Trondheim Voices is an improvising vocal ensemble for which I have been the artistic and musical leader between 2006 and 2011. Working with microphones and amplified sound, there has always been a close artistic relationship between the ensemble and the sound designer/engineer; the use of reverbs, effects and panning has always been an important part of the musical expression. I wanted to further explore how the use of processed voices and effects could expand the sound of an a cappella ensemble and how we could take control of the use of effects in real time. A couple of other solutions had been tested briefly before this project; a) Handheld MIDI-controllers, and b) “Sound-zones” defined on stage by the sound engineer, following the singers’ movements and changing the effects when entering the zone. Both methods had some obvious limitations that made me look for other possibilities.
Tracking the singer on stage
The system we were trying out in this pilot project was Stagetracker FX, a performer tracking and audio localisation system developed for the theatre by the company TTA in Stjørdal, Norway.
The system utilises hardware and software to track the positions of performers on stage and applies these positions to their microphone signals, automatically and in real time. The result is that the voices of the actors actually “follow” them as they move around the stage. This has been done in different ways in theatres for some time, but this system can make the calculations faster and more precisely than earlier systems could, which makes it possible to bring it into the concert hall without several days of preparation and adjustments.
Another, even more interesting possibility with this system is that the trigging of effects and reverbs can be assigned to specific areas on stage. In this way each singer gains control over the use of effects simply by moving physically.
When I heard about this system and what it could do, I was interested in the following aspects – which I thought that it might be able to introduce into the performances of Trondheim Voices:
– The flexible use of effects and processed voice sound within a vocal ensemble.
– The control each singer obtains over effects by moving on stage, and the interaction between the sound and the singer’s movements.
– The visualisation of choices regarding sound, both for the performer and the audience through the movements of each singer on stage.
These elements are especially interesting when it comes to improvisation, but also as interesting possibilities for composers writing for the ensemble. It also makes the role of the sound designer somewhat different since setting up sound-scenarios for improvising will be an important part of producing the artistic outcome. In this project we were working with our highly skilled Norwegian sound designer Asle Karstad, who has also designed other productions for Trondheim Voices. We were also working in cooperation with John Torger Kjelstad, one of the developers of the Stagetracker FX.
The pilot project, which ended with a 20-minute presentation at NIME 2011 was supported financially both by NTNU and the Arts Council, Norway.