Darren Copeland

Sound Artist

Pieces of Letters

Premiered as a complete set on October 7, 2004 – Tone Deaf Series, Modern Fuel Gallery, Kingston

“Pieces of Letters” is a suite of pieces for 1 or 2 laptop performers. In all of the works the letters of the QWERTY keyboard function as springboards for improvisation, play, and musical structure.

On Schedule (2004) 12:22

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In On Schedule the 26 letters of the QWERTY keyboard plus the number 1 key on the laptop trigger 27 sound events that make up the piece. The 27 sound events derive harmonic and spectral content from the 27 scheduled train station stops on the route from London Waterloo in England to Moskva Byelorusski in Russia.

To create these sound events, the departure times for each station on the route were plotted on a line graph. The visual design of this line graph became the model for generating synthesized waveforms. The departure times were also used to determine pitches. A train recording was transposed to these pitches, as were the synthesized waveforms. The sounds generated were further processed using convolution, ring modulation, and the image synth function in Metasynth. Where pertinent, the shape of the line graph and departure times was employed in these procedures as well.

The result of this systematic processing of sounds provided materials for a piece that shifts gradually in pitch and timbre over a 13 minute duration  to model the changes in mood, ambiance, and consciousness that might occur over the 36 hours of a train journey. A single train recording taken from the World Soundscape Collection housed at the Sonic Studio (Simon Fraser University, School of Communication) was used as the source recording.

Letters to our Names (2003) circa 5:00

Letters to our Names is a group improvisation for 1 or more laptop performers. Letters to our Names is conceived for performance by a group of musical or sound performers with an interest in either improvisation or composition or both. Although the work is electroacoustic in nature, its realization in performance does not require knowledge of electroacoustic performance and composition practices. The work is also suitable for all levels of music and audio experience.

There is a sound sequence created that corresponds with each letter of the English alphabet. The sound sequences last anywhere from a couple of seconds to a couple of minutes and are derived from sounds whose names begin with the letter of the alphabet that the sample is stored under. The sounds used in sequences come from three categorical groupings, which are as follows:

‘characters’ – sounds made by humans or animals.
‘objects’ – sounds made by objects or tools.
‘environments’ – sounds from various kinds of ambiences.

The sound sequences are triggered by the letters of QWERTYcomputer keyboard. The performers must perform the letters of their names or the names of audience members or famous people in proper sequence like a serial row.

Thanks to Jamie Todd and Scott McGregor Moore of DreamState for their contributions and insight to the development of this piece.

Sensuous Alphabet (2004) circa 12:00

The Sensuous Alphabet is an improvisation for 2 laptop performers.

The sound sequences triggered by Performer #1 are built around the utterance of one word, which could be the name of an object, person, or thing. The words each start with a different letter in the alphabet and the performer follows the chronological order of the alphabet. The sound sequences triggered by Performer #2 are built around spoken phrases that are definitions of those same words played by performer #1 and they are played in response to the words triggered by performer #1. It is suggested that Performer #2 selects definitions that are not the ones already associated with the word so that the piece better reflects their individual personality and state of mind at the time of performance. Thanks to Jamie Todd and Scott McGregor Moore of DreamState for their contributions and insight to the development of this piece.

Letter Improv: Postcards to Musicworks (2004)

In June 2004 I was asked to compose a piece commemorating the public launch of 26 postcards that were each designed by a different composer or artist that Musicworks has covered in one of its past issues. These postcards were a celebration of Musicworks’ 26th anniversary. Since the number corresponds with the 26 letters of the alphabet and the launch was to include live performances, the proposed piece matched the “Pieces of Letters” format very well. Musicworks granted me permission to record audio samples of the 26 artists published in the cassette and CD recordings that accompany the magazine. Musicworks also provided me with electronic copies of the postcards. What I did then was create a rendering of each postcard using the image synth function in MetaSynth. This enabled me to manipulate the playback pitch and speed of the recordings according to the visual design of the postcards. Therefore, when I played back for instance a recording of Paul Dutton his work was manipulated according to the shapes and designs of his postcard. I followed the same procedure for each postcard artist and assigned the resulting sound sequence to its own letter on the keyboard.

The sound sequences can be played in any order as the performance of this piece is structured as a free improvisation. While performing the sound sequences I route them through the GRM shuffling tool for real time manipulations that I control in performance. Also, when the key for a specific sound sequence is pressed the original postcard image is displayed on a screen along side the version that I made in order to manipulate the sounds. In some cases, the two are identical, while in other instances they are quite different.