“Flying Blind” Kristin Norderval
My PhD research project at the Oslo National Academy of the Arts Opera department examines the technical, physical and pedagogical challenges that opera singers face in relation to the use of interactive audio processing technology in opera.
Flying Blind, is a new work for solo voice and interactive audio processing that I premiered in concert on August 28, 2020 at Sentralen in Oslo.
My goal with Flying Blind was to design and test a prototype for an electroacoustic interactive audio processing system that could foreground and accommodate an unamplified operatic voiceinteracting with the acoustics of the room as well as with the extended, mediated (sampled) voice(s) of the same performer. I wanted to create a “sonic weave” and highlight the agency of the performer in manipulating the sampled vocal signals. The challenge was to design an interactive system that could accommodate mobility and allow the choice making of the performer to be based on aural and haptic cues rather than visual cues. In other words, a system that would allow the singer to control her own audio processing without needing to stand behind a laptop.
For the live demonstration at KHIOs research week event, soprano Silje Aker Johnsen will work with the same interactive audio processing system that I use in Flying Blind. We will work simultaneously with a long string installation created from piano string wire. We will explore the singer´s relationship to the acoustic space, the relationship between her embodied acoustic voice and her sampled and processed voice(s), and her relationship to memory and time.
The interactive audio processing system in Flying Blindconsists of a laptop with MAX audio processing software, 2 wireless midi controllers (Genki Wave rings) mapped to the software via Bluetooth, a wireless headset sender and receiver that enables sampling of the voice, and 4 hemispherical speakers that diffuse the processed audio signals. The embodied voice remains unamplified. The processing patch that I used is my main processing system, which I normally control via the visual interface of the computer. The mapping of the Genki Wave ring controllers was designed with the help of Balint Laczko, a computer programmer and my research assistant for this project.
The vocal processing in Flying Blindis quite basic. Three delay and feedback lines are routed to three different speaker arrays (front L and R speakers and a pair of speakers acting as a third unit in the middle of the audience seating area). Each wireless ring sends midi signals from a 3-axis continuous controller; (roll, pitch and yaw), and from 3 buttons programmed to distinguish between trigger, hold-press and double click, affording 9 menu options. I chose to map hand movements on the left hand – raising and lowering the hand with the wrist (pitch), and palm-down to palm-up (roll) – to feedback and delay respectively. The delays that I can control in each of the three delay lines range from very short (90 milleseconds) to very long (one minute). This range of delay times, and the possibility to shift delay times in various manners – from very short to very long delays almost instantaneously, or conversely very slowly and gradually – allows for a kind of folding and unfolding of time and memory, with the long and short delays creating unpredictable overlappings. The control of the percentage of feedback (how many times a particular recorded sample will repeat – from 1 to infinity) in the three separate delay lines offers the possibility to layer and build compositional structures as well as to revisit sonic events recorded earlier.
The sense of time control in the left hand is relational, approximate and exploratory – the feeling is one of searching for interesting sonic artefacts, choosing what to repeat and for how long, what to let go of, what to recall, and how to combine the three channels of sonic material with the acoustic voice. The buttons on the right-hand midi ring are mapped to control Audio input/bypass, routing to the delay-lines and dedicated speakers (1-3), and the choice of whether to process feedback and delay simultaneously or separately (bypassing one). The type of time control in the right hand is immediate and precise (on or off).
Composer-vocalist Franziska Baumann and I had a lengthy conversation about my approach to my embodied voice and my mediated voices in this work. That interview is available on the Research Catalogue at the following link.