TROMPONG AND ITS CREATIVE FRAMEWORK
Percussion and electronic instruments are particularly well suited for the exploration of new expressive possibilities of sound. They are the most fluidly defined instruments in the contemporary instrumentarium. In fact, they are not single instruments. Today, anything that is treated like percussion is percussion. Electronic components and computers offer a set of possibilities that seems to expand continually as new technologies become available and fresh perspectives creatively engage with them. The sonic boundaries of percussion and electronics are limited more by imagination than the physical nature of the instrument.
Percussion and electronics became serious instruments only toward the middle of the twentieth century. They are fitting additions to the contemporary instrumentarium because contemporary music has increasingly embraced musical materials that are not pitch-based. A work like Xenakis' Rebonds for solo percussion would have been inconceivable as music in the 19th century; percussive sounds do not allow for tonal melodic or harmonic structure. But the activities of composers from the first half of the twentieth century made works like Xenakis' Rebonds possible in the latter half of that century. We now have a rich repertoire of works organized using different methods.
Still, it is possible to view all of the new sonic and structural possibilities as a crisis.Any sound is a possible beginning with the potential to link to any other sound. If anything can be material, what is the argument for any one thing being material in a new work? The computer offers another conundrum: it can reproduce any sound. It's sound source can be anything - a car horn, a church bell, a food blender - and it can be extensively processed to produce new sounds that exist along a spectrum between clearly related to completely dissimilar. What is the reason for using any sound source? Is it just visceral pursuit for unique, intriguing, or beautiful sounds? Sorting out answers to these questions, even if they is temporary, is a relevant success for artists working in sound today.
In Trompong, we attempt to address this material crisis via a Creative Framework. This framework includes 3 stages of creation. The first stage of creation is Instrument/Activator. Here the duo selects instruments and explores their sonic possibilities. Even with a single instrument, this is a rich space for sound exploration. A percussion instrument, perhaps more than any other instrument, is sonically defined by both itself and its activator. For example, a snare drum's sonic and compositional potential isn't defined exclusively by the drum. Instead, it is the interaction between the drum and the activator. Common activators of the snare drum include drumsticks, brushes, fingers, and mallets. Chopsticks, coins, grains of rice, and many other materials can also be used as activators. Each offers a variety of unique playing techniques, timbres, and compositional possibilities.
The Instrument/Activator stage of creation yields a set of timbres and textures, which propose compositional possibilities. These are directly addressed in the Sonic Organization stage. At this stage, the musicians create material based on the discoveries from the Instrument/Activator stage and work out compositional elements and a rough form.
In reflection on the materials, compositional elements, and form, the musicians, then, look for ways to complete the work in the virtual extension stage of creation. Here signal processing routines are designed to enhance the work. This may result in a challenge to the material and compositional elements developed in the Sonic Organization stage. The musicians decide if the processing should run on its own via artificial intelligence or be designed as an instrument with interface elements used to control its active parameters in live performance.
The creative process described above is more than procedural; it is also organic, even ecological. A composition, for instance, is not complete once work in the virtual extension stage is finished. Instead, decisions made during the virtual extension stage may require reconsideration of the sonic organization or the sounds themselves, and these reconsiderations may require another pass at the virtual extension stage.
Trompong is a work with a very simply instrumentation - 3 trompong (pot-shaped gongs found in the Balinese Gong Kebyar gamelan) and signal processing. Still, there is a great deal of sonic richness to explore. In creating this work, we used the creative framework as a guide. We started with the 3 instruments and explored what is possible with them, hitting them with different mallets in different places in different ways. We discovered that the instruments are tuned so that beating occurs when they sound simultaneously. and that it is possible to create a small glissando by hitting the pot with one mallet and dragging another across its surface. This was the first stage of the work. Then, we reflected on how those sounds could be organized compositionally (stage 2) and which aspects of the trompong sound world should influence the signal processing (stage 3).
As can be heard in the work, we start with an introduction to the instruments themselves and the vibrating fullness that they achieve when sounded simultaneously. This is enhanced with thick reverb and tones generated by very short feedback delays. At one point, we both play trompong so that the 3 instruments can sound simultaneously. As delay settings change to introduce feedback glitching, percussion shifts to an assortment of mallets that introduce much sharper attacks in comparison to the yarn mallets used in the beginning.
The glissando on trompong is clearly heard in the middle of the second section of the work and this leads to the incorporation of glissando pitch shifting in the signal processing. This middle section ends with modulating panning, which in our minds is related to the beating inherent in the trompong tuning. The panning is a subtle introduction to the final section that brings back the 3 trompong in loud, ringing bursts filled with natural modulation. To this, we add distortion with live control over a modulating filter. The speed of this filter modulation guides the improvisation between percussion and its processing.