Building the Live Rig: Early Stages (Proto-Heads 0.72 Video)
Live performance has been an instrumental part of the development of the Heads Project since its inception. The Heads Instruments themselves were conceived to become live performance instruments. Much of the theoretical basis for the project grew around the idea of being able to incorporate these instruments into a performance that could work side by side with traditional instruments. In fact it could be said that one catalyst for their development was an early attempt to do such with longtime collaborators Tomchess and Takuma Kanaiwa.
That day we met up in a rehearsal space to practice for project CPRC which Heads inevitably put on hold. It was to be a free jazz set for which I would use a very early version of nsMpLR. At one point I was trading phrases using saxaphone samples with Tomchess on an actual sax. Afterwards Takuma asks if I was live sampling Tomchess and playing it back. I wasn’t, I was just able to perform very close approximations of the licks from the nsMpLR. A light went off.
It was good but nowhere near as good as it could be and so I went back to the lab and started the work that would take me through the next three years. It would be almost a year later before I dared for another live performance, this time solo and in a completely different context. Hip-hop was the medium and a live remix was the format. I had worked to this point on greatly improving nsMpLR in addition to creating a bunch of tools which used the monome to control Logic as a host (this is Logic 7 before the introduction of Mainstage).
I had a paging system which allowed me to run multiple apps simultaneously and so was able to utilize a step sequencer to trigger drum patterns via MIDI, while controlling loops via touch tracks, an effects controller and the nsMpLR as the main (and only at the time) instrument. Logic would manage the vocals, but all of the production around it would be created live via the monome. After a few days of practice I finally knocked out a live recording in two takes.
Below is a video of the second of those takes recorded in September 2007 (proper audio of both takes is linked at the end of this post).
There were some really amazing things about that first run, but I simply wasn’t satisfied. I hated the idea of using unmodified loops, even if I was able to control and change them. The step sequencer was cool but again I wasn’t completely satisfied with it just shooting MIDI into a drum machine. I wanted the performance aspect to be much more organic and so I went back to the lab for another two years.
In that time I created a number of instruments and from them began composing and recording the songs. I fully immersed myself in the studio aspect of the project, but all the while with the intent of being able to realize them as well in a live setting.
As I’m writing this I’ve already begun practicing for live again. Things are much different now. The instruments are more organic, the songs more intricate and the intensity, well you’ll just have to wait and see for that. It is interesting though reflecting back on where I was two years ago, while I have moved forward quite a bit, so much of what I’m doing these days is indebted to what I was able to achieve then.