A->B, for chaosflöte and AIYA, was originally created for and premiered at the 2019 White Pulse Marathon of experimental music, whose motto cheekily quips, "a toast to Pheidippides." He is said to have distanced a total of 25 miles by foot to deliver the news of Greek victory in the battle of Marathon. I incorporate the form of the famous statue of Pheiddipides in the reactive visuals of this set, and play with the act of going "from a to b."
Audio feedback hotspots occupy the left and right edges of the stage, creating a palpable sonic tension while traversing from one side to the other. Hidden behind the news of battle victory is the violent undercurrent of its cost, as 'personified' by AIYA, the machine improviser. Echoing explosions and raspy vocalizations mark the final climax of the set, amplified by continuous feedback before fading away into the realm of myth and legend.
sound/visuals/performance by Melody Chua
A->B (November 2019) was the first work I made with the improvisation machine that did not use any fixed media (no background video nor sounds playing on their own in the background). All media elements were generated in real-time and reacting to my actions on the stage. Accordingly, the length of the piece was also flexible to last as long or short as the improvisation required.
Control and feedback
This work still had the aforementioned on/off switch present in bad decisions, but a little more volatility/instability was introduced via feedback hotspots that were present on both left and right extremes of the stage, due to the positioning of the speakers. These hotpots were initially unintentional; in fact, the original premiere of the work had no such feedback issues. In the second performance of this work, in December 2019, the soundcheck did not seem to produce these hotspots, but they were nevertheless very much present in the actual performance.
In this instance, I could not simply switch off the machine because the feedback was happening from the direct microphone input to my flute, independent of the improvisation machine. I could not simply stop playing...in the heat of the improvisation, I had to go on, with or without my on/off switch. The feedback ended up creating a striking, viceral feeling of the machine as a reactive space. By moving slightly towards or away from the speakers, I could influence the degree of the feedback in a delicate dance with the machine...the machine in this case not only AIYA in software-form, but now the entire hardware system AIYA was connected to (microphone, mixer, speakers, etc.). In some ways, I felt very much out of control and in a somehow vulnerable, hyper-aware dialogue with the machine's runaway acoustics.
But no, I cannot fool myself into thinking that I fully overcame my desire for control. My friend was behind the mixer.
Framing: Between composition and improvisation
Without any fixed media to restrict the length and flow of the piece, I felt more like I was improvising with the framework of the improvisation machine & electronics as opposed to improvising within the framework (as it was in bad decisions). In bad decisions, the fixed media electronics functioned more as a composition, within which I would improvise. In A->B, the live electronics became more like an augmentation of my playing, upon which I could have a more dynamic dialogue with. It was impressive how much of a difference it made knowing that the length of the improvisation would not be determined by any fixed media element, but was instead entirely under my control. In the former setup, having a predetermined length gave the frame of the piece the characteristic of a “composition,” whereas this setup functioned more like a flexible scenography upon which to interact and improvise with.
Becoming 2-dimensional through my shadow
This is not the first time I have used my shadow as a way to become more integrated into the otherwise 2-dimensional projection visuals of the improvisation machine. The use of the shadow in A->B was somehow, in my opinion, more effective than any of the other pieces where this technique was employed, because my "3-dimensional" actions in the improvisation were also limited to a 2D plane for a good portion of the work (walking back and forth from one end of the stage to the other, in a straight line parallel to the wall). By drawing a connection between the 2-dimensional movement in both physical and virtual spaces, the effect of feeling more integrated with the machine and more embodied with the machine became stronger.