SARAH (Semi-Autonomous Reactive Accompanist Hardware) is a performance technology project that began as an educational tool for the courses in experimental music I run at the Bishopsgate Institute in London. SARAH is an electronic duo partner that attempts to model human participation in free improvisation without recourse to software other than the firmware used by the system’s digital components. A performance will usually entail a single musician playing live with SARAH in real time.
SARAH differs from both capture-based processes (e.g. live sampling/looping) and the use of pre-recorded material in that SARAH’s response to a human performer is not repetitive, predetermined or chaotic. Capture and playback systems can be manipulated in live performance to an extent, but nothing will induce such systems to improvise an idiosyncratic, real-time response to external musical input which is unpredictable yet also demonstrably intentional. SARAH, by contrast, does exactly this.
Given the generally imprecise usage of the term I hesitate to describe SARAH’s way of working as ‘interactive’. What does seem to apply, however, is the word ‘transactive’. SARAH will improvise in response to any kind of audible input but is particularly receptive to material which is harmonically and/or timbrally complex; processed digital percussion sounds are currently favoured.
ROGER THOMAS first became involved in experimental and improvised music in the late 70s, subsequently performing with artists such as Maggie Nicols, Lol Coxhill, Philipp Wachsmann, Michael Parsons and David Bedford and participating in workshops run by Butch Morris, Eddie Prevost, John Russell and Paul Rutherford.
Although he has also performed in bands and orchestras and occasionally ‘composed’ (Then Three Come Along At Once for digitally processed bus sounds was premiered during the 2009 Spitalfields Festival; earlier pieces include Quiet but Complicated for improvising musicians and Smear Campaign for musicians and painters), he remains primarily interested in the exploration and development of improvisation, mainly with percussion and live electronics. More recently he gave the the opening performance at the 2011 NoiseFloor Festival at the University of Staffordshire and contributed a piece to the online jukebox for the 2011 Audiograft Festival hosted by SARU at Oxford Brookes University.
He has lectured at Brunel University on numerous occasions and he currently teaches at the Bishopsgate Institute in London, where he runs an experimental music group. Widely published as a writer and editor, his work has appeared in many publications including Sound On Sound, The Wire, DJ magazine, Gramophone and BBC Music.