Potpie and Conner Richardson
November 27, 2005
BY JASON SONGE
A man stood in front of two open iNotebooks on a table in the Circle Bar living room Sunday night. His right forearm was covered in a Darth Vader-ish black glove, and when he moved the glove, sounds happened. The man was Tulane grad student/WTUL DJ Conner Richardson, and he was performing live with his electronic glove instrument for the first time.
This won't be much of a review. Criticism takes second to explanation about the interesting instrument Richardson built. The only encouraging thing I have to say is that Richardson uses a variety of tones for his glove improvisations. That keeps his performance interesting, especially since, and here comes the only criticism, the music he makes is formless and nebular. His performance, though fascinating because of his instrument, was more like an exercise than anything digestible or compact.
I did a short e-mail interview with Richardson to understand how the glove works and what his intentions are. Here it is:
LNO: How did you get the idea for your glove instrument--what's your name for it?
CR: There was a product for a video game system called the "p5 glove". It didn't catch on for the gamers, but some musicians got a hold of it and started hacking away. You could get them on Ebay for around $15 and have a pretty nice glove controller... although they were buggy and unreliable in a lot of areas. I started building my glove because I wanted a better p5. Mine is called "Mididexterous," which actually was a name suggested by my friend Bonnie. "MIDI" is the protocol that it uses to talk to the computer, "dexterous" for physical hand movements. It captures both movements of the fingers as well as how you move it around in 3D space.
LNO: What's the purpose of using the glove as opposed to any other instrument?
CR: The purpose is to capture hand movements and use them to control musical parameters. Usually, we use knobs or faders to control electronic music and I felt that those might be a little limiting. I've always been into the idea of electronic music being "organic,"
so I thought the best way to do this was to control it using something we naturally use to manipulate and create. Also, a second purpose was to explore an area for live performance of
electronic music. Again, moving away from knobs and sliders and into areas that an audience might have an easier time connecting with.
LNO: Are you only working in tones with the glove? How difficult is it to control the glove? What happens when you just start waving it around all crazy like?
CR: The glove only sends out instructions, no sound itself. MIDI just says things like "play this note, with this velocity, for this long"--the actual sound is generated via the computer (or any device that can accept MIDI, like a synthesizer). The other "half" of the glove project is a set of programs written for it in Max/MSP. More or less, they are samplers with lots of effects processing. Usually when I perform, I'm triggering samples and using the glove to control the effects. In theory, the glove could control anything you map it to...it could
be whenever you bend a finger you hear a piano note being played, or that same finger could be used to control that amount of feedback being generated from a large wall of sound. It's just how you define it in the software. The difficulty comes in making it sound good. Making an electronic instrument is the easy part, making it sound good is the hard part. I still think of the sounds the glove makes as a work in progress, and I'm constantly writing/re-writing the software part to see what
types of sounds I can explore.
Pretty fascinating, huh? I'm looking forward to the evolution of the glove performances.
Next up was Potpie on the no-input mixing board and a friend on the Moog. I could be very wrong about the mixing board, but this is how I believe it worked: Potpie operated five musical routers(example: guitar effects pedal) that operated on their volition. Basically, these routers are made to be conduits and have cords plugged into them. Sunday night there were no cords, and the machines ran however they liked. Potpie had a small degree of control with the knobs and switches on the routers, but a lot of it was out of his hands.
So, like wiith Richardson, the music was formless and hard to consume. The volume of the music built up over time, and that seems to have been the only noticeable direction of the music. Everything else was a cluster---k of bleeps and bloops. It was an interesting cluster---k because of the process, not the actual music. Musical anarchy! Soft musical anarchy, at that. Potpie started his set without anyone knowing it. The music was so incongruous, unthreatening, and low in volume that people kept talking at a regular volume. I wonder if some of those people left thinking noone else played that night. I was interested because I don't get to see no-input improv, but I do understand people ignoring the band. Potpie definetely had an air about him that said, "Don't mind us. We're just doing an experiment."