sound workshop for youth

I spent last weekend with my colleague Toomas Thetloff conducting a “workshop on sound” for youth which was organized by the Tallinn Youth Center in Lasnamäe. I’m going to give a quick rundown of everything that happened just to give readers a taste of all that happened. Together with Toomas we spent three days with a group of six youngsters (mostly around 17-18 years old) exploring ideas and concepts of using sound as an artistic medium as well as looking at the history of music experimentation from early tape music up to the possibilities of digital audio today. The main idea behind such a workshop is to look at our relationship to sound in the broadest sense. This can be done through a reflexive process of sound listening and sound creation.

Initially we looked at raising awareness of our ability to hear the world around us through different types of listening exercises starting with listening to examples of recorded music from the past (Ruttmann, Cage, Stockhausen, Xenakis, Riley) up to listening to the present environment around us (going out for a sound walk). From there we built simple instruments (rattles and shakers) which were used in group listening excersizes in both conducted and improvised sessions to experience a range of similar sounding instruments that are played in an ordered vs random manner. This moved into more “free” territories where each individual in the group was allowed play a unique instrument in a group improvisation session. Understanding of our ability to listen was key here. Meanwhile, when all of this live activity was happening it was also being recorded. We created our own material in which to manipulate and compose later on with free open source software on computers. This was of course a natural progression for the participants (all of whom use computers on a daily basis), but the ground had to be laid first. So several open periods were spent collecting sounds then working with analyzing and editing this material. We demonstrated the capabilities of sound cutting, layering and time stretching along the way.

As some form of “output” was expected from the workshop we shifted our attention back to the live experience in the end. The goal was to perform a composition that was made by the group using the constructed elements and knowledge gained so far. In this case we took on the idea of making transitions from pre-recorded compositions to live sounds from objects and instruments (rattles, cymbals, a radio, amplified coat rack and a saw). Intervals of free improvisation would bridge each of these sections. As time moved quickly it wasn’t easy to remember all the details of who plays what and when, but the basic structure was there. Just to be safe Toomas suggested to take down the visual score to encourage the players to use their memory and intuition.

In the end it seemed to work well. After 2 practice runs we made a final go in front of an audience of 30 odd people who braved the snow to come and hear our curious brand of noise. To top it off we ended on a classic note as the microphone documenting our performance was not turned on. Thus we are left to rely on our keen memory of the experience.

Special thanks to Rene, Raido, Mihkel, Ats, Olga and Marianne for their time and energy during the workshop and to Maris for her interest and organizational efforts.

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