THE LIVE AUDIO DELAY SYSTEM
The Live Audio Delay System began in infancy in 2003 with a keyboard/delay piece called Second Presencing.
I had used delay previously as a means of supplementing performed sounds harmonically, rhythmically and spatially, but it was not until Second Presencing that the structural potential of the delay started to reveal itself. The key to this revelation was increasing the delay time to over 5 seconds, thus opening a space in which I could react musically and build upon burgeoning patterns and gestures. I called this the "audio canvas" approach.
Interestingly, although Second Presencing had come about through improvisation, I decided I would try to map its structure for repeated performance. In performance, however, I felt the piece wanted to follow a different course of development each time, leading me to believe that beginning with material already in mind was futile. I started to learn that notes and phrases which began as subtle, unplanned nuances (or even "mistakes") had the potential to trigger snowballing chains of reaction that affected, even determined, a piece's entire course of evolution. Furthermore, these nuances, in their ability to catch me off guard and inspire unthinking reactions, always resulted in far more profound and beautiful patterns than any I could plan myself.
The more I experimented, the more I realized ignoring these unplanned nuances in favor of pursuing a predetermined structure was a mistake, and that really the nuances had to rule. It was as though within them lay the beginnings of newer, more exciting structures. With this realization, the delay became more than merely a means of supplementing material; it became a means of building material.
This approach already constituted the basis of the Live Audio Delay System, but the real breakthrough came with Deep Golden Flourish (2004). This piece used even longer delay times than Second Presencing (22 seconds), a second delay unit, a second amp (thus reintroducing a spatial component), and no decay (i.e. no fading of layers, only building). It showed me not only how large-scale the process could be, but also how I, as a performer, could get by with a minimum of will and intentionality. I started with virtually nothing—a few tentative notes—and just listened and listened as I reacted and added new material; and each time I added new material, I listened again. Before too long, this beautiful, complex, delicate sonic organism began to materialize in front of me. The more it revealed of itself—its "nature"—the less I had to think about what to do. It was seducing me, communicating with me; I knew what it needed, and I was providing it. I wanted it to live.
After I recorded this piece, I listened to it several times a day for the next 3 months. Sometimes I would listen to nothing else. This wasn't a self-congratulatory exercise; the recording just continued to reveal new dimensions to me. Even after 3 months, I remained utterly captivated (and somewhat baffled) by what I was hearing. I felt very strongly that it was not something I had created, but rather something whose growth I had tended to. There was a strong bond with the piece because I had nurtured it and allowed it to live in its own way. And for this I was rewarded with a depth of sound I'd never heard. I allowed it to live, and it allowed me to live in return.
This was clearly more than just a musical technique; it was a philosophy, a way of approaching things in general: listen deeply before claiming to "know", allow things to reveal themselves in their own ways rather than rush to find in them simple confirmation of preexisting ideas. I'd already started to notice similar processes operating socially and scientifically. I'd seen the effect of allowing space in conversation, as opposed to assuming knowledge of a speaker's expression straight away. I'd also learned about the unique ways life was able to express itself in areas of extreme climate, where there exists little competition from earth's more aggressive, dominant creatures. These examples interested me, as they seemed to demonstrate a similar triumph of listening and facilitation over presumption and imposition.
The system grew to include more delay units and more amps, and in addition to keyboard and guitar, I started experimenting with electric zither as a sound source. Currently, I perform and record with a four-delay/four-amp version of the system, in conjunction (as much as possible) with its visual counterpart, the Live Video Delay System, which I developed in 2009.