Glenn Kotche Live at PASIC: A Multimedia Experience Powered by Sensory Percussion
A photo of Glenn playing taken from his PASIC performance next to a screenshot of Sensory Percussion and other audiovisual software.

When he's not recording or touring with Wilco, Glenn Kotche stays busy with tons of interesting side projects. A classically trained percussionist, he's collaborated over the years with modern dance groups, experimental percussion ensembles, and even Jon Hamm. He's also used Sensory Percussion in lots of cool ways for solo performance. So when Glenn reached out to us in early 2023 to say that he wanted use Sensory Percussion for his performance on the main stage of PASIC, one of the largest drum and percussion events in the world, we were naturally psyched!

Read on for a behind-the-scenes look at how the performance came together as well as overviews and videos of four pieces from the set, each using Sensory Percussion in unique ways.

The Idea

A few weeks before the conference--fresh off of a Wilco tour--Glenn sent us an outline of his plan: to synthesize material from various theatre, dance, and visual art projects he's been a part of over the years into one cohesive performance. With Sensory Percussion at the center of it all, he would control audio, video, and lights in various ways from the behind the drums.

In Glenn's Own Words:

"I've had this idea for quite some time of wanting to create a multimedia show with the drum kit as a mission control center that allows me to be a musician, DJ, videographer, all this stuff together. Then when I got my hands on Sensory Percussion for the first time, I was like ‘Yeah, this is the way to go about it.’ I was always too busy to make it happen, but when I got asked to play PASIC, it seemed like the right time and place. I thought about what I wanted to play and what could work in that setting, using Sensory Percussion in a variety of ways to augment and enhance the drum set.

I came up with a setlist that I thought would be compelling and show a lot of different sides of my playing across projects. I wanted to include some new material and stuff I hadn’t performed at clinics before. Then I just went through and decided, ‘I want lights on this one, I want videos on this one, and I collected the content from past sources and reached out to Sunhouse to help make it happen!"

The Process

Given the technical scope of the show and the limited time we had to set up/rehearse, this idea required a bit of forethought. Our general plan was to use three different pieces of software that all talk to each other: Resolume Arena 7 for video, Lightkey for lights, and Sensory Percussion 2 both for audio sample playback and as a means of controlling lights/video. Below is a breakdown of the role of each piece of software (WARNING: It's about to get nerdy).

  • Sensory Percussion 2: Glenn's audio samples, along with various MIDI Generator modules, are mapped to different zones of each drum. MIDI Generators send MIDI information over the IAC Bus to Resolume and Lightkey.

  • Resolume: For some sections of the performance, Glenn is launching different video clips based on the parts of the drum he hits (zones in Sensory Percussion). In others, MIDI CCs controlled by envelopes in Sensory Percussion 2 control effects knobs inside of Resolume. These knobs control the color, distortion, and/or scaling of the video clips.

  • Lightkey: In one piece, Glenn's kick drum is programmed to send MIDI CCs to Lightkey to control three different lighting fixtures (This is a fun example of MIDI sequencing that would not have been possible in the original Sensory Percussion software.)

So that was the general plan we arrived at, but we still had to figure out the best physical setup for the stage in order to achieve these connections between the hardware (drums, sensors, laptop, video monitor(s), lights).

We decided to run everything off of one laptop, which can be a bit of a risk, but it was the most practical solution given the time constraints.

a diagram showing the arrangement of gear on stage with 1 laptop
This approach uses only Glenn's laptop for all audio and video.

Glenn's Setup

Below is a video that gives a behind-the-scenes look at the physical setup on stage. You can see Sensory Percussion 2 registering Glenn's playing in real time, converting it to MIDI information, and then sending that to Resolume to control the projected video.

The electronic elements were just one part of a large stage setup Glenn had at his disposal. In addition to a 5-piece (1 up, 2 down) Sonor SQ2 drum kit, tons of stacked cymbals, and a Rolad SPD-SX, he also had a vast array of percussion instruments: crotales, agogo bells, goat toe shakers, a vibraslap, and a frame drum.

He had 4 Sensory Percussion sensors in use on his kick, snare, and two toms (rack + floor), which were connected to the Evans Portal interface right by the laptop. You can see in the video how Sensory Percussion is translating his playing into MIDI data that controls the projected video.

A behind-the-scenes look at 3 different pieces from the set, each one involving MIDI sent from Sensory Percussion controlling video inside of Resolume.

The Result

Here is a selection of clips from four particularly Sensory Percussion-heavy pieces from Glenn's set, along with a breakdown of each.

Fishing AM

Background from Glenn:

"This is a piece from a theater production called Fishing, which included two standalone drum solos: Fishing AM and Fishing PM. That was a stage production with the choreographer Danielle Agami, the actor Jon Hamm and me. I was playing all the music live on stage using Sensory Percussion to trigger different synth sounds and other samples that I had recorded. I thought it'd be a nice intro piece because it's short, it's got a good form, and I just like it. And for PASIC specifically, I thought it could showcase the lighting possibility of Sensory Percussion. I wanted to control lights with only the bass drum and keeping it to three lights seemed like a very simple introduction and something that wouldn't be too complex for the quick setup."

Technical Breakdown:

In this piece, Sensory Percussion is only used to control lights, meaning there are no audio samples in the set--only a sequence of three MIDI CC generators, which correspond to the three lights on stage. Every time Glenn plays the kick, the current step's CC knob goes to 0 (light off) and the next step's goes to 100 (light on). All audio is coming from Glenn's many acoustic drums/gadgets, which in this piece include head massagers placed on top of snare drums set up at the front of the stage.

A screenshot showing the Sensory Percussion and Lightkey settings used for Fishing AM.

Wild Sound

Background from Glenn:

"I love this one as a tune; it's just fun to play. It's one of my oldest; it may even be my first solo piece I ever wrote for percussion and drum set. And that initial piece was the seed for an hour-long stage show with Third Coast Percussion. They commissioned me to write a piece and I wrote a piece where they construct all the instruments and assemble them on stage. The actual actions of constructing, like cutting, hitting, and hammering to build these instruments are all scored out. So they create these simple instruments while keeping a specific rythm.

This is all mirrored by video content created by Xuan to go along with it. The video and the piece start off very wild, with bird calls and natural landscapes then it evolves from there. As they start to make more complex instruments, the video goes from wild to a rural setting and then to an industrial setting and then to a modern urban setting. It's a little more complex and by the end they've assemble these Arduino Plexiglass marimbas that they play with contact metal gloves playing basically a marimba quartet.

So for PASIC, I kind of condensed the piece and took bits and pieces to create a reduction of the whole thing. We had this video content from Xuan and I decided on a pattern with two mallets in my right hand and my left hand's playing kalimba melodies. The bass drum is kind of an anchor, so I thought it'd be cool to use that as the source controlling the video via Sensory Percussion. We took those four visual themes of this 50 minute video and just chopped it up into a bunch of short clips. Then it just progressed so that every time I hit the bass drum, you get a new image. There were also some visual effects we added in Resolume that I was controlling via Sensory Percussion and it followed the trajectory of the original piece, going from the wild to urban eventually. So you kind of get a glimpse of the original hour-long long performance visually and musically in three and a half minutes!"

Technical Breakdown:

This piece uses a new feature of Sensory Percusion 2: sequenced MIDI. Typically, we think of sequencers as a means of arranging audio samples, but in Sensory Percussion 2, you can also arrange pattterns of MIDI notes inside of a sequencer. This was the case for "Wild Sound".

As Glenn described, the original "Wild Sound" piece had a long video accompaniment that slowly moved through four different visual themes: Wilderness, Rural, Industrial, and City. Each section was cut up into around 12 short clips, and then each clip was assigned its own MIDI note value, ascending left to right, following this schema:

MIDI Note RangeVisual Theme
C-2 to C-1Wilderness
C0 to C1Rural
C2 to C3Industrial
C4 to C5City
A screenshot showing the Sensory Percussion and Resolume settings used for Wild Sound.

Each of these four sequencers is set to "cycle" mode and has a "kick 1" input filter, which means only Glenn's kick drum will move to the next clip. All four sequencers are also themsleves "children" of a single, top-level "parent" sequencer (labeled "Wild Sound Scenes" in the screenshot above), which is set to "manual" mode. This means it will only move to the next set of MIDI notes (and their corresponding visual theme in Resolume) when the "next" button is pressed. This next button is mapped to a MIDI controller that is pressed only three times over the course of the piece, allowing the visuals of the piece to slowly evolve from wilderness -> rural -> industrial -> cityscape.

Stones Flow

Background from Glenn:

"Originally, this was just an idea from a time when I went into my garage and recorded a little melody on glockenspiel. I added some countermelodies and made a demo, which I didn't do anything with until Third Coast Percussion wanted to commission a piece for me using an instrument in the collection of the Metropiltan Museum of Art. I toured their collection and for 99.9% of their stuff I was told, 'Don't even look at that, let alone touch it and perform on it.' We did eventually find one instrument that looked like it would be great for it. It was a 19th century lithophone from England. Lithophone is essentially a stone marimba. This one was made from rocks quarried in England that ended up in the States. I arranged this piece for Third Coast to play on it while facing each other and play this overlapping, very repetitive, meditative peice. And that's where I got the name "Stones Flow;" it flows and it's played on a stone.

A few years ago, I did a very simple version of it where I just would trigger an entire clip on each drum, but I wanted to take that to the next level and actually trigger each note on different zones of the drum. So I just mapped each pitch used in the piece to diffeerent rim and head zones and also used a trigger pedal so I could get that foot ostinato. So I took care of trying to learn how to perform that and get the different chord changes and stuff like that with different zones in Sensory Percussion.

For PASIC, I didn't have access to the lithophone, so I recorded both audio and video of me playing the pitches on gamelan bars made by Morfbeats. I then had Pat Burns from Thunderlab edit this video into short clips that could be triggered live by Sensory Percussion. I liked that because I'd be getting a combination of the actual drum sound and the pitched gamelan bars. The last element was the background videos, which were videos I had taken while traveling that I felt would go with the music really well."

Technical Breakdown:

Each active zone of all 4 of Glenn's drums has both a pitched gamelan sample and a unique MIDI note assigned to it. These MIDI notes are sent to Resolume with every drum sending on a separate channel. Then, inside of Resolume, each MIDI note value is mapped to a different short video of the sampled gamelan bars being struck. The background footage taken from Glenn's personal videos has various visual effects applied to it (distortion, RGB delay, displacement), which are controlled by MIDI CCs with LFOs assigned to them in Sensory Percussion 2.

A screenshot showing the Sensory Percussion 2 and Resolume settings used for Stones Flow.

Prepared Snare "Chaos" Improv

Background from Glenn:

"I created this prepared snare years ago for my piece Monkey Chant and I just didn't have a need to bring the prepared snare and demonstrate that but people really dig it and it's a fun instrument. So I thought it'd be great to capture all those unique individual sounds and capture video of me performing them, and then just trigger the sounds and video together. So you get the sound of the live drums and the sounds of the recordings and then you get the visual element that matches with it. So it doesn't just sound like a bunch of weird sound effects. You can see that I'm pulling fishing line, now I'm hitting springs, now I'm scratching sandpaper or whatever. And you guys did the video mapping, so I went into that blind because it was supposed to be improvised. It was really cool seeing it at soundcheck for the very first time and thinking, 'This is responding really nicely'. It was a nice moment of spectacle added to an otherwise pretty composed set."

Technical Breakdown:

The Sensory Percussion 2 set for this piece has three layers: snare, kick, and toms. Each layer contains a sequencer with nine MIDI note generators, which are all set to "random". Each MIDI note generator is sending a unique MIDI note value. The Resolume set similarly contains three layers of video clips with nine clips each. Each layer contains a mixture of prepared snare techniques (fishing line, dowels, springs, etc.) and are spread across different positions on screen. So each time Glenn hits any zone of a given drum, it will randomly trigger one of the 9 clips in the layer. Having three separate layers of video allows for there to be three overlapping clips on screen at any given time.

A screenshot showing the Sensory Percussion and Resolume settings used for Springs/Dowels Improv.

Glenn plans to continue developing this solo show, so look out for more soon!

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