On July 20th 2023, with the help of Jorge Vallejo, Karin Schistek and I recorded my solo piano piece making sense of at the Folkwang University’s Tonaufnahmestudio. There are no electronics in this piece but Jorge did make a single-camera video recording—with some music manuscript paper flourishes after the recording was done—which Karin then used to make a highly-colourful montage.

We used four microphone pairs in the recording, one of which (by Earworx) used a special piano mount very near to the strings. This is not to everyone’s taste and despite initially getting a little excited about the sound they capture, in the end they played only a very minor role in colouring the sound image. Nevertheless, all eight mics were EQ’d, delay-compensated, mixed, and spatialised in 5th Order Ambisonic space. Significant use was made of the Spatial Audio Designer binaural rendering engine (SAD) as well as the Stratus 3d immersive reverb plugin, so a conversion process was necessary from 36-channel 5th order Ambisonics to Atmos 7.1.6 immersive, and back again, for the mix. Masters were made in stereo, binaural, and 5.0 surround, though any immersive format is still possible of course.

Particularly interesting for me here was some more experimentation with ‘immersive binaural’ rendering. We can discuss till the cows come home the sense and success of faking (yes, that’s really what it is) an ‘immersive experience’ over normal stereo headphones, but I’m a fan. I remain enthusiastic but sceptical about the truly immersive aspect of such endeavours. I don’t think many of us will hear sounds as convincingly coming from behind or above, but there is, for me, certainly a sense of placement beyond that which we can achieve in simple stereo mixes. Above all I enjoy experimenting with the different ‘rooms’ that SAD’s Tom Ammermann has prepared for our delight. They colour the sound significantly—and there’s no way to have a favourite in general, I feel, as they’re too input-dependent—but they really put the mix into a convincing space.

The final binaural version in this project uses SAD’s Enhancement Sydney location for the immersive render. You can compare the two approaches, to the extent this is really possible using lossy compressed audio, in the videos below. Do bear in mind that the binaural version is not merely a placement of the stereo master into ‘binaural space’, rather the two involve different renders and then different mastering processes in order to achieve their quite distinct results.


Programme Note

Deutsch: kurz

making sense of ist eine algorithmische, oft besoffen-klingende Anspielung auf die Klaviermusik der Spätromantik bzw. freiatonalen Epoche. Dagegen gesetzt und hineingemischt sind Strukturen ganz doofen, plumpen, wiederholungslustigen, oft dreiklängiger Charakters.

English: short

making sense of is an algorithmic, often drunken-sounding allusion to the piano music of the late romantic or free-atonal epoch. Set against this and thrown into the mix are structures of a quite silly, clumsy, repetitive, often triadic character.

English: medium

Besides living with pianist Karin Schistek for now more than twenty years, I have been improvising with her too in a number of different contexts. Karin’s consistent and colourful sense of harmony always struck me when playing together, so I wanted to highlight that in this piece. Though algorithmically elaborated, the harmonic material is derived from improvisations Karin made and which I subsequently notated and analysed. So although I can fairly assert that Karin herself would not have come up with this music, its provenance is at least a little blurred. But this is always the case with instrumental music, to a certain extent at least, given the overarching collaboration undertaken by musicians and composers across centuries.

To an extent all interpreters, as well as audiences, must make sense of the abstract structures a piece of music such as this proposes. Here in particular though there is an extra level of making sense of during the compositional process in that, after the harmonic elaborations and structures were complete, the rhythmic structures were then derived from my jitterbugalgorithm. These are more usually quite complicated—as evidenced in, for instance, my Durchhaltevermögen for solo violin—but here they have been made sense of, or simplified, via quantisation methods. This leads to quite different music, something rather compelling when looking at music from the point of view of its presentation in and subsequent interpretation out of symbolic notation.

The subtitle of this work is all color must be one or let the world be done (there’ll be a chance, we’ll all be orange!). This was taken from the Gregory Corso poem America Politica Historia, in Spontaneity, published in 1970. The significance of the subtitle is apparent in several recent as well as timeless political contexts, but takes on renewed import in the hands of a particularly sensitive and synaesthetic pianist such as Karin.

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