PACKED is designed to be a portable, table-top sound installation, and I finally have it up and running! Since we live in a studio, it is now the centerpiece of our household (sorry Mike). I'm really excited about the result, though I would love to make a larger, site-specific version in the near future – something that could be a true surround-sound, immersive experience for audiences.
Check out this short video of me improvising on the styrofoam panel. It should give you some idea of the depth of sounds possible with these basic materials. There are so many timbres, rhythmic profiles, and physical performance gestures that are possible. When I play these panels, I find my focus zooming into the tiniest things – like how each ridge of my fingerprints creates friction with the material's surface. While speakers amplify the sounds created in real-time, they will also loop a 6-minute track that will put the audience's performances in a more musical/ harmonic context. I'll post a snippet of that next time!
Putting this together required a LOT of new skills. Although I learn a lot from each piece that I compose, this project provided a totally new context to the term "learning on the job". I suppose I might have learned these things in school were I more interested in electronic music and sound art early in my career. But since I swore off all electronics until the second year of my doctorate... I feel proud that I assembled and soldered together balanced contact microphones, mixed the perfect shade of silver-brownish-white paint, and sprayed rubber and industrial-strength adhesive onto random objects. Each step was chock-full of failures – like soldering all twelve transistors on backwards and the bubble wrap flaking off the panel after I had painstaking glue the pieces on over three days ***. There was also stress over researching and shopping for the right gear since my budget was basically "as little as possible."
As a recovering perfectionist, this was all emotionally difficult. I think what I secretly love about composing acoustic concert music is that it lets me indulge those tendencies; I can stay hidden and tweak the score until it seems "perfect." There are many fewer steps to executing the idea: notation, formatting, part-making, program notes, rehearsals, done! But as I continue to incorporate more visual and electronic components to my work, I think experiencing all those mini-disasters of this installation will really be valuable.
***tip for future Tonia: bubble wrap is DESIGNED to not respond to glues. That's WHY it's used as packaging. [But thank god for 3MSuper77 Spray Adhesive, it did the trick]