel
What is the ultimate goal?
To be able to contribute to digital aspects of compositions as a (ensemble) player.
To establish a new relationship between player and composer that includes the combination of an acoustic instrument combined with electronics.
Collaboration with the composition department.
I found the creative department in our institute a perfect environment for my ‘renaissance’ as a student in exploring my research question.
Together with my supervisor Martijn Padding, head of the composition department at the Royal Conservatoire in the Hague, and composer Yannis Kyriakides, we launched a double bass project for all the composition students called ‘BASS in Space’. The purpose was to introduce the possibilities, characteristics and challenges of writing for the double bass to the students. During this project all the students of the double bass department were involved, resulting in a wonderful presentation at the 2019 Spring Festival. This project gave me a deeper ‘insight’ into the role of technology while working with the youngest generation of composers.
Bass in Space SPRING FESTIVAL – 1-6 April, 2019 KC
1. Eva Beunk – ‘Door Streken’
2. Kasper de Oude – ‘Engine’
3. Felix Cheung – ‘Self-Care?’
4. Izak de Dreu – ‘Bass to Space’
5. Filip Sternal – ‘Looming’
1. Eva Beunk
Eva used a digital notation program. She composed a traditional tonal piece for 5 basses. However, using this technology did not make it clear that writing for a group of acoustic instruments is, particularly in the lower register, totally different from the outcome of digital samples. Her composition had very challenging passages that were not idiomatic and quite difficult to execute, which was not apparent from hearing her piece through Sibelius.
2. Kasper de Oude
The original concept of his piece used all kinds of electronic devices attached to a bass that was positioned horizontally on a table. Three players were required to play and trigger various responses from the one instrument.
Eventually he abandoned all use off electronics and the piece became a trio, with the players using their own instrument and conventional contemporary playing techniques.
3. Felix Cheung
The piece 'Self Care?' made use of two screens on either side of the stage with 7 double bassists to read a score with acting instructions. No music, no other electronics.
4. Izak de Dreu
An idiomatic, harmonious composition for 8 mildly amplified basses.
5. Filip Sternal
Using a large group of 12 double basses with 12 speakers behind each player, creating sounds that 'travelled around' in space.
I also met with student composers at the Royal Conservatoire’s Composition Department and the Institute of Sonology, introducing the Hybrid Bass.
During the process it became more and more apparent that my abilities to improvise with the new technology are crucial in luring composers to take the plunge and write.
These encounters have resulted in a composition by Wesley Troeger https://www.residentieorkest.nl/one-minute-symphony-2/wesley-troeger/ called ‘Felix Qui’. Wesley incorporated a variety of samples (including my own voice), recorded bass sound bites and electronics. This piece will be recorded this month and shall be available on my YouTube channel. Quirijn Altena YouTube Channel
During my research I tried to incorporate Max/MSP (a visual programming language for music and multimedia), the system used by my professor Jan Panis. However, the set-up of the Hybrid Bass does not require such a specialised program in order to function.
I have discussed my Hybrid Bass, technology and future possibilities with double bassist John Clayton, protégé of Quincy Jones, and not only a wonderful player but also an arranger, composer and fellow ambassador of the double bass.