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Notes on "Passage"

(at left, Barry Truax)

Passage was written for Judith Marcuse in 1977. I had already written one piece for Judith - "Return" - and she had suggested that we put together an evening of dance and music for performance at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre. I was to present several pieces of music, she would present some dance with other peoples' music, and we would do some numbers together. "Return" would start the evening, "Passage" was to be the finale.

If "Return" was a small, intimate, almost minimalist, piece, Passage was the opposite. From the beginning, we wanted it to be big and almost overwhelming. In Judith's conception, the piece was dark, and largely danced in low light. it was an experience of moving through darkness to light. She choreographed it with one other dancer - costumed as a large, black, nearly shapeless figure.

I decided on a work made up entirely of tape - no live performance, and recorded on 4 channels, so we could have sound coming from behind the audience - as a surprise. I had used synthesizers before, but decided to use Barry Truax's Pod 7 program at SFU, an entirely computer-generated sound source. Barry was wonderful in placing resources and his expertise at my disposal - as he did for others, too - and the whole thing would not have been possible without his help.

It was my first experience of using a computer to generate soiund, and very frustrating. Barry trained me - it didn't take too much time - and then I was on my own in the computer room in the moddle of the night for many nights. Barry's program could produce amazing digital sound, (we are way pre-CD and pre-commercial digital sound at this point in time) but had a built-in randomization - part of his concept, really - that was very frustrating for someone who wanted to control all sound carefully. Many takes had to be generated before I could be satisfied, and each took a long time, espeically when my mistakes were factored in.

I also used recorded sound - Judith dancing and breathing - and tape manipulation of recorded phrases - "every moment", "freeedom from fear". The manipulation, apart from cutting them up, consisted of reversing them, and then running them through two Uher 4000 Report tape recorders, so the sound quality would degrade until they were simply rhythmic noise. Then, when played in reverse, the smippets of these phrases would gradually become clearer as the piece progressed.

Judith's breathing made for an excellent sound source, but the section we designed to communicate panic was taken by many people to be sexual - interesting how difficult it is to tell the difference.

The "musical performance" consisted of me with lots of tape recorders, doing a live mix to quad tape, starting in the front speakers and gradually introducing sounds from the rear, moving some sounds around the room on a joystick as the piece progressed. I had a "map" but no score, so the mixing was very much a performance of the taped elements. I was happy after the second take ...

The first performance was in the spring of 1977, a few months before I left for the UK to study. Hal Beckett ran the sound. It went extremely well ... Eliot Weisgarber said he found it "terrifying"; Barry felt the evening had been a "model" for others to follow. I think Judith put the piece on one more time after that, while i was in the UK.


Music © David Keeble, 1977

Here's an excerpt - the introduction.

Here's a stereo mixdown.

I hope to put up a 5.1 version when I get a chance to mix it properly.