The technology needed for providing musical scores for live readings is as easy to carry as it is to set up and use. Naturally, nothing beats bringing along a guitar or keyboard player. If you’ve got a best friend or spouse who’s a musician, you’re all set. But perhaps you like the simplicity of working alone (and keeping the spotlight to yourself). In that case, there’s an easy alternative.
First, you need to select some music, preferably tunes that your listeners haven’t heard before. Back in the days when the big labels were regulating the flow of recorded content, you might have had a tough time finding something fresh and unfamiliar. But today, with so many artists making music available online, and with the explosion of digital music suppliers such as iTunes and DigStation, the task is relatively easy.
The music you select does not need to play through your entire reading, a good thing to keep in mind if you plan on presenting works longer than poems or flash fiction. Of course, having music start and stop during your reading means you need an easy way to control the sound. To do that, I recommend using a laptop and a handheld remote.
To queue your sound, store the digital recordings on your laptop and link them to a Power Point presentation. The Power Points slides are for you, not the audience. I like to keep these slides simple, displaying the name of the story that I'm reading and the piece of music that’s playing. I also find it’s helpful to include a note that identifies the next slide in the sequence. I do not recommend placing the actual text of the story you are reading on the Power Point Slide. Rather than reading from the screen, I rely on a handheld book. Very traditional. Think of it as product placement.
Naturally, it’s a good idea to rehearse with this new setup before taking it on the road. In addition to getting used to working the remote and timing your delivery to the music, you will want to practice setting up the few bits of hardware involved.
And how much hardware is required?
Everything you need can be carried over one shoulder. Namely, you will need a copy of the book you’ll be reading, a laptop, a handheld remote, and a set of speakers. That’s it.
I prefer USB speakers, which are perfect for small spaces (coffeehouses and bookstores). They draw their power directly from the computer, so you don’t need to worry about being close to an outlet. You can even (as I have done a number of times) perform in a space that has no power, such as public parks and courtyards. The speakers I use are thin enough to carry in the side pocket of my laptop case, and they put out a surprisingly good sound. For larger spaces (or for gigs when I want the sound quality to be the best it can be) I use a Roland amplifier, which produces professional quality sound in a relatively portable system. (It comes with an over-the-shoulder carrying bag, but it’s a lot heavier than those USB speakers).
Of course, the best spaces are auditoriums where the AV technology is already in place (and where a resident tech person is on hand to hook you up). That’s the setup I’ll be using next Monday when I present Visions and Soundscapes at PAISTA. As much as possible, those are the spaces I like to work in. When I do those shows, I employ projected images as well.
When all goes well (and let’s face it, with technology there’s always an adventure waiting to happen) the results are worth the effort. If you’d like to hear what I’m taking about but aren’t planning to be at the Kiski School next Monday, you might pick up a copy of Veins: the Soundtrack, which includes two of the Visions and Soundscape readings as bonus tracks. The CD also contains original instrumental tracks that I recorded with my band last summer, tunes that I composed for reading with my novel Veins, but which you might find useful in scoring your own readings. All the tracks are available for immediate download at DigStation.
Finally, for the frugally minded, you might check out an online podcast of my story “Shooting Evil” from Ash-Tree Press.
Until tomorrow, enjoy the stories . . . and share the vision.