The sound artist Stephen Vitiello performed recently at Mills College in Oakland, and for folk who didn’t make the performance, myself included, a nearly 12-minute recording of a soundcheck has been uploaded to Vitiello’s brand new presence at soundcloud.com/stephenvitiello. It’s a performance with James Fei, with Fei on Buchla modules and Vitiello on Eurorack modules:
One of the things about abstract music, and the collaboration between Vitiello and Fei certainly qualifies as such, is how valuable it is to see it performed live. Knee-jerk comments are common about laptop music, about the perceived absurdity of watching someone stare at their screen for half an hour. But the fact is, in the subtle motions, in the musician’s expression, in the way casual movements can be felt to correlate with some change in the audio, the laptop-watching experience is a meaningful one.
Performances on patch-cord modules aren’t all that more theatrical or otherwise dramatic than are laptop ones. One thing that makes hearing such music as a recording on SoundCloud useful is the way that the simple shape of the waveform, while a mere silhouette of sonic activity, lends shape — literal and figurative — to the goings-on. In this case, it means seeing rises and falls in momentum, as well as sharp contrasts and sudden changes, played out as a visual, while the audio presents dripping water, clanging metal, feedback, rattlesnake-like whirs, and other elements.
Now, this is Stephen Vitiello we’re discussing, an individual who has made beautiful graphic scores out of photographs of swamps, and turned the creaking audio of the World Trade Center into immersive sound art. While SoundCloud is a great place to audition recordings, what’ll be great is for it to become a creative medium unto itself.
Those waveform visuals connect SoundCloud not just spiritually but user-interface-ally to freesound.org, a long-running community where field-recordings post large-format, uncompressed audio files. Freesound has a rudimentary but well-utilized “remix” feature, which encourages individuals to rework and post the audio of others. No doubt SoundCloud will itself serve as a source for remixing experiments and for semi-organized group efforts like the Exquisite Corpse art-game. The service’s ability to let people tag songs at any point along their timeline suggests some creative opportunities as well (like, for example, noting sourced samples). It’s yet to be seen how SoundCloud will become an experimental performance or compositional tool, but it won’t be surprising if one of the first places such activity occurs is on the page of a sound artist like Vitiello.
More details on the track at soundcloud.com/stephenvitiello. The file can be downloaded using the little down arrow in the above SoundCloud interface.