hello! the initial idea of emoji-based improv popped into my head over the weekend, and i spent the last couple days planning it out and ruminating on the details. this is the first time i’ve plotted out any kind of performance, so i would love any input on making it better! i’m hoping to get a group together in the next month or two to give this a shot. thanks to @Voltmeister 's similar thread for giving me a checklist of practical details to consider, and @Dan_Derks and @andrew for their input/support.
AKA Cowboy Jazz [emoji presentation preferred]
30-90 minutes depending on how many people are involved
Synthesists of all stripes, wind players, string players, percussion, live tape/audio manipulation, pedalboards, dancers, ??
Groups of 2-3 performers at a time react to two randomly-generated emojis for 2-5 minutes at a time, for a total of 10-15 minutes per group.
Cowboy Jazz challenges performers to channel the essence of the emojis through their improvisation. This can be as on-the-nose or free-form as the performer would like. What does the emoji mean to you, audibly? The ? The ? If the emoji comes up, maybe add some white noise to simulate rain hitting the pavement, use your phone to play with thunderstorm sounds live, or chop up “Drip Too Hard” by Gunna & Lil Baby [if you’re able]. The goal is a light, fun environment that is more likely to inspire laughter than serious thinking faces. You’re interpreting emojis through music, after all. Ultimately, not all emojis are happy or inspire laughter, so performers are encouraged to follow their through every pairing.
Emoji pairing lengths vary - performers are told how long a given segment will last as the pair appears so they can prepare accordingly.
Emojis are projected onto a screen behind the performers so that the audience can see them, and there is a performer-facing screen with the current emoji set and a countdown until the next switch.
Everyone is set up, tuned, and soundchecked ahead of time.
A “host” is in charge of: advancing the emoji pairings/timer, a master BPM [which is subject to change depending on the character of the emoji pairing], monitoring the recording, and scribing what emojis are being performed, when the changes are happening, and who is playing to help with cutting up the recording later. A click track may be necessary for acoustic percussionists if no boxes are also present to keep time. Are there any other functions that this person needs to perform?
Before the show, performers are placed into two hats: “boxes” [modular, laptop, synths] and “not boxes” [acoustic instruments, everything else]. At the start of the show, groups are chosen by pulling names out of the hats. The ratio of box to non-box performers determines how many should be chosen for each group; no more than 2 boxes at a time. Groups are written on a whiteboard so that everyone knows who is performing when.
Each group will play through 3-5 emoji pairings lasting a total of 10-15 minutes. Each pairing’s duration will be chosen randomly [ex: one group might play a 3-minute, a 4-minute, a 2-minute and a 4-minute pairing]. Performers should see a countdown until the next pairing, but the audience should not. Occasional 1-minute “Bonus Rounds” could allow performers to blow out some off-top idea really quickly. Maybe skip this if the set is all modular.
I’m torn about relying on completely random emoji generation or semi-randomly selecting “good” pairs ahead of time. Maybe 100+ “good” pairs are selected ahead of time and pairs are randomly selected from that database.
Acoustic and electronic musicians are strongly encouraged to “play off of” each other. I’m equal parts excited and nervous about a modular synth and sax totally improvising together - I don’t want to put too much pressure on a wind player to improvise breathlessly for 15 minutes.
Players are encouraged to process audio [if possible], not just generate it. I’m particularly thinking about an acoustic instrument being paired with someone playing norns, MLR, manipulating tape, or a modular synth with a morphagene or w/ in the rack. Maybe these processing relationships [synth to synth, synth to trumpet, etc.] should just be determined during soundcheck and patched up accordingly ahead of time to minimize running around with cables during the show. Correspondingly, acoustic players are encouraged to bring microphones [and phantom power of some kind] to get their sound into the boxes and facilitate live processing.
“Box” players are strongly encouraged to share control signals in one way or another [beyond clock]. Not necessarily “tempo,” but some CV or something always being shared. Format jumblers to go between different types of system could be useful.
Should someone be encouraged to be on “rhythm duty” at all times? This would add some structure to the improv, which might help engage the audience, but might be unnecessarily limiting.
Tuning should go down during soundcheck. Not necessarily unison, but in tune somehow. Maybe a tuning note plays over the PA during soundcheck so that all oscillators / instruments can get tuned up.
Could this be done in a way that a “VJ” or video synth player is manipulating visuals behind the emojis?
- Screen behind performers
- Computer [will laptop monitor be sufficient for performer-facing screen?]
- Big mixer [?] / PA
- Recording device
- Cables for sharing, mostly long [¼ to 3.5mm, 3.5mm to 3.5mm, midi, RCA to TRS]
- Timer that can be pre-programmed for the various intervals
- Emoji “cards” or random emoji generator
- Some kind of video software that allows for the emojis to be programmed over video?
- Maybe all of the emoji pairings and timer stuff is stored in some kind of app?
let me know what you think! is this something that sounds fun to you? what would you change about it?