Updated: Dec 29, 2022
'Agbogbloshie' is a dance performance by artist Bernardo San Rafael, telling about the strongest human beings on earth - Agbogbloshie is the electronic landfill of Europe. It is situated in Ghana, Africa. And in your home.
I had the honor to contribute the music in this performance and in this blogpost I´d like to share some of my experiences that I made with this project.
After getting to perform live with the 'Shopping Bag' installation, I put a lot of thought into how to make the setup more portable overall. The result was a mixed setup with Ableton Live 11 and the Vermona Perfourmer in the center. The November gig in Copenhagen was the first event where I had the new setup in use, and it proofed to work very well.
But I wanted to have more influence on the software-synths; I thought it was wasted potential not to play around with them. Another controller with springs and knobs was needed, the Launchpad simply didn't work for me this way with its pad only interface.
My friend Yukio Bertholdt had a Novation Launchcontrol XL in his Copenhagen set and I was so convinced that I bought one myself after arriving home again. And what can I say, I learned to use it pretty fast. Here and there I still have to work on the structure of the whole arrangement though.
Requirements for the production
Bernardo traveled to Ghana a few weeks ago together with his cameraman Camille to experience this place first hand. Not only did they shoot some footage, but they also adopted a lot of sounds.
These recordings were to be used in the composition. In addition, on the part of the director there was a structural specification in 4 sections, accordingly I composed a total of 4 pieces for the performance the total duration of about 50 minutes.
Special features of the hybrid setup
While 'Shopping Bag' was still a pure hardware performance, most of the parts have been pre-produced. This time, I wanted to give the music in 'Agbogbloshie' more freedom. The tracks consist to a large extent of tiny hooks, mostly just single notes, which then come to life through the live tweaks on the synth and the different effect plugins.
The patches I wrote pretty early at home to give the dancers some demos they could rehearse to, but again I relied more on live tweaking (I already wrote about that here).
In my set for Copenhagen, I had one strip of the Perfourmer routed separately to play other effects on it. Mostly I had used this track dry as a bassline.
In the sense of further simplification, I have now dispensed with this and the basslines come from a VST plugin. This simplifies the handling of the synth in live operation a lot.
No rendering of the scenes
I had reduced the arrangement of the Copenhagen Set to a maximum of 8 tracks, mainly to simplify the way of performing and reduce the stress factor during the live situation. I therefore merged most of the audio-tracks in advance, so that in the end 4 MIDI tracks, 1 bassline, 1 kick and 2 software synths remained.
For 'Agbogbloshie' I completely skipped this step of pre-production. On the one hand the set is not very complex - there are about 18 MIDI and audio-tracks in total for the entire performance - and on the other hand my laptop has so much computing power that I can afford to play all tracks live.
The big advantage: most of the synths remain modulable, which I also use massively during the performance with the new Launchcontrol XL.
New controller Novation Launchcontrol XL
I mentioned this above: a new controller gives me more freedom to interact with the software. Using "user modes", of which there are 8, I can manually route each fader and each knob to control all sorts of aspects of the software by hand.
For example, I use the faders to slowly fade tracks in and out.
Structure of the Ableton Set
Here is a screenshot of the Ableton arrangement. The first 4 tracks sequencing the hardware synth. The 5th track (green) is the audio output of the Perfourmer. On this track I use a plugin called "mm.Chain" to apply other plugin effects per scene / track, which I modulate with the Launchcontrol XL (you can see below in the plugin strip "Track 1, Track 2, etc.).
Next to it are the tracks. For each track I have chosen a different clip-color, with the darker shades indicating that this track is NOT modulated with the controller. That way, I have a visual hint during the performance on which of the tracks I can modulate parameters.
For the scenes themselves I assigned additional colors, so the tracks are visually separated on the Launchpad Mini.
Snippets and recordings
Here are some soundsnippets that were made during the rehearsals.
Anke U. Neumeister (anune.de) - thanks for the great images!
Dates of the performances
'Agbogbloshie' will premiere on 21.12.2022 at 6pm at the Kulturkirche St. Jacobi, Stralsund, followed by another performance on Thursday 22.12.2022 also at 6pm. Both performances will be broadcast live on Bernardo San Rafael's Instagram channel and on my YouTube channel (as long as the connection works).