This article is part of our GIGsoup in Hamburg series! Make sure to check Zoe Anderson’s page for more coverage!
GIGsoup had the pleasure of meeting sound artist and musician Andi Otto during their visit to Hamburg last week. His new piece, ‘Falling Matters’ explores themes of gravity, the body and which really comes first-dance or music?
Tell us about your new piece ‘Falling Matters’.
‘Falling Matters’ is the continuation of a four-year-long collaboration between the choreographer Victoria Hauke and myself. It’s an attempt to answer the question- “who was first? Dance or music?” Am I scoring the dance or is she moving to my sound?
When we first started working together, we had different approaches to this question, and after discussion and practice, we found something that worked well together. This first piece was a dance where I created a score. Then we found this piece called Falling Matters, actually through a collaboration with Ensemble Resonanz because they had the theme of gravity two years ago and they asked me if I had any ideas on it. I then asked Victoria, “do you think we can do something with gravity that relates to an instrument? You’re a dancer, can you think of anything? She said, “Why don’t I make a piece about the gravity of the body when it falls and then you produce music to it?”
So what I did was put a simple contact microphone on the floor and Victoria would fall onto it, creating an input into my computer. I then added five more microphones around her, creating a more sensitive motion tracking system. These weren’t just sensors saying whether or not she was there or not there, but they were really sensitive and would provide information about her scratching the floor, hitting it with her elbow or any other part of the body. It would make different sounds. So I put a very simple sound design process behind that which is created by the resonance of the wood that is made by the body’s impact on the contact microphones.
Out of these resonances, I composed a score, with harmonies shifting and other changes. The great thing about it is I can’t hear anything unless they fall. The differences are really beautiful. So I have my composition running on a timeline, but if they decide to take it slow, it will sound completely different than when they go faster or heavily. The dancers move in loops, the composition is also structured in loops, but there is no sync and there shouldn’t be. This way, it becomes alive, the dancers feel like a part of a system. It’s really interesting to see how the dancers play the ‘instruments’ they’re standing on.
We also collaborated with a drummer who plays on two wooden stools. These two stools also have contact mics and he plays them with jazz brushes to create a sense of groove in the piece. It’s about music- dynamics and timing. This was an interesting inclusion in the piece. Victoria also choreographs the movement of the drummer. ‘Falling Matters’ is really an interface between dance and composition. To see who’s first.
How does the performance space, The Resonanzraum, change ‘Falling Matters’?
Usually, the Resonanz Ensemble (who own the space) performs on the far side of the room. With the audience sitting in front of them. For ‘Falling Matters’, we put the three stages and the drummer in a circle, the audience in a circle around it. I connected one speaker to each stage. These speakers are very sensitive to feedback, so that was a challenge of how loud can I go with the speakers and avoid the feedback. Feedback is a resonance, you hear the room resonance, the space resonance, the resonance of the wood of the stage, but the speaker vibrates the wood and that creates feedback. I’m really working with all the elements of this system. The calibration of ‘Falling Matters’ is to fit into this room, if we were to move it we would have to change everything.
Aside from feedback, did you come up against any other technical problems when creating the piece?
It’s funny, I actually had to buy another laptop because the first one simply couldn’t process everything immediately, in a way that was needed for a live performance. The new one does the job better, but it crashes now! The band set up is the most complex I’ve created for a live show, and I can’t control every element of the performance at the same time. If I’m honest that’s not something that I’m aiming for. I don’t want to be the sound artist that pushes one knob and the whole performance is laid out. But my computer still crashes.
Do you think you’ll continue the themes of gravity and movement into your future work?
I’ve actually just written my PhD thesis on the history of STEIM. They’re a studio for electro instrumental music and they just turned fifty this year. They were the one studio in the world that would not make recordings, they would make instruments. I met one of the guys from Mouse On Mars and he said-
“I like your music but your live show… Why don’t you go to STEIM and they can give you some ideas, so you’re not just another screen gazer, pushing buttons on a midi controller?”
It was really the best piece of advice. There, I turned my cello into an electronic instrument. This is the point where I really started to love my cello again. When I put a microphone or sensor on my cello I could make such interesting textures or could add very fast delay and play loops and just layer and layer. Through this I found the cello to be a very impressive sound generator for music performance. That was when I really started to think about the kind of music I want to compose in the studio, that was more detached from the cello, I would use post-production on it, use drum machines and synthesisers and guest musicians on top of that. But on stage, the cello is really the centrepiece. The body movement and sound connection in electronic music is THE TOPIC for me. I credit Michel Waisvisz as my mentor. He sadly passed away a few years ago, so I created an archive of his work and it is the subject of my PhD research.
‘Falling Matters’ is really about the interface between body and movement. I can’t imagine this is the last performance of this theme for me. I like to challenge the way people look at the performance of electronic sound. I’m not just using Ableton or the Push. That’s just not decodable. I like to put together a little story for the audience.
Premier of Falling Matters is on the 29th of August at Resonanzraum, Hamburg, Germany. Get your tickets and view all performance dates here.