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tag: video

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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The Long String Instrument Adds More Strings

Ellen Fullman teams with cellist Theresa Wong in this live video

This video doesn’t quite do justice to the structural, installation-scale, architectural beauty that is Ellen Fullman’s 50-plus-foot Long String Instrument in person. But the recording, made on January 31, 2016, at the Lab in San Francisco, certainly captures the music of the spheres — make that music of the parallel linearities — that is Fullman in concert. And there are four bonus strings, in the form of Theresa Wong’s accompanying cello — actually more than four, because Wong is also working with material captured on her laptop. Fullman’s singular instrument, which she’s been at for decades, fills the room both materially and sonically with overtones amid overtones, all those strings sympathetically beading and droning, influencing each other, seeking a common tonal ground. Wong’s cello lends a through line of gently sawed grounding. The piece is titled “Harbors,” and it was part of a month-long residency that Fullman had at the Lab at the start of 2015. A note at the Lab site sets the stage for the performance:

“Harbors”, is a collaboration with composer and cellist Theresa Wong. Pitch material used in the piece is generated from the harmonic series of each of the open strings of the cello and the tones resulting from pressing a string at a harmonic nodal point. Wong and Fullman researched and mapped this palette, selecting subsets as tonal areas of focus for each movement of the piece. A recurring motif is a simple two-note cello phrase: harmonic, then pressed. Wong captures material using Ableton Live! which she can then play as another instrument, layering harmonic possibilities. “Harbors” draws inspiration from the soundscapes as well as the stories and atmospheres that manifest around such bodies of water that propagate exchange.

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. More from Theresa Wong at theresawong.org.

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To Evoke a Sense of Timelessness

A live performance by Copenhagen-based Fejld

Uploaded in 2010, this is something of an artifact, but it’s a beautiful performance, and with barely 5,000 views on YouTube it deserves a broader audience. What it depicts is Copenhagen-based musician Fejld performing three and a half minutes of almost entirely tonal ambient music. It’s the latest piece I’ve added to my ongoing YouTube playlist of fine “Ambient Performances.” Part of what makes this notion of ambient performance so interesting is ambient’s popular association with the idea of stasis, of music that is apart from time rather than something that evidences progression or change over time. Now, affect and action aren’t necessarily directly correlated. It can take effort to achieve a semblance of a lack of effort. In each of the live performances in this ever-growing YouTube playlist, various instruments and techniques are employed to evoke a sense of timelessness: to create an illusion of stasis. In this particular video, Fejld is working on the Monome, a grid instrument that’s the work of musicians Kelli Cain and Brian Crabtree. As in several other videos noted here recently, only part of the musician’s equipment, however, is on screen. Much as Midera’s work on a dance-oriented Korg gadget belied the essential presence of a reverb unit, and two different guitar pieces focused (literally) on roughly half of the guitar/pedal divide, Fejld’s video emphasizes the Monome but doesn’t feature the item the Monome is mediating, a keyboard synthesizer (the Nord Modular G2) whose sine waves are being adjusted live in the performance. In this case that makes sense, because the Monome is doing all the realtime work. The keyboard is simply sitting still somewhere off camera, receiving and emitting signals.

Video originally posted on YouTube. More from Fejld at soundcloud.com/kuf-records. Fejld’s home page fejld.com is static and the facebook.com/fejld hasn’t been updated since 2014. Fejld is/was Rasmus Nyåker of Copenhagen, Denmark.

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