Getting started / preliminary tips

Bring together the compositional project, gestures and sounds

You are aware that a major goal of the workshops is to provide you with an opportunity to develop your compositional/musical ideas for the t-stick. Review your proposal and try to hash out any connections between your compositional concepts and both physical gestures and sound. Let yourself imagine a physical gesture that is a good likeness to a sound – or vice versa. Then, let the liaison inform your ideas on how you want your piece to develop.

For example, some of you will have heard me speak about my Catching Air and the Superman for 2 t-sticks, keyboard and chamber orchestra. In this piece, I imagined that the physical thrusting gesture was an apt visual likeness to the decay structure of a bouncing object coming to rest. That is, I found the aggressive and focussed thrusting movements a good visual match to a sound that resembles bouncing. In turn, I let the concept of a bounce (and the decay structure of a bouncing object) inform many of the major aspects of my piece: structure, form, pitch and spectral spaces, rhythm and tempo.

The t-stick is a vital part of your project

Make the t-stick necessary and vital to your compositional thinking. Ask yourself, “could my ideas be realised with an electronic instrument other than the t-stick, or maybe with an acoustic instrument in the context of a live electronics piece”. To the best of your ability, try to make the concept of a t-stick intrinsic to your compositional plan.

We could have a long debate about this idea; what comes first, the compositional project or the technology needed for the project. I personally try to develop both at the same time and look at the limits that each – the project and the technology – brings to the table.

Develop synthesis and a unique namespace

I suggest you start by conceiving/developing your synthesis or sound ideas, along with developing a unique namespace for your synthesis.  By namespace, I mean a list of names, each name representing a synthesis parameter that you intend to change/modulate with the t-stick. The namespace could contain normative technical parameters (e.g.,  centre frequency, bandwidth, gain or volume, delay, hi cut, feedback) or it could be couched in terminology that is unique to the sort of synthesis you intend to use.  You might also choose terms that represent a ‘higher-level’ or abstract control over sound (e.g.  transpose, morph, stretch, scream, variation, excite). Generally speaking, these higher-level controls modulate more than one parameter simultaneously. For instance, what would the “scream” parameter modulate: frequency, gain, graininess? Try to develop your synthesis while keeping in mind the parameters you wish to modulate with the t-stick – jot down the parameters as you work.

Develop these four controls by our first meeting:

By our first meeting, I strongly recommend that you determine how you want to control these four aspects of the sound. At the least, have some ideas so that we can experiment.

  1. Sound excitation
    • How do we make/initiate a sound?
  2. Sound termination
    • How do we cut/stop/silence a sound?
  3. Sound volume
    • How do we control loudness?
    • Consider combining termination and volume, because decreasing volume will eventually lead to silence.
  4. Articulation
    • How do we colour the beginning of sounds
    • I’m referring to timbral variations with each onset
    • Consider traditional ideas: legato, staccato, jete, marcato
    • Tackle the idea of articulation ‘early’ in the process because you will find that it immediately adds a depth to your sounds and this will further stimulate your sound imagination.
    • Don’t be satisfied with ‘just’ being able to excite a sound, but consider the subtle control we may have within a sound onset – consider this in relation to acoustic instrument practise. This will ultimately make the t-stick more enjoyable to play right from the get-go.

Think about controlling the sustained part of a sound

After determining excitation, termination, volume and articulation controls, consider how variation will be created in the continuant/sustained part of a sound. I think you’ll find this easy to imagine and experiment with because of the large range of available movement possibilities. Also, keep in mind that knowing what physical gestures you intend to use to excite sound, for example, may inform how you control the continuant part of a sound. In other words, an excitation gesture may naturally suggest a secondary movement that can be used to control the sustain of a sound.

Don’t forget that I have a gyroscope in my t-stick

I included a 3-axis gyroscope when I built my own t-stick. So far, I haven’t created any mappings using the gyro. Using it may lead you down new and fruitful paths that I have not taken yet. The gyro datastream reflects the rotational velocity (degrees/second) of the instrument, and also yields the relative rotation (degrees) over short periods of time. When the t-stick isn’t moving, the gyro should output a single value – normally zero.


About dndrew

Orchestral, chamber and interactive music composer Digital musical instrumentalist Real-time software systems designer Computer music educator
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