Camilla Tassi

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Designed & Built: Voice pyramid installation "Motet for Loudspeaker and Performer"

May 25, 2017

For many who have sung in choirs, the concept of the voice pyramid - balance among choral voices, with the bass providing the foundation - is one that I had been exposed to often. As a result, I wanted to take the conceptual idea into a concrete, physical, one.


While this is the final version, I first began building a simpler, smaller, wooden speaker cabinet and selecting 4 loudspeakers - each for the frequencies they optimize: soprano, alto, tenor, and bass (lower one for bass, optimized for lower frequencies, tenor for slightly higher, etc.).



As this is a 4-channel system, each audio/vocal track is sent to one of the speakers. For the purpose of the installation, I chose an SATB part recording of Byrd's "Ave Verum" corpus and then created another Ableton project where I recorded myself singing all 4 parts (SSAA) of Gjeilo's "Ubi Caritas".


As the piece splits into 5 parts (divided soprano 1s), I wanted to explore the idea of the speaker cabinet as a performance space, blurring/concealing a performer, and even being a collaborator with the performer.


In building the cabinet, the façade and base are in wood (as well as frame), but the three sides (left, right, and back) are in cloth - 12% spandex, translucent black cloth. 


In this way, the performer and equipment (amplifiers, laptop, microphone) can fit inside the structure of the cabinet (inside the pyramid). Thanks to a stage light inside, in a performance setting, the performer inside can control and alter the balance between voice parts, in addition to singing and turning on the light ---- to reveal the live performer concealed in the cabinet!




(pictured below: view from the back)


While this was presented at the Digital Arts Expo, I'd love to orchestrate a more formal performance, and even one where the sound is more isolated and audience members can focus on the sonic experience they are having. This installation was such a fun challenge, as I typically work with digital medium and this required me to become familiar with the woodshop, CNC machines, clothing material.. And I was able to build something larger than myself as the pyramid, at its peak, is >6ft. The height was chosen for it to be close to human height, as the sonic material is that of live, unedited, vocal a cappella recording.



 (pictured, me standing inside the pyramid cabinet)












(pictured: construction process) 


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