Matthew Collings: Extending Live Performance Using Technology (Practical Workshop)

The music of Edinburgh-based composer and sound artist Matthew Collings is textural, melodic and often sonically overwhelming, and takes inspiration from contemporary classical and avant-garde guitar music.

Modern Technology opens up an unprecedented world of possibilities to the performer and composer. Musicians without classical training can now create exciting, individual methods of expression by using custom-made software or even everyday objects augmented with contact microphones or sensors.

Performers trained in the use of an instrument can benefit greatly from using technology to extend their existing sound and practices, coaxing previously unattainable sounds and timbres from a familiar starting point. The aim of the workshop is to direct students in developing personalised setups for live performance or improvisation firmly based around their own aesthetic tastes and interests. Large ensemble-based workshops are focused on group playing, listening and improvising. However, they often move at speed or require students (who may be in their first experience of live performance or improvisation using technology) to be able to respond and improvise using setups which have not been developed or tested, producing a situation where they often struggle to get beyond the technology and simply PLAY.

The workshop aims to give students the confidence to be able to express themselves using their new instrument in a fluid, responsive, flexible and satisfying manner. This would speed up students personal development as performers, and may help point them in the direction of avenues they have not yet explored but which could yield exciting musical results. This also confronts two key issues of growing importance after studying:

1 – The mass of options offered by technology can be both confusing and intimidating, with the constant problem of how do I apply this technical knowledge and this vast range of possibilities to my individual interests as a musician/composer/sound designer

2- The importance of being able to develop and present a distinctive ‘voice’ and identity in today’s crowded contemporary music environment

We would begin with students attempting to explain their ideal performance setup/musical aims (i.e the sound they have in their heads of when I hold this instrument, what I would like it to do which it doesn’t now). Possible methods to extend/augment them will be introduced based on my practical experience, followed by students being teamed up in small groups (2-3) with others whose approach is different, yet complimentary to their own approach/instrument e.g. guitarists with violinists, contact-mic specialists with percussionists.

This process would be a highly practical, goal-orientated exercise aimed at personalising student’s working practices, and developing them further around their individual musical interests and objectives. This process would be based around specific objectives set by participants at the beginning of the workshop and aim to present students with new options to help them achieve these aims. Students will be invited to and encouraged to document their progress on an online blog throughout the workshop (if it takes place on multiple days) and will culminate with a performance.

Potential options to explore:
– Software solutions inc. Max/MSP and Ableton Live/Max for LIVE
– Use of both gaming controllers as musical devices (including Wii and Gametrak)
– Contact Microphones
– Arduino (particularly use of vibrational sensors and Pulse-Width Modulation)
– Guitar Pedals/programmable foot controllers

Read more about Matthew on his website