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LMJ13 Extended Abstracts

NOTE: The following abstracts are summaries of articles that are available in full on-line in Leonardo Electronic Almanac.

Recursive Audio Systems: Acoustic Feedback in Composition

Christopher Burns, CCRMA, Department of Music, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-8180, U.S.A. E-mail: cburns@ccrma.stanford.edu.

Matthew Burtner, Virginia Center for Computer Music, University of Virginia, 112 Old Cabell Hall, Charlottesville, VA 22903, U.S.A. E-mail: mburtner@virginia.edu.

Compositional and performance experience with a wide variety of audio feedback systems suggests a number of traits common to feedback processes. Acoustic feedback systems share certain sonic characteristics: whistling, melodically articulate resonances and gritty distortion. They also present unusual challenges for control and input, given their highly interdependent relationships between pitch, timbre, amplitude and time characteristics.

The authors discuss a number of compositions based around audio feedback. Christopher Burns's Letters to André and Calyx use interconnected digital effects processors as a homebrew waveguide network. Burns's realization of John Cage's Electronic Music for Piano simulates acoustic feedback in a software synthesis environment, creating a unique instrument in the spirit of Cage and David Tudor. Matthew Burtner's Delta, for electric saxophone, suggests the challenges involved in improvising with a highly unstable system. (Burtner's Study 1.0 (FM) is also referenced in the on-line article; this work is discussed in detail elsewhere in this issue of Leonardo Music Journal.)

In each of these projects, feedback system design was a major part of the compositional process, with the arrangement and configuration of the electronics determining the range of options for the pieces. Once the system is established, improvisation becomes an essential mode of compositional exploration. The unusual parameterizations of feedback systems, including their high degree of dependence upon the current state and contents of the system, necessitate an investigative approach. Improvisation may be used to chart a system's parameter space and likely responses prior to making compositional decisions (as in Calyx), or in the moment of performance (as in the Electronic Music for Piano realization and Delta). In either case, the composer/performer is likely to perceive him or herself as engaging with and influencing the feedback system, rather than commanding it.

Performance Space Meets Cyberspace: Seeking the Creative Idiom and Technical Model for Live Music on Broadband

Michael Bussière, Sonic Design Interactive Inc., 12 Clarey Avenue, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. E-mail: michael@sonicdesign.fm. Web site: www.sonicdesign.fm.

Initiatives throughout the post-industrial world support the proliferation of advanced networks connecting governments with constituents, research facilities with one another, and consumers with new content portals. While such networks are currently the domain of the engineer, there is an acknowledgment through public policy and targeted investment that wider deployment is on the horizon. Such deployment will not only support a self-sustaining business model, but also is dependent on the creative insights of media artists to devise new forms of content. The author documents initial tests involving the creation and presentation of musical content within a distributed environment on Canada’s CA*net3/4 national optical Internet research and education network.

The ongoing project discussed in this article investigates the creation and presentation of experimental multimedia over high-speed networks, with particular emphasis on live, interactive performance forms (Fig. 1). It seeks to provoke new social dynamics within a distributed performance environment and to investigate technical prototypes and the creative possibilities of embedding a cyberspace portal into a performance venue. The project considers the lack of models for the public deployment of broadband-enabled performing arts, and aims to provide low-cost solutions for producers with limited budgets and access to broadband connectivity. Findings will provide ethical scientific assessment of the human dynamics and collaborative behaviors of creative videoconferencing.

The project's researchers began from the premise that musical communication is spatial in nature and therefore offers an appropriate content source for the exploration of near-instantaneous distributed expression. Mid-20th-century research into new, experimental music was tapped for test content seemingly designed for latency. Cage’s intention, for example, to avoid the perception of sounds as finite temporal objects was linked to a solution that involved the deliberate evasion of sounds as spatial objects. The spatialization of sounds (conceptually traceable to Ives) was, for Cage, a means of further fracturing a supposedly natural desire for temporal organization and logic. Add to this Cage’s mandate for the superimposition and simultaneous performance of different works for the intensification of the feeling of space (again, rooted in Ives), and a prototype emerges for a broadband-based repertoire that embraces the paradox of dwelling in separate spaces while sharing a common virtual space in near real time. Finally, Cage’s proposal that indeterminacy transforms roles (the performer becoming the composer, the audience becoming the performance, and the composer becoming a member of the audience) handily anticipated a performance scenario where network-based spatially distributed performance requires new means of audience engagement.

The limitations of network latency may one day be reduced to the point of inconsequence with respect to musical performance. However, current capabilities provoke questions that the project aims to address: Can music incorporate latency as a fundamental design challenge? Is there an historical repertoire that was written almost in precognition of latency as a context? Does this repertoire anticipate a new network-based musical idiom?

The Gallbladder Sonata: Transmission Time on the Internet

Marlena Corcoran, Barer Str. 54A, D-80799 Munich, Germany. E-mail: Corcoran@anglistik.uni-muenchen.de.

The article discusses The Gallbladder Sonata, a work performed in real time on the Internet---a work in which the uncontrollable speed of Internet transmission is a second-by-second co-determinant of the music’s own tempo. The traditional order of events---namely composition, then performance, then transmission---becomes one single event. The performance is the act of composition; and the order in which the improvised responses among performers are uploaded and displayed depends on the eddying currents of transmission time on the Internet.

The audience, whether logged on at their individual computers or gathered in a live "concert" space, sees a slowly scrolling text improvised by several performers logged on in the United States and Europe. The text creates a strange and abstract concert hall, in which, for example, characters named "Stage.Hand" and "sound" drag around furniture and hand out programs to late arrivals "John.Cage" and "Beethoven." Within this text, a character named "stay (tuned)" sits down at an imaginary piano to perform the sonata within the sonata.

At the anchoring location, the live audience watches the text projected in very large format. The author, costumed as the character "stay (tuned)," sits at a computer as one would at a piano (Fig. 2). The computer is presented as a keyboard instrument. A microphone lies close to the keyboard, and the sound of composition is carried over loudspeakers. One hears stay (tuned) typing at different speeds and levels of passion. These sounds do not correlate with the speed at which one reads the resulting text, due to the varying lag factor of the Internet.

This décollage makes attending The Gallbladder Sonata unlike going to traditional concerts, whose visual and auditory dimensions are so well integrated as to be indistinguishable: the pianist hits a key, and the audience immediately hears that note. The delay in Internet transmission results in discordant timing of the visual and auditory levels of the performance. The disruption of synchronicity exposes the voyeuristic expectations of concert performance. Furthermore, the projected text provides a level of lyrics that also are uncoupled from both the sight and sound of the live performer.

The displacements occasioned by transmission sometimes segue into frank failure; and this too is incorporated improvisationally into the sonata. Such complexities of form are echoed in the content. Lines from Keats and Goethe that speak to silent music and halted time haunt The Gallbladder Sonata.

Why play with time, and let the time of transmission play with us? Human beings desperately need the practice. Playing in all seriousness with poetry and music, sight and sound, The Gallbladder Sonata is a comic musical rehearsal for the ultimate experience in time that cannot be controlled: the hour of our death.

Mediating (through) Imagination: Web-Based Sound Art

Trace Reddell, Digital Media Studies, 2490 South Gaylord Street, University of Denver, Denver, CO 80208, U.S.A. E-mail: treddell@du.edu. Web site: www.du.edu/~treddell

The article introduces two Web-based multimedia projects and a recent series of live laptop performances and webcasts. These works describe an intersection of electronic literature, digital sound art, DJ culture and networking technologies. At the center of this intersection, the author positions the Web browser as an imaginative cultural interface uniquely capable of confusing received distinctions between media and moments of content-gathering and sampling, composition, performance, publication, distribution, broadcast and reception. Here writing and reading become digital performance pieces, extending creative practice into the domains of information access, retrieval and reproduction. Ultimately, the works characterize the civic function of organized sound in terms of telephonic connectivity, pointing toward the promise of collaborative streams and multidirectional remixes taking place within mobile sites of improvised transmission.

The LITMIXER project appeared in the music/sound/noise issue of the Electronic Book Review in November 2001 (Fig. 3). The multimedia component is a literary sampler loaded with phrases read from Derrida’s "Plato’s Pharmacy." The accompanying user’s manual draws attention to itself as an experience of mixed quotations and remastered theories. The critical gloss function of traditional literary theory thus turns to digital signal-processing as a means of generating new interpretative possibilities, even as it distributes a performative platform as a model for publishing critical theory.

"Machinery for Dreaming" was created for The Palimpsest Project, an ongoing "remix" exhibit launched on 30 September 2002 on the Stasis_Space on-line gallery web site. The piece explores text-to-MIDI conversion, using text-derived data to create MIDI events. The finished work consists of cut-up text files taken from De Quincey’s "Opium Eater"; multiple MIDI files generated from the text; and an audio work created from the MIDI sequences. The proliferation of file types expands opportunities for access and participation in the ongoing exhibit, which positions content delivery as a means for gallery visitors to become producers and distributors in their own right.

In recent performances at the Denver's Museum of Contemporary Art, the University of Denver and Ars Electronica 2003 (via webcast), the author worked with the browser as a tool for spontaneous composition. Internet search engines, multiple browser instances, embedded audio files, links for direct file download, and assemblages of plug-ins and playback devices are the key components of live aleatory compositions and DJ performances.

As an improvisational vehicle, the browser becomes a technological analogy of the imagination, particularly in its classic function of mixing sensory data into complex aggregates that are then mediated as living experience. The finished work or live set is generated by the real-time activity of composition in an ongoing exchange between the mind of the performer and shifting content on the screen. To the extent that they lay bare their own compositional processes as part of the act of creative communication, these pieces mix digital forms of composition and delivery while expressing imaginative experience in terms of receiving transmissions---of reading, listening to or interacting with literary sound art in shared cultural spaces. The goal is to provide the reader or listener not with an artifact of process but, rather, with a scenario in which that process plays out openly for the eyes, ears and hands of the audience-participant.

Turn/Stile: Remixing Udo Kasemets’ CaleNdarON

Tobias C. van Veen, #19, 4790 Cote-des-Neiges, Montreal, Quebec H3V 1G2, Canada. E-mail: <tobias@quadrantcrossing.org> Web site: <www.quadrantcrossing.org>.

stile \Stile\, n. [See Style.] 1. A pin set on the face of a dial, to cast a shadow; a style. 2. Mode of composition. May I not write in such a stile as this?

The "style" of today's turntablists are conjoined with the "rhythmatics" of music [1]. Pulsations of beats drive the flurry of scratching, cutting, juggling and beatmatching that define the art of turntablism. Pioneered over the past forty years, these developments play alongside a history of phonographic experimentation that remains buried in the record-bins of history. In the popular music milieus, today's turntablism often (and not surprisingly) overshadows the hidden histories of wax trickery. The recounting of over one hundred years of phonographic experimentation has yet to receive its break. The link between early, avant-garde phonography and today's turntablism is, however, beginning to sound its cut: while the style of the hip is hopped to techno and the breakbeat, Kodwo Eshun's "futurhythmachine" is becoming remixed in the stile of conceptual-phonographic experimentation [2].

Techno-turntablists and phonographers have come to reinvestigate the performative potential of the turntable apparatus, utilising skipping records, loops, contact microphones, and custom built phonographs (such as Schaefer's dual and triple tone-arm turntables) [3]. Meanwhile, writers such as Eshun have explored the AfroFuturist movements of sonically inscribing technology-as-concept, or "conceptechnics." Yet despite the advent of hip-hop script-notations and technological ‘mods’, contemporary turntablism remains primarily segregated into non-interacting "camps:" hip-hop vs. techno-turntablists, mixers and Selectors, phonographists and improvisers, and all their permutations.

By performing a turntable for Udo Kasemets’ avant-garde script, CaleNdarON, a rift was bled in the divisions of sonic history, a remix of the experiments of yesterday's avant-garde, incorporating Kasemets’ complex engagement with random-chance operations and interpretative scripts with the rhythmatics of the body and the force of touch. Time to remix the stile, time to re-turn and spin a tune of the needle and the cartridge.

Turn/Stile—or more accurately, turn/stiles—is a reading of a performative remix of Kasemet's script, CaleNdarON, with a single turntable, mixer, wax and surfaces. Engaging the erotic play of text and time, Mayan numerology spinning the sound of vinyl, cut, burnt and marked for permutation play, Turn/Stile conjoins contemporary experimental turntable techniques with the random-chance score of a devoted Cagean, Udo Kasemets, thereby permutating a missing link between today's DJs and yesterday's avant-garde, feedbacking the mix through the challenging, multiple temporalities of the Mayan calendar.

Turn/stiles calls for engagements—not only in phonography, but through rhythm, and not only in repetition, but through conceptual randomness—in and through the body as an extension of the performing ensemble, the improvisation found in-between human and machine.

References and Notes

1. Kodwo Eshun, More Brilliant Than the Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction (London: Quartet, 1999). Eshun connects "rhythmatics" with Edgar Varèse's idea of a "sound-producing machine," capable of, according to Eshun, "'humanly impossible' time, [thus] this automatization of rhythm which is rhythmatics, opens up the posthuman multiplication of rhythm," p. 6.

2. "Futurhythmachines turn the extended capability of machines into supersensory powers." See Eshun [1].

3. See Janek Schaefer's web site at <www.audioh.com>.

The LMJ series is devoted to aesthetic and technical issues in contemporary music and the sonic arts. Currently under the editorship of Nicolas Collins, each thematic issue features artists/writers from around the world, representing a wide range of stylistic viewpoints. Each volume includes the latest offering from the LMJ CD series---an exciting sampling of curious and unusual, but eminently listenable, music. Independently curated and annotated by experts and aficionados, these CDs offer a feast for the ear and mind alike.

More info: http://leonardo.info/lmj

Available from the MIT Press. To order.

LMJ13 Table of Contents

    This volume includes articles by: Peter Manning, David First, Nick Collins, Sérgio Freire, Doug Kahn, Yasunao Tone, Guy-Marc Hinant, Caleb Stuart and Tobias C. van Veen.

    Introduction to LMJ13 by Nicolas Collins


Copyright © 2004 ISAST

Updated 1 January 2004

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