Devices and Desires  

Instrumentation: 1/4-tone flute and interactive-electronics 

Released: 01 June 2012 on rarescale records

Collaborating Artists: Carla Rees, 1/4-tone flute

Other Information: Recorded 24 November 2011, London, U.K.

Recording engineer: Ben Wiffen

Mixed, mastered and produced by Scott Miller, Minneapolis, MN

Photography: Carla Rees

Layout and design: Scott Miller

What am I hearing on this recording? The recordings on Devices and Desires are all electroacoustic works for 1/4-tone flute and interactive-electronics. They include a fully composed work (Anterior/Interior), structured improvisations (haiku, interrupted and Omaggio a 1961) and free improvisations (Beauty is Eternity Gazing in a Mirrorbending reed and Seriously, This is a Commitment).

Virtually all of the electronic sound heard on the CD is the result of processing the sound of the flute, whether in real-time, from a sample taken earlier in the performance, or from a recording made years before we made the recording!

How do the improvisations work? The improvisational works on this CD (tracks 2 - 6) involve collaborative, real-time composing and music making between Carla and Scott (a term I like is Christopher Small’s musicking which defines music as a verb, rather than as a noun). These tracks capture a unique moment in time, they are an archive of a particular musical interaction that won’t happen ever again in quite the same way.

Most people have little trouble imagining what it means to improvise a flute performance, but how does one improvise a computer performance? Working with Symbolic Sound’s Kyma X sound design environment, I have created a number of computer programs which allow me to perform with other musicians in ways that are uniquely computer based. The programs I have created typically produce sound by processing the sound of the other musicians performing. I have the ability to manipulate and control aspects of the processing, in order to create electronic sounds to my liking. I control the computer in performance using a mouse, my iPad, foot controllers and Wii controllers. 

Quite often, I have programmed the computer to listen to and analyze the human musician’s performance and to adjust its processing in response what it “hears.” Sometimes this has the effect of extending the human’s instrument, in ways that they can control. Sometimes it has the effect of providing an accompaniment that is responding to the human’s performance. And sometimes, well, the computer surprises us all.

(This approach to programming comes out of my interest in sonic ecologies and ecosystemic programming. Read more about that here.)

What is the difference between a structured improvisation and a free improvisation? A structured improvisation, such as haiku, interrupted, involves aspects of traditional composition that provide a structure for the ensuing improv. haiku, interrupted (co-composed with Pat O’Keefe) has a graphic score and pre-programmed audio processing that is triggered during performance. The programming creates an environment for an improvised performance, with a structure that is informed not—for example—by a series of harmonic changes, but in this case by audio signal processing changes that the improviser reacts, responds and interacts with.

Program Notes

Devices and Desires embraces the musical potential of extended, microtonal flute techniques and interactive-electronics in a collection of composed works, structured improvisations and free improvs. It is the product of an inspired three-hour recording session and collaboration between Carla Rees—London based, ¼-tone flute specialist, improviser, and founder of the ensemble “rarescale”—and Minneapolis based composer and electronic musician Scott Miller. In November 2011, Scott traveled to London for Carla’s premier performance of “Anterior/Interior,” which he wrote for her the previous summer. The day following the premier, they went into the recording studios to record the new work, which went spectacularly well, leaving a couple hours to track several improvisations. The result is Devices and Desires.

Anterior/Interior (2011) Anterior/Interior was written for Carla Rees, based on her extensive documentation of the multiphonic performance capabilities of the Kingma system flute, which it deeply investigates by dissecting the smallest sounds. Anterior refers to our initial experience with the sound of the flute—the external shape that we hear, before entering into the sound. The interior can be found in the smaller, quantum level relationships contained within this shape. Real-time digital processing allows for intense magnification and dissection of the flute's sound, revealing beautiful inner rhythms and harmonies, always present but not easily apprehended.

Beauty is Eternity Gazing in a Mirror (2011) A free improv that is based entirely on computer processing that reflects transformed and distorted recordings of the flute back to the performer. Carla’s performance is being analyzed by the computer programming and exercising a tremendous amount of influence over the nature of the audio reflections. This makes Carla’s improvisation as much an exploration of her influence on the computer as structuring a musical experience based on her interaction with the computer. 

Omaggio a 1961 (2009) Omaggio a 1961 was co-composed with Pat O’Keefe, originally released on their 2009 CD Willful Devices. It is a structured improvisation based on interactive programming designed to produce timbral and contrapuntal electronic sound reminiscent of the early 1960s. As a fan of this electroacoustic sound world—especially works by Luciano Berio—Scott chose an Italian title. 

bending reed (2011)

Seriously, This is a Commitment (2011) Both bending reed and Seriously, This is a Commitment come from a single, 20 minute free improvisation, presenting another perspective on the potential for real-time composition with their respective instruments. In bending reed, Carla explores the flute’s microtonal promise, while in Seriously, This is a Commitment, Scott and Carla experiment with dance-like rhythms and beats. 

haiku, interrupted (2009) Co-composed and first recorded with clarinetist Pat O’Keefe, haiku, interrupted was originally released on Willful Devices. It is an exploration of five restrained—yet powerful—gestures carried away by the environment they have themselves created, in the absence of other stimuli.