Push the button

It’s been a busy week this week – I added another job to the stack and started the first Gamelan session with Jonathan Roberts. We had a good group of young people at the first session and they gave me some good ideas on how they would like to augment the Gamelan and the kind of music they’d like to try and play. As is often the case with these kinds of sessions, I came away with a head full of ideas about ways that we could add music and technology to the conventional instruments and create something unique.

Each job or workshop I do requires a different set-up so that I’m using equipment that specific person or group can interact with. There’s a core of equipment that stays mostly the same as I mentioned in a previous blog but with different instruments and tech added to it, depending on the abilities of the group. When I’m starting a new workshop, I’ll consider all the options and try to work out which will work best – and since I’ve been collecting unusual instruments for about 20 years, there’s a fair few to choose from. Other factors will come into play, such as the venue, how much time there is to set up, and on occasion environmental factors (some interfaces are based on light and doing workshops outside can be a whole other challenge).

LaunchpadAt Monday’s session, I did a bit of show and tell and demonstrated some equipment to help the musicians select some approaches for the Gamelan session. One of the young people pointed to one of my pieces of kit – a Launchpad, covered in a grid of 8×8 buttons – and asked what it did. This caught me off-guard a bit; the Launchpad can be anything, and it can easily act as a drum machine, keyboard or mixer, but it’s not actually anything without the computer. This is one of the issues with using computers, tablets and other technology for music – because they can do almost anything, it’s hard for whoever is using them to know what they are doing at any given time. A button can do anything from playing Ode To Joy to activating the self destruct, after all…

The good thing about this flexibility is the ability to continually modify the equipment. The flip-side of this however is that the continual changes prevent the building of the muscle memory that one gets from practicing with an instrument in order to develop musical technique. The flexibility can reduce the barriers to access to music, but the key is not to entirely remove them and ensure that within the workshop or performance there is a degree of musical challenge. This will be different for everyone, and it’s where one to one sessions have an advantage as it it’s easier to assess current skill and prescribe methods for development. Pushing a button can be a massive achievement for some people.