Step Across the Border


We had 3 or 4 sessions as a group in which we learnt about and performed some free improvisation.  We looked at various examples and attempted to apply these ideas to our own playing.  Using a vast selection of instruments we performed our own improv pieces in front of the rest of the group.

Next, we had to follow certain rules, unlike before where we were more or less free to do as we wanted.  We started with something called ‘Mirrors’.  This was a fairly straight forward set of rules that showed two lines, with five crotchets on each.  Although both lines had five each, they differed in terms of where they were positioned.  So, using drums, bass guitar, electric guitar and piano a group gave this a go, with some impressive results.  On their second attempt, there was a lot more communication and the piece sounded more fluent as a whole.

We then looked at another piece called Duration.  We had to improvise within these time periods – 10. 10. 30. 20. 40. 20. 10. 15 (seconds).  Different instruments had to play a certain amount of times within these time periods.  For example, in the first 10 second period the drums play 8 times and the bass plays 4.  There were some solid moments and others more uncertain.  Nevertheless, we tried it twice, slightly changing the method to make it harder the second time round and again came out with some impressive results.

Using parts of the drum kit only, we then experimented with the fibonacci sequence.  With one person using the floor tom to keep a constant beat, five others played along hitting their drum or cymbal at certain times.  The first person hit every 2 beats, the next person 3, then 5, 8 and 13.  This worked well and sounded even better when the order of the players was swapped.  I would like to do something like this in my own work at some point.


In this module, I have covered improvisation and sound art installations.  Here is a video of the piece of work myself and 5 others put together (note that this is only a documentation of what happened and it doesn’t come close to the experience of actually being sat in the chair)

This was an audio visual project run by a group of University of Wales, Newport students…

The concept behind the project is to take the listener, of which there is only one at a time, and make them feel detached from reality and uneasy.

There were four microphones set-up in the corners of the room and a fifth set up in a box placed in front of the listener on an opposite chair.

Four people positioned by the mics were whispering, shouting, making random noises some of which would direct the listener to engage or react to something they had done but a lot of the time it was just creepy statements and generic insults. At the same time this was triggering reactions on a visual display projected directly in front of them.

It had positive results, depending on your definition of positive of course and many of the people involved could not take the intensity of the situation. The listener was wearing headphones to remove them even further and isolate them in this audio visual hell.

We used a few methods to achieve this…
Five mics in total ran into a Tascam US1800 interface which fed into a laptop running EnergyXT recording software. The software then produced different effects on every mic and an eq on the boxed mic and fed back through the interface into a line in on a different laptop which used Winamp and various plug-ins to produce the real time visualisations.
The video doesn’t really display the full affect or intensity of the projec andt it was filmed more as a document of the process.

Jon, Levi, Liam, Rhys, Max, Ben.

Project Idea

After taking everything we have done in this module into consideration, I have decided on a final project.  I will mainly be taking influence from the improvisation sessions.  My idea is as follows:

I want to create a piece of music that conveys different human emotions and moods.  Instead of having just one mood throughout, I am going to have it change at certain intervals while keeping the music constant so it melds into one.  So, it could go from anger, which might include aggressive, fast paced, loud sounds and then change to happiness which might include relaxed, positive sounds.  It could then change to other emotions and feelings such as depression, loneliness, bliss or sadness.  The musicians involved are fairly free to do as they want as it is improvisation but must always think about things like dynamics and tempo amongst others and remember the mood they are trying to convey.

I will be playing drums on the day and I hope to have a guitar player, piano player and possibly others.  The piece will last no longer than ten minutes and will be performed in front of an audience.  An idea I have also had is to set up a projector and have the different moods on that for everyone to see.  I could then have the audience come up and choose the mood they want to see and hear.  This will make it more interactive and interesting.

This will be done some point in May.

Mood Picker

Below is a link to a simple mood picker I created for my final performance of the year.  I did this so that my performance would be more interactive and so that the audience could get involved.  We are essentially their guinea pigs.  Whenever somebody clicks a new mood we will change our playing to fit that mood.  I will have this mood picker on a laptop and then have it put up on the projector so we (the musicians) can see it.  It is easy to use and hopefully it will be effective.



I have now done my final performance for Step Across The Border.  After playing drums on a friend’s performance earlier in the morning, I had only mine to focus on.  With my interactive mood picker ready and projected onto the screen for everyone to see clearly, I was ready to go.  It was performed in front of an audience of about 7 or 8 people and lasted between 5 and 10 minutes.

Aims and objectives

My aim was to convey different moods and human emotions that we all feel in one piece of almost completely improvised music.  In rehearsals, we played around with some ideas, some of which made it into the final performance.  Most of the music was to be completely improvised on the day though.

I also wanted to incorporate a visual and interactive element into my performance.  As I learnt in the site specific installations, a projected image or series of images can enhance a piece so much.  So, my idea was to have some different moods and emotions which the audience members could come up and choose between.  There would be no limits on how many times the mood changes or how long we play each mood.  It would be in the hands of the audience.

Reference Points – an excellent pdf on music and human emotions which made me think about the connection in more detail. – questions answered on the topic of music and the mind by a professor of neurobiology.  Very interesting things here.

Research and development

I chose to have five different moods to go between.  To choose these, I asked various people inside and outside of uni and the five that came up most often were the five I ended up using. These were happiness, sadness, anger, confusion and relaxation.  I thought of different ways to project this but in the end I found that the easiest and most effective way was to use Prezi.  This allowed the audience to easily come up and pick a mood, and then go back to choose another one.

I had two rehearsals before the final performance.  I didn’t want any more than this really because I wanted it to be as improvised as possible.  These rehearsals were really so everyone could familiarise themselves with the idea and get an idea of each other’s playing style.


I feel that my final performance was a success.  As is always the case with improvisation, there are high points – some parts which are better than others.  Without the low points though, the high points wouldn’t stand out as much so I am happy that they were there.

We were able to go through each mood a few times each which was good for experimentation and trying different techniques to convey one mood.

The interactive display was a good idea as not only did it include the audience more and put them in control, but it meant that the performance would be even more improvised as we could not practice moving from one particular mood to another.  We didn’t know in advance which mood was going to be next so we had to keep an eye on the projector and be ready to make the transition.

I have reinforced my already existing views that music is an extremely effective way of conveying human emotions and moods.  I have learnt that improvisation can be a very beneficial and enjoyable way of playing music and that it can improve a musicians playing as it includes listening as much as it includes playing.

If I were to do this again, I would consider adding more musicians to give the piece more depth and to see how different instruments could affect the mood.  I would also think about some more abstract human emotions and moods that are not thought about every day.


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