Talking down the Tiger

New adventures in electro-acoustic music

One of the works featured on our Feburary 10th concert (Jump Start) is Talking Down the Tiger, a duo for multi-percussion and “live-looping” by Andrew Stanliand which I commissioned for the 2010 Cooldrummings International Percussion Festival hosted by Soundstreams.  The featured “instrument” on this piece is the ARC-16 Prototype (pictured at right; larger version here), an electro-acoustic interface which allows the user to capture sounds, manipulate them and re-broadcast them through a surround sound system (thus – live-looping).

On a recent trip to Memorial University (where Andrew is Assistant Professor of Composition), I was able to try out the ARC-16 myself.  After a quick lesson with Andrew, I tapped on the microphone, capturing the sound in the ARC-16.  I then began sliding my fingers on the various sensors and had soon created an electronic symphony that blasted throughout the surround sound system in the hall, all from a tiny tap. It was an extraordinary experience for me in new forms of sound production and alteration.

When we first premiered the piece in 2010, Andrew used analog dials on mixing boards connected via his laptop computer, known as haptic technology – instruments which use touch as the main source of control.   Since then, Andrew has further researched this technology and, with the help of a $100,000 grant from the Research and Development Corporation (RDC), created a new research facility for electro-acoustic music at Memorial University known as MEARL (Memorial Acoustic Research Laboratory).  The project has included four senior engineering students engaged in this adventure (syncing binary code with a multiple sensor array) as part of their graduation projects.

Over the past three years, Talking Down the Tiger has developed into a true duo, with Staniland on stage next to a massive percussion setup, reacting and transforming the very complex written material which I perform. What Andrew is able to do with the many sounds of the percussion setup is incredible.  

I asked Andrew a few questions about the ARC-16 prototype:

Ryan – What did you find lacking in the original 2010 analog interface that led you to begin researching the technology behind the ARC-16 prototype?

Andrew -The biggest shortfall was the lack of visual feedback.  The correlation between action and sound is so present in percussion (i.e. mallet hits gong), but is totally lacking in electro-acoustic performance (i.e. sliding a mixing desk-style slider or potentiometer that the audience can not even see).  Also, the mixing-desk style fader box never really felt like an “instrument”. 

R – What are your favourite features of the device and why did you choose that shape?

A – The shape is the brainchild of its designer Scott Stevenson, in collaboration with myself and my whole engineering team at MUN. The shape was originally modeled after a frame drum, and it slowly morphed into its current shape. I like it because it’s so versatile. It can be held and calibrated in many different ways. 

R – What are you current plans for the ARC-16 and what future applications do you envision for it?

A – I am in the process of creating a few demonstration modes for the ARC 16, including an FM Synth, a DJ style scratcher, a drum machine, and a controller for lighting and sound. We also want to get the ARC into the hands of a few other prominent artists for more creative research and development.

Complete information on Jump Start, Continuum’s Feburary 10th concert, is available here.