Nimuè I is composed for voice, video, electronics, and programming. It explores the mythical world surrounding Nimuè (or Vivianne), le forêt de Brocéliande, and le Tombeau de Merlin in Brittany, France. Rose uses live voice, programming, and electronics alongside manipulated field recordings to tell the story of Nimuè seducing Merlin in le forêt de Brocéliande. She wanted to know his magic, and though he knows that this will ultimately lead to his entombment by her, he submits to her demands. Some legends say that Merlin was resigned to the fate he saw through prophetic foresight, others that he was entranced by her beauty.
In many ways Nimuè I was the beginning of my doctoral journey as it was the end of the previous iteration of glove design. In rehearsals, the gloves were refusing to connect to my laptop via Bluetooth, and in my frustration, I vowed that it was time for the gloves to be dismantled and put to their better use as the starting point for the next generation. One that wouldn’t use Bluetooth…
Nimuè I was going to be my exploration into the control group – using ready-made technology in performance: How was it different? Was my creativity effected positively or negatively? How would the use of a mass-produced interface change after the “freedom” of the gloves? The ritual of donning the data-gloves (mentioned in my Riffs Journal article <HERE> had become a comfortable enabling constraint. Within a set of parameters, I felt that I could make magic happen. If not for myself – then at least for the audience. Returning to mass-produced felt like a failure and, less dramatically, like I was cutting off my ease of control when I considered the desired outcome (performatively interesting, delay, distortion, reverb, frequency filtering, and to tie into the set list).
Nimuè I was composed for a gig at the New Experimental Arts Laboratory in Geelong (NEAL) on March 12th 2020 for International Women’s Day and was accompanied by exhibitions of several other works: Blue Old Earth (audio by me and Brigid Burke, visuals by Brigid Burke and Jutta Pryor), The Clapping Tree (by Jutta Pryor), These Would Be Other (Text by Chris Mann, visuals and audio by Brigid Burke, voice by Sophie Rose), Blooms (audio by Brigid Burke and visuals by Jutta Pryor and Brigid Burke), Smoke (audio/text by me and visuals by Jutta Pryor), Transit (by Brigid Burke), and Tagging Chaos in Lanes (audio by me and Brigid Burke, visuals by Brigid Burke and Jutta Pryor). Smoke was written to be sympathetic to These Would Be Other, to reintroduce a more chaotic soundscape, and to speak to the 2019-2020 Australian bush fire tragedies. Nimuè was written as a softer, more naturalistic, ethereal, earthy piece which would balance out the harsher content in the second half of the set as well as bridge sections of more traditionally beautiful sound with an intermediate value.
I began composing by creating a rough story to fit my brief. I wanted a magical femmey-driven slant. As the overarching theme was international women’s day and Monty Python was on my brain I looked into the mythology behind a farcical aquatic tart and moistened bint – The Lady of the Lake. Then I curated my sounds and textures and how they would fit my interface (Novation Launch Control XL). I wanted literal nature sounds, these were taken from recordings taken in late 2019 at Plenty Gorge, VIC. I also wanted to use some pad-esque and music programming skills. I took to Sonic Pi to develop a few ideas and themes that were atmospheric and some that had emerging and shifting rhythms.
Next, I created a film to accompany the audio. I bought a lot of milk and delved into the baking supplies for food colouring. I took four different videos, some as shown, using milk (straight food colouring and milk mixed with food colouring) in a Pyrex baking dish to create swirling patterns. What I ended up settling on was a round bowl in front of flowers which created texture in the water as food colouring and food colouring+milk mixtures were squirted in using syringes and pipettes (also pictured below). The video was overlaid to get rid of most of the electrical noise in the lighting. This had the flow-on effect of creating lightning-like movements in the water as the squirted solutions disturbed the fluid and made bubbles.
Then, I constructed an audio soundscape to the film and rehearsed the live lines. The maiden voyage of the piece in Geelong differs slightly to the recorded edition because I was able to record multiple takes for a ‘perfect‘ version, I did. The live version has more rhythmic breath content, probably due to listening to Tanya Tagaq that day and my master’s rehearsals in the car on the way to Geelong. This version is being published through the NEAL website and can be found <HERE> when it is released.
Recreating the piece for distribution on YouTube, I mimicked the instrument set-up constraints where it made sense. Because part of the composition is improvisatory, as set to the visuals, I felt that two lines to play with the pitch element was consistent with my desires as a composer, but that changing the effects used would make it not self-similar. I noticed that the bird sounds grabbed my attention far more than they did in Geelong. That night, my focus was on achieving a balance of high melodic sounds to contrast rough, guttural sounds that I was pitch-shifting to grant extra heftiness and keeping the pitch diverse to represent the two warring voices from the narrative.
The sound for the YouTube edition contains sound that has one noticeable change for me. That’s the influence of the venue. I remember being overly hot from trekking my gear for the hour and a half drive in the failing Melbourne summer, dragging it as one lot up the flights of stairs to the venue in the Courthouse building, and into the still warm theatre. I thought I had walked into the wrong place and was in awe at the surrounds – lofty ceiling, parquetry floor, enormous projector screen, and a full lighting rig. It was a far cry from the humble Loop Bar and Bar Open. I felt a certain pressure to perform under the influence of glamour (specifically as a Terry Pratchett reference here). It’s not often that I get to play in such lovely venues. Whilst it posed less of a challenge for Nimuè, Smoke is full to the brim with profanity. It’s angry at a government that doesn’t care for the people. It was almost like letting a tirade loose in front of your grandmother. The effect on Nimuè was having to push myself to use the guttural timbres in lieu of creating a purely ethereal soundscape. I had to really resist the urge to sing for the purpose of building harmonies and traditional structures.
So, hooray and hurrah to the Novation Launch Control XL – I used you for my master’s thesis performance, I used you for NEAL, but I hope to leave you to the embrace of lazy-day gigs and jam sessions.