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

The Webcam as Instrument

A performance by Sideband on Jeff Snyder's audio-video toolkit

“Ghost Line” is a thoroughly compelling audio-video performance by Sideband (Lainie Fefferman, Jascha Narveson, Seth Cluett, and Mika Godbole) of music by Jeff Snyder, from Snyder’s forthcoming album, Concerning the Nature of Things. The album is due on November 9th on the Carrier Records label, with one preview track, the title cut, already up on Snyder’s Bandcamp page. But the real way to experience “Ghost Line” arguably isn’t the audio on its own; it’s the audio as a component of the video (on vimeo.com). In most music videos, the video part of the equation is either a complement (whether a narrative or just associative imagery) or a document (of the performance, whether simulated or live). In the case of “Ghost Line,” the 12-minute video is, quite literally, both performance and score. And while the images may tend toward abstraction, those abstractions directly inform the music we hear.

In Snyder’s creation, each of the members of Sideband creates sound by adjusting aspects of one of four parallel frames. Each individual is seen within their frame, sometimes rendered as through x-ray specs, sometimes as if colored in during one of Andy Warhol’s more flamboyant phases (say, circa his album covers for Billy Squier and the Rolling Stones). At times the figures disappear entirely, replaced by raster concoctions straight out of a Ryoji Ikeda installation. Throughout, the music is heard to draw directly from the consequences of those images: alternately strident and subtle, buzzy and tonal.

A brief liner note clarifies the goings-on:

Ghost Line … uses webcams as instruments, with the pixel data from the cameras interpreted as audio waveforms. The performers alter the sound by moving within the frame, or by processing the video stream (altering the x and y resolution, adjusting the focus, or changing the speed or direction of the image scan). Resonant just-tuned sonorities devolve into aggressive clusters of noise, producing a masterful mix of patient harmonic changes and dense, frenetic timbral shifts.

Snyder’s previous album was to Sunspots, performed by him on vintage Buchla synthesizers equipment. Concerning the Nature of Things is concert music, performed by a variety of ensembles. It’s available at jeffsnyder.bandcamp.com. Snyder is based in Princeton, New Jersey.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • about

  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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