"Hok Pwah" is a piece intended for live performance, and for one or two soloists (voice and percussion) with live electronics. The two main ideas behind the piece are: 1) to extend the role of the solo or duet, giving the soloist(s) an extremely large instrumental and timbral range nonetheless based on (or controlled by) on their instrumental technique, 2) to explore the possibilities of working with electronically (live) processed text.
Expanding the timbral range involves combining the instruments' acoustic sounds with similarly behaved electronic sounds, which tend to fuse with the former. The computer runs software which coordinates the following: 1) real-time audio signal analysis, 2) signal processing of the soloist(s), 3) "complementary" synthesis, which is meant to mix with the instruments' natural timbres, and (4) realtime sampling (recording and playback). Specialized interfaces incorporating envelope/pitch and spectrum followers are linked to audio signal processors, samplers and highly controllable sound generators, thus providing the players with direct control over the electronics based on their "natural" playing technique. In the case of the singer, spoken and sung text or articulations such as trills, staccato, accents, slurs, etc... are analyzed and recognized by the computer. From this analysis, various control signals are derived, which control the synthesizers, samplers and signal processors. Outside of their normal musical role, these articulations, sung by the soloist, makeup the interface, through which the singer may control the electronics. Thus the singer, through what and how she sings, can have subtle (expressive) control of the electronics based on her instrumental technique. The electronics include sound generation and processing gear which is "patched" or programmed to be extremely sensitive to continuous control. These patches are built and tuned around the particular kinds of control signals coming from the players. This approach compares in certain ways to instrument building, and is a vital part of the piece.
The text in the piece (the singer's voice) is modified with the aid of special analysis and signal treatment software written in MAX/MSP, a music programming language. Using articulation recognition and rich signal processing/synthesis configurations, various elements of the text (syllables, inflection etc..) can be treated or "colored" in specific ways. In this way, the text serves not only as a text in the usual sense, but in addition, the text serves to control the electronic treatment of itself (for example, the first syllable "Vic" of the word "Victor" could be used to trigger the addition of some reverb to the singer's voice-text while the second syllable "tor" could trigger the attenuation the reverb etc...). The texts for the piece are chosen based on their structural (phonetic) properties and onomatopoetic tendencies, both of which can be accentuated or brought out by the singer and electronics. Imbedded in the text are many elements which are brought to the surface during performance.
Many thanks to Miller Puckette, developer of MAX, and David Zicarelli, creator of MSP (based on Puckette's audio extentions to MAX), for their support and enthusiasm in my work.
Z. Settel 1993