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Listening to art.
Playing with audio.
Sounding out technology.
Composing in code.

tag: live-performance

The Circuit Board Record Album

Tristan Perich on Loud Objects, machine art, and the aesthetics of code

Tristan Perich - Noise Patterns - 7 - Headphones

The Noise Patterns album, plugged into a pair of headphones

Tristan Perich’s Noise Patterns comes in a clear jewel case, but it isn’t a CD. It’s a small, matte-black circuit board. Powered by a watch battery, it produces a series of musical compositions built from the on/off operations on the minuscule chip at the center of the device, the same sort of chip you might find in a microwave oven.

What follows is a lengthy, detailed interview in which Perich talks about the development of Noise Patterns, and various other aspects of his artistic efforts, which range from full-scale museum installations of drawing machines and “microtonal walls,” to live performances in which he builds circuits in front of the audience.

In Perich’s telling, his previous circuit-board album, 1-Bit Symphony, was built from “tone” while Noise Patterns, as its name suggests, is built from “randomness,” from what sounds like white noise twisted and tweaked to Perich’s design.

There will be a more detailed introduction to this interview posted here soon, but in the interest of time — there is a party/concert celebrating the release of Noise Patternstonight at (Le) Poisson Rouge in Manhattan, with guests, Robert Henke, Karl Larson, Ricardo Romaneiro, Leo Leite, and Christian Hannon — the transcript, along with annotated images from the production of Noise Patterns and other aspects of Perich’s work, is being posted today.

01 - Tristan Perich - Microtonal Wall at MoMA

Perich’s Microtonal Wall, installed at MoMA in Manhattan

Tristan Perich - Noise Patterns - 1 - Angle

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A Pixel Fire

Three frames capture the performance, and occasional "brutal digital audioclipping"

The musician working from the traumaduo/spacebox720 account on YouTube apologizes at the opening of this video for the “brutal digital audioclipping” — his exact words — that occurs in the track. The clipping is especially evident right after the nine-minute mark, when a harsh rupture, a pixel fire, briefly invades the previously placid, lightly padded space. That sonic fire quickly recedes, and the patient, soft music, gently percussive music proceeds. The clipping there is as much an echo as it is a rupture, bringing to mind a quieter fissure at the three-minute mark, and other punctuations that occur over the course of the piece. I note this video not only for its listening pleasure, but for the format of the performance presentation. It appears as three images: one large, two small, each showing a different perspective on the instrumentation, allowing him to move freely among the tools and almost always have his actions captured. (Such a format has been on my mind for a possible project, and then I stumbled on this employment while searching for music that uses devices by the musician-designer Meng Qi, who’s based in Beijing, China). In addition there are computer-generated images that lend some science-fiction drama to the undertaking.

Video originally posted at youtube.com. It’s the latest piece I’ve added to my ongoing YouTube playlist of fine “Ambient Performances.”

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Playing a Keyboard with a Phone Book

Peter Speer puts a little pressure on the definition of a live performance.

Just how little action can one take and still be considered a performer? If yesterday’s featured video nudged at the inherent idea of a “live” performance by showing generative software mid-process (no human required), then today’s video re-introduces human physical interaction but in a very simple way.

The video, titled “Yellow Pages Tone Cluster,” begins with a humorous touch worthy of John Cage: A few seconds in, the artist Peter Speer places a massive phone book, its front cover ripped off, atop an electric keyboard, and thus sets in motion a broad, dense uber-chord that plays for nearly 11 minutes straight.

“Motion” may not be the right word. What the phone book creates on the keyboard is a multi-octave held chord, quite the opposite of motion. That chord changes only due to the ear’s sensitivity to overtones and waveforms, and Speer’s subsequent small changes. He alters the chord as it proceeds. Specifics aren’t laid out at the video link (the only text is “The lost art of playing a keyboard with a book”), but as it goes the organ tone takes on beading and phase-shifting, glitch wonderment and reduction to a sheer shimmer. And at then end Speer removes the phone book. The ceremonial bow is implied.

One side note: This video is a good example of how the very thing that can make computer music a tough sell in a concert setting works exceptionally well on streaming services like YouTube and Vimeo, where the audience has such GoPro-style proximity (“goproximity”?) to the sort of small gestures that are lost with a live audience. The only way something like this would register in front of a group of people is if there were an effort made to include a properly framed live video projection during the performance — of course, while the scale would make the performer’s movements legible in concert, it would also potentially overstate their gravitas. (I should mention, I’ve seen plenty of shows where this sort of projection occurs but it’s usually for more flamboyant playing styles and often isn’t framed particularly well.)

Unfortunately I can’t add this to my “Ambient Performances” playlist because the playlist is on YouTube and this video is on vimeo.com. More from Peter Speer, who’s based in Chicago, Illinois, at diode-ring.com. Video found in a discussion about minimal physical mixing consoles at llllllll.co.

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In the Key of G(enerative)

The software patch as live performance

“System has decided to generate in G.” G is the key, and generative is the mode. That line is one of the many captions that illuminate the software patch in action in this video. You don’t have to fully comprehend, or even read, the text to appreciate the correlation between the virtual patch (signal flows, triggers, and such) and the sounds that emerge as the piece proceeds.

The text and patch, both by Siegfried Mueller, depict the inner workings of GenAura, Mueller’s “Generative Ambient System.” The video is almost half a decade old at this point, and the interface of the toolset, Max/MSP, in which the software was coded has come a long way since then, but the music remains nuanced and entrancing, and Mueller’s concise distillation of process is a great example of how watching a generative tool enact its own decision-making is a form of live performance.

The word “indeterminate” is often associated with generative music because chance is a key factor in many generative systems. The thing to keep in mind is that when it comes to GenAura it can be said that the music is determined — it’s just determined by the decision-making of the software itself, which of course extrapolates decisions built into the DNA of its code by Mueller.

It’s the latest piece I’ve added to my ongoing YouTube playlist of fine “Ambient Performances.” Video originally posted five years ago on YouTube by Siegfried Mueller, who developed the software.

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A Massive Yet Nearly Invisible Music Machine

Ellen Fullman teams with a Box Bow quartet

The video posted yesterday by the Lab, the experimental San Francisco arts and performance space, of Ellen Fullman focused on her Long String Instrument’s central quality: its tonal richness. A 50-plus-foot series of parallel strings, Fullman’s creation puts the musician — and to some extent the live audience — inside a massive yet nearly invisible music machine. As a result of dimensions, construction, and situation, the Long String Instrument excels at tonal material that balances harmonic complexity with an aesthetic sparsity.

In yesterday’s video, an excerpt of the piece “Harbors,” Fullman’s instrument was complemented by Theresa Wong’s cello, both live and repurposed thanks to a laptop. In the video posted today, which like yesterday’s is sourced from a month-long residency by Fullman at the Lab at the start of 2016, the music is more song-like, less ethereal, more earthy. This association is less because of the number of additional strings (she plays with four members of the makeshift Box Bow Ensemble, which was assembled specifically for the event), and more to do with the folk-like pacing of the piece.

The first half the video (an excerpt of a longer performance titled “Past the Angels”) rolls along at about 89 beats per minute, slowly varying the same central collaborative musical phrase, like each member is strumming the strings of some gargantuan autoharp. And then it begins to dissolve. One member of the ensemble, Crystal Pascucci, breaks from her Box Bow and strums the Long String Instrument and, later, both her own Box Bow and another. The group plays against each other, taking on a more phase-like scenario, in which the phrase is shifting, the downbeat uncertain, the cyclic nature more hallucinatory.

This description is from a note at the Lab site:

“Past the Angels” is a work for an ensemble of four performing on Fullman’s Long String Instrument using the Box Bow, a hand-held wooden tool used to strike the strings in a percussive manner. Seasoned Bay Area composer/performers Mark Clifford, David Douglas, Ryan Jobes and Crystal Pascucci will play the hocketed box bow parts. In this work, Fullman brings together the ethereal and the folk-inspired possibilities of her instrument.

The video was first posted on the Lab’s YouTube channel. It’s the latest piece I’ve added to my ongoing YouTube playlist of fine “Ambient Performances.” More from Fullman at ellenfullman.com.

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