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  • Norm Adams

Creative work in Germany/Switzerland

Now I will re-empt this story of athleticism and heroism in the mountains of France to talk about art again……

I have collaborated with Sebastian Lexer on several occasions, in concerts in London, Toronto and Halifax (Ghost in the Machine in 2007) and I have harnessed his mastery of Max/MSP to help me to create my cello processing system, that I use in concerts. My trips to London were always supported by The Nova Scotia Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage, but I was turned down on my most recent attempts, so I used this trip to hop onto the end of a tour Sebastian was doing through parts of Switzerland and get to spend a few days with him.


Sebastian is (proudly) from the Schwartzwald in southern Germany, so our trip was also sponsored by his Mum, Helga who graciously provided us with food and shelter for 4 days in Felkau.

Our time together began in Basel though, where I saw Sebastian’s final of 4 concerts in a trio with Nicolas Rihs (bassoon) & Michael Vorfeld (percussion). The concert was good. I especially enjoyed the nice interactions between Michael and Sebastian, and their shared and individual sound palettes. The bassoonist was filled out the trio’s sound with almost constant drones, which I enjoyed less, but hearing a group that has had a chance to play 4 concerts together in four days is a treat!

After the concert we had lunch at a long table in the workers hall that hosted the concerts, lots of German was spoken (I speak only the German in classical music scores, and don’t usually understand it!) so I smiled a lot. After a nice walk around the old part of Basel, a dinner, lots of beer and a huge thunderstorm,


the computers came out and we started work! We were housed for the first night in the atelier of Christian Schiller (an amazing space with office/bedroom, larger room with a grand piano that hosts concerts, and a kitchen. Big envy……).

I had many questions: How to best utilize the Wii controller I’ve been working with? Should I bring another Wii in to the system? How can I make things a little more predictable? And where can I find new processors to get past the swooping ring modulator sound, of which I’ve been growing tired. The morning saw me getting up ridiculously early with my head full of Max and programming my assignment from the night before! I forget what it was exactly, but the idea was that scaling the wii numbers and directing them to only one small section of the processor was the way to go.


Then we played, both as a duo and me solo. I didn’t expect to play solo, which challenging for a collaborative person such as me, but felt pretty good about the results. Suddenly it all turned into a lesson! I was encouraged to make more spaces in the music and to let the electronic sounds become part of the whole, not just processing of a cello sound, or a loop to play over. Sebastian encouraged me to rethink my relationship with the computer, to play it, not let it play me!

The beautiful thing about Sebastian is that his aesthetic is so strong and his programming skill so complete, that the realization of this goal is not that hard! For my part, I have to wrap my head around it, then understand what is possible in the software (hint: ANYTHING…) then figure out how to integrate the acoustic and electronic, do the programming, then finally practice and internalize it all!

In the Black Forest we developed a new control system that allows me to direct any of my controllers (volume pedal, wii controller as well as various qualities of the cello sound) to any part of the processor that can be controlled (in the case of a ring modulator: volume, and frequency of the main tone).


As well we walked and talked. Each day we went hiking in the mountains. Sebastian knows all the trails of the region, and he led me up hill and over dale, through gorgeous terrain. Along the way we brainstormed, told family stories and talked about music and life. Then we went home, I practiced, programmed Max, and even ate rabbit, prepared for us by Helga! It was pretty idealic.

So my goal for the rest of the summer is clear: look at each parameter of the processor I have in my system, and experiment with which controller or controllers are best to most effectively manipulate the outputs. And mostly make music with it, be as conscious of the electronics as I am of the sound my cello produces.

It’s a tall order. But I will add it to the list of things that must be considered each day.

So all this took place more than a month ago now. And I’ve had so many other experiences to write about, since then! I’d better end this and start the next segment.


Jul 23, 2010 at 00:28

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