What do you do when faced with a sound system associated with a very particular techno sound? One answer: push the speakers until they scream, in a good way.
That’s what Hugo Esquinca did last month at CTM Festival – okay, under the watchful eyes of one of the club’s technicians. (That tech seemed happy with the results; I saw him leap over to Hugo after the show, grinning.)
It’s just another creative sound art experiment from Hugo and fits perfectly with the ethos of the collective he’s part of, oqko.
As part of our new series Cues, I’ll be talking to artists about musical creativity and live performance. And so for this one, we get an exclusive live performance – recorded in front of us at Maze, a club underground Kreuzberg – and chatted with Hugo about his work. Listen (I’ll have podcast subscription information for you next week, too):
If you’re tired of commercial boilerplate for electronics, feast your brain on this text Hugo shared on his creation:
Study on (in)operable rigour at this years edition of CTM @ Berghain was a site-specific composition in which the extensive differences and categories assigned as dimension to space and duration to time were but variables among variables in various algorithmic operations which precisely exposed those values to intensive micro temporal variations, where indeterminate modulations produced a multiplicity of events ranging from aleatory amplification of certain room mode resonances, errors in the sound card deriving from random oversampling which produced unexpected sonorous incidents to emerge, and where regarding a recursive mode in the programming where no halt was assigned, the composition could have potentially runned for an indefinite amount of time, as it was precisely by means of my intervention in ‘stopping’ the events that they were prevented and/or terminally halted.
Here’s a closer look at some of the Pd and Max mayhem:
AI is the buzzword on everyone’s lips these days. But how might musicians respond to themes of machine intelligence? That’s our topic in Berlin, 2018.
We’re calling this year’s theme “The Hacked Mind.” Inspired by AI and machine learning, we’re inviting artists to respond in the latest edition of our MusicMakers Hacklab hosted with CTM Festival in Berlin. In that collaborative environment, participants will have a chance to answer these questions however they like. They might harness machine learning to transform sound or create new instruments – or even answer ideas around machines and algorithms in other ways, through performance and composition ideas.
As always, the essential challenge isn’t just hacking code or circuits or art: it’s collaboration. By bringing together teams from diverse backgrounds and skill sets, we hope to exchange ideas and knowledge and build something new, together, on the spot.
The end result: a live performance at HAU2, capping off a dense week-plus festival of adventurous electronic music, art, and new ideas.
Hacklab application deadline: 05.12.2017 Hacklab runs: 29.1 – 4.2.2018 in Berlin (Friday opening, Monday – Saturday lab participation, Sunday presentation)
We’re not just looking for coders or hackers. We want artists from a range of backgrounds. We want people to wrestle with machine learning tools – absolutely, and some are specifically designed to train to recognize sounds and gestures and work with musical instruments. But we also hope for unorthodox artistic reactions to the topic and larger social implications.
To spur you on, we’ll have a packed lineup of guests, including Gene Kogan, who runs the amazing resource ml4a – machine learning for artists – and has done AV works like these:
And there’s Wesley Goatley, whose work delves into the hidden methods and biases behind machine learning techniques and what their implications might be.
Of course, machine learning and training on big data sets opens up new possibilities for musicians, too. Accusonus recently explained that to us in terms of new audio processing techniques. And tools like Wekinator now use training machines as ways of more intelligently recognizing gestures, so you can transform electronic instruments and how they’re played by humans.
Dog training. No, not like that – training your computer on dogs. From ml4a.
Meet Ioann Maria
We have as always a special guest facilitator joining me. This time, it’s Ioann Maria, whose AV / visual background will be familiar to CDM readers, but who has since entered a realm of specialization that fits perfectly with this year’s theme.
Ioann wrote a personal statement about her involvement, so you can get to know where she’s come from:
My trip into the digital started with real-time audiovisual performance. From there, I went on to study Computer Science and AI, and quickly got into fundamentals of Robotics. The main interest and focus of my studies was all that concerns human-machine interaction.
While I was learning about CS and AI, I was co-directing LPM [Live Performers Meeting], the world’s largest annual meeting dedicated to live video performance and new creative technologies. In that time I started attending Dorkbot Alba meet-ups – “people doing strange things with electricity.” From our regular gatherings arose an idea of opening the first Scottish hackerspace, Edinburgh Hacklab (in 2010 – still prospering today).
I grew up in the spirit of the open source.
For the past couple of years, I’ve been working at the Sussex Humanities Lab at the University of Sussex, England, as a Research Technician, Programmer, and Technologist in Digital Humanities. SHL is dedicated to developing and expanding research into how digital technologies are shaping our culture and society.
I provide technical expertise to researchers at the Lab and University.
At the SHL, I do software and hardware development for content-specific events and projects. I’ve been working on long-term jobs involving big data analysis and visualization, where my main focus for example was to develop data visualization tools looking for speech patterns and analyzing anomalies in criminal proceedings in the UK over the centuries.
I also touched on the technical possibilities and limitations of today’s conversational interfaces, learning more about natural language processing, speech recognition and machine learning.
There’s a lot going on in our Digital Humanities Lab at Sussex and I’m feeling lucky to have a chance to work with super brains I got to meet there.
In the past years, I dedicated my time speaking about the issues of digital privacy, computer security and promoting hacktivism. That too found its way to exist within the academic environment – in 2016 we started the Sussex Surveillance Group, a cross-university network that explores critical approaches to understanding the role and impact of surveillance techniques, their legislative oversight and systems of accountability in the countries that make up what are known as the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence alliance.
With my background in new media arts and performance and some knowledge, in computing I’m awfully curious about what will happen during the MusicMakers Hacklab 2018.
What fascinating and sorrowful times we happen to live in. How will AI manifest and substantiate our potential, and how will we translate this whole weight and meaning into music, into performing art? It going to be us for, or against the machine? I can’t wait to meet our to-be-chosen Hacklab participants, link our brains and forces into a creative-tech-new – entirely IRL!
In Mexican artist Lvis Mejía’s imagination, the ritual of sound blinks from Peruvian shamans to the Berlin zoo. We talked to him about his new work. It’s an experience of shared culture, collective unconscious – and a tale of assembling a career and collective between Mexico and Europe.
Born in Mexico but with his career emerging in the European art scene, Mejía is now a known name from appearances at Centre Pompidou, MIT, Transmediale Berlin, MUTEK (Montréal & Mexico City), CTM Siberia, ICA London, Secret Solstice Festival, and Visiones Sonoras Festival.
But while Lvis’ answers are complex, layered, and abstract, his music is anything but dry. Instead of a clinical collage of sound recordings, his project Anthropology of AmnesiA is full of acrobatic, cacophonous collisions – a musicircus for the headphones. It’s part meditation, part anarchy – sometimes unexpectedly moving from one to the other. Some sounds are found, some synthesized, some spontaneously orchestral. It’s music for a century of dirt-cheap international airfare and dislodged post-colonial hierarchies, a celebratory ceremony of chaos. And that seems a wonderful antidote to the designer-chic, on-brand conservatism of so much music today.
It’s all a perfect fit for his own collective, oqko, on which this record appears.
There’s also quite a lot of thought behind this, as his expansive discussion with us reveals.
CDM: I want to speak first to this act of remembering. Field recordings are a big part of your process, I understand. Is that connected to your own process of collecting and returning to memories? Does it transport you back to where a recording was made, or are these raw materials in your work?
Lvis: Each take brings me back to its source if needed, nevertheless – within the bigger picture – it is more about every element serving the common cause, a place where each single factor succumbs to the sum of all. The singular beauty behind them as raw materials resides in their essential immateriality and the uniqueness of exploiting time as a bridge between the recording process as an esoteric happening and the dry moment of rationalized sound treatment at the studio in order to articulate the final shape of it.
It has been a while since the circumstance of remembering; “be mindful of” (from the Latin re, ‘again’, and memorari) has surpassed some barriers of my own comprehension and became a recurrent topic of analysis in my work. Regardless, approaching it through different angles and disciplines, the events in Anthropology of AmnesiA address rather the symptoms of what I understand as sound essay.
Given this is such a multi-layered collage of sound, what is your process for gathering materials? Do you have an approach to collecting field recordings?
This album is a mysteriously unexpected hybrid. Its compositional process was directly affected by two other parallel endeavors. In other words, it is the offspring of a major ongoing project called Memory in Amnesia and one of my previous albums, AformA, which was released in 2012 on CMMAS.
Memory in Amnesia is a project based on the premise of a common origin. I believe that there is, at large, a single culture of humanity with a shared set of themes. The focus lies on following the trace of our ancestors and capturing the audio recordings of rituals, which I see as purest form of collective memory and as typical examples for different manifestations of a universal culture. Thanks to the Oral Tradition (viva voce) involved, these living ceremonies mark the influence of the past on the present. The route is not defined by myself, but the aim is to closely follow the footsteps of humanity, “out of Africa” (cf. Salopek), through Laurasia (cf. Witzel). This is the anthropological theory of a common origin. Most of the ethnological recordings derive from this project, notwithstanding the compositional and arrangement aspect in Anthropology of AmnesiA stems directly from the time I was writing AformA, an album allowing a contemporary classic and religious sound recordings symbiosis. It is actually since then that Anthropology of AmnesiA was designed to be some sort of sequel of AformA.
What about other sounds on the record – it seems there is a mix of field recordings and synthetic sounds; what are the sources for some of the more purely electronic timbres we here (or were they also derived from the recordings?)
The synthetic components were tailored with the intention of generating an organic dialogue between them and their counterparts.
Being completely frank about this, I have to say that strangely, this particular task was the most pleasant to do. I feel quite bad making such a statement, though. The thing is, recording a ritual is extremely exciting and it always helps me to put myself in perspective — it is an indescribable sensation. Nevertheless, one has to acquire a lot of sensitivity to the situation and its surroundings, both technically and as an “external” entity that potentially can interfere the sacral procedure, so it makes it difficult to “enjoy.” Whereas in the studio work, one is in control of the situation itself. I somehow felt that producing the electronic material was more like doing the sound design for a piece. I know this could open some redundancy, but I really saw myself assuming the work of a sound designer/engineer because of the huge respect I have towards the rituals and the rest of the field recordings.
The structure seems really fluid, through-composed. But is there a narrative, an evolution?
I was very interested in generating a dissolution of perceived time using sound as an architectonic instance and an abstract non-suggestive dramaturgy.
Due to the fact that there is a decent amount of information being delivered in a relatively short timespan, I opted for some pauses and fixed calm scenes. Through the implementation of pauses, one can draw a very different storyline. Silence is eloquent and majestic. Silence, when used effectively, secures meaning and opens layers of interpretation <-> comprehension. Silence is sacred, so I tried to set it as a cue actor.
The main structure itself was composed, pretty much, in a literary way.
That is one reason why I also like to understand the whole as more of a sound essay.
At some point there are some hard left turns into the realm of percussion, more conventional instrumentation – maybe even a Varèse reference. What’s the inspiration for these moments? (Were these all samples, or did you add some additional live recordings?)
I felt there was a necessity to have a longer presence of some concrete events, and rhythm embodies this purpose very well. This necessity existed for two main reasons. One in order to have a more recognizable component standing out from the composition through its repetitive character, and the second one is utterly linked to repetition itself. Repetition provides a sense of time loss, and as I mentioned previously, it was an important aim to try to influence time perception.
It is interesting that you quote Varèse at this point, because without his work being a direct reference for the album, I consider the realm of percussion on Anthropology of AmnesiA to be very clearly similar to one of his concepts, “organized sound.”
Most of the rhythmic parts are a combination of field recordings and some subtle dubbing or studio-recorded arrangements. It was important to me to keep the idiosyncrasy of the field recordings, so I was focused more on the detailed operations supporting them.
There are a lot of layers here. Can you talk about some of the sources? This is a collective unconscious; is it somehow international? What are some of the geographies that are sourced here; are you ever concerned that you’re appropriating something that’s foreign?
While the major project, Memory in Amnesia, takes on a more self-research-bounded historic ontology, this album procures to avoid secular neutrality. It is a piece evoking, as you properly mention, the collective unconscious. Most of the audio content could sound, until a certain extent, familiar to us. Even without knowing the exact source of it, there is a thread depicting this collective unconscious.
In point of fact, I decide to use a subheading for the title:
“Culture is essentially more than the reflection of human desire.”
(To me, this signifies more an insult to human species and an ode to human culture).
I am more concerned about scoping humankind as a one-culture phenomenon – more than one-race-act – and that is the very reason why the album examines a number of interpretations of rituals, orchestrations, chants, synthesis and field recordings – in the piece you’ll hear recordings of animals, fire, water and also the human heart – leaving appropriation aside. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and I am not adopting elements of another culture, it being a minority or not and myself being part of a dominant one or not, for the sake of my own aesthetics and/or benefits.
I highly respect all these expressions and traditions; they represent a big column of the project itself.
Just to mention some of the recordings’ precedences, here is a short list:
a Parisian Mosque, a Peruvian shamanic ceremony, some nice specimens from the Berlin Zoo, the chants of Japanese nuns and a Mexica (Aztec) ritual near Mexico City.
I know you come from Mexico; where did you grow up? My limited experience of Latin America versus the USA gave me the sense that the pre-Colombian, indigenous history is more present in urban life, that you’re always aware of these layers – maybe a bit like this soundscape. Is there a kind of pre-Colombian ritual sensibility here, or does your background play into this?
I grew up in one of Mexico City’s suburbs and left one year after finishing high school. I have always been aware of the richness of indigenous influence in Latin American, but I cannot claim this being a recurrent topic in my general practice. I belong to a mixed ethnicity, just one more under the veil of demographics embodying the result of a long species incest. Nevertheless I decided to finish the record with one fragment of the “Ritual del Sol,” a former Mexica ceremony. It is a humble homage to a geography that permeated my early years through its charisma, among others.
Of course, now we meet in Berlin – and now I’ve had some other Mexican colleagues move here as I have, not to mention meeting more who are thinking of the move. Is this just an international capital for people making sound, or is there some sense that this is the refuge for people making more experimental stuff; are your opportunities more limited if you remain in Mexico?
I cannot say my opportunities would be more limited if I remain in Mexico because I started my artistic career abroad, thus I do not have an objective thought on that. I could start making some comparisons about the scenes, the modus operandi, the socio-political and whatsoever, but those are extremely complex contexts and historic circumstances. Forgive me for having to pass on that this time.
Fortunately, there are some other interesting environments to work and develop worldwide. It is not an exclusivity of this city.
Berlin, Bärlin, BLN….
About the German capital being or turning into the hotspot of “#you-name-it-phenomenon”, sincerely I am already very bothered by the hype many people have over this city. It is true that it is a refuge – without any political connotation– some artistic communities, and that is good like that, but this place is already in the process of converting into a bubble based on relativity for the sake of serving the desire of international contemporary hedonism and ignorance. The “objectivation” of a city. YouknowwhatImean.
I truly believe that places live from a natural dynamic of exchange, but what has been happening through the past years, is in many ways a one-way-rolling-sphere and therefore, this could represent a one-way-ticket to the metropolis and its inhabitants.
Contrary to this, and in a more individual scale, when coming here persuaded of concrete projects, the city embraces you, and that is very comfortable. That is what in my opinion provides many with a home as an actor in the cultural landscape.
But yes, all in all, the positive ph(f)ases that Berlin provides within and throughout its web, are difficult to comprehend, it is not that simple to host so many like-minded individuals.
And speaking of the culture here, can you tell us a bit about oqko? What are its goals; how did it come together? Any other artists we should know?
oqko was formed back in 2015 by the other 3 members (Paolo Combes, Hugo Esquinca and Ástvaldur Thorisson) with the vision of running a gallery. I arrived a bit later, with the release of Shortcuts. Right within that process I felt I could start contributing to the journey. Ever since it has become a second home and a breeding-ground for ideas and inquisitiveness.
oqko tries to act in a more global way (in many senses). We are actually turning now into broader fields within investigative and editorial work, some sort of actual design studio questioning the formats when releasing music and hosting events, attended by 5 to 200 people.
Our commitment is focus now into the exploration of intersections between disciplines, sciences and (what I call) dysutopias.
Personally I see oqko, in the long term, as an “alternative institute exploring the phenomena of the now.” It is a long and intricate way to go, but we are trying to get there.
This month we are releasing ‘Nocturne Works’ by Swiss graphic designer and melancholic sound twiddler Romain Ioannone. A proto-botanical approach pairing his short compositions on cassette and the seeds of the Ipomoe Alba aka Moonflower.
Later on in September, within the frame of oqko’s second anniversary, we are starting to develop a sound installation in one of the former Soviet astronomical facilities in Armenia. More information is coming soon.
Another interesting project coming out at the end of the year is one of HMOT’s linguistic studies accompanied by a soundtrack of 5 pieces. I can see the Siberian artist delivering syncretic knowledge about the modern Russian and blasting modular synthesis.
And just before Anthropology of AmnesiA we have the remix album of astvaldur’s first album. Siete Catorce and Oly from NAAFI are involved as is Dis Fig from Purple Tape Pedigree and some of our other close friends from oqko and beyond.
So, be welcome to catch us at one of our events in order to discover the work of our own and of other artists affiliated to http://www.oqko.org
Shortcuts was also visual; are there visual aspirations or connections to be made here? How will the acousmatic listening sessions work?
Shortcuts was as an album, for which artists were commissioned to articulate the visual language to (mostly short) compositions of mine. In the case of Anthropology of AmnesiA, I sincerely hope not to evoke a single image at all. It inherited the tradition of “deep listening”, an exercise difficult to achieve. This piece is committed to actively focus one’s attention to the sound and the storytelling while being (physically) passive. So, the acousmatic listening sessions you mention, are planned to take place in different settings under diverse circumstances in order to explore the relation between the content of the album and the provided surrounding conditions.
A situation in which the vinyl, the record player and the sound system will be the main characters on stage, and the stage itself resides in the environment.
The release event, and therefore the first listening session, is going to be hosted on September 15th in Yerevan as part of the Triennial of Contemporary Art in Armenia. The exact dates for the following sessions in other cities are going to be announced soon.
Can you tell us a bit about your production setup? What do you use to compose soundscapes? What do you use when you play live? (It strikes me the material here could be composed and recomposed in a lot of permutations live.)
I have a studio with a variety of acoustic and electronic instruments, nothing out of this world though; I was never obsessed with a specific gear or instrument. I rather give every single object able to produce sound a chance to express itself and explore its possibilities. I am more amazed by the fact of the endless options one has to generate sonic output with pretty much whatever. Nevertheless, I am seeking the utopic wish of one day having a Museum of World Instruments with the option for everyone to play and record them. That is why I always try to bring, from the places I visit, an autochthonous instrument back home and use it at least once. I also ask friends to do that for me, so please understand this as an invitation to send one over, haha. When it comes to the live shows, it always depends on what and where I am going to play, but most of the times it starts with a laptop, the Nord Modular G2 and a MIDI controller as basic setup.
I am looking forward to exploring a form of re-composition or arrangement for strings, percussions and choir for an Anthropology of AmnesiA ‘s live version. After having worked with a full orchestra a few years ago, a jazz ensemble and two choirs for a symphony, the idea of expanding the performance modus has been prosecuting me.
While writing the music for that project a fellow composer told me: “My friend, do you know what is the problem of symphonic music? …. It is that you get addicted to (writing) it”. Unfortunately, he is right. Ever since almost everything I have been committed too in terms of music, involves at least one classical instrument.
It’s a cyber-technological future you can live now: a plug-in using sophisticated samples and rules that can make a plug-in sing like a Japanese pop star.
Yamaha has announced this week the newest voices for Vocaloid, their virtual singing software. This time, the characters are drawn from a (PS Vita) Sony video game property:
The main characters of the PS Vita games Utagumi 575 and Miracle Girls Festival, as well as the anime Go! Go! 575, Azuki Masaoka (voice actress Yuka Ohtsubo), have finally been made into VOCALOID Voice Banks!
The packs themselves run about 9000 Yen, or roughly 80 US Dollars.
Perhaps this is an excuse to step back and consider what this is about, again. (Well, I’m taking it as one.)
To the extent that pop music is always about making a human more than real, Japan embraces a hyperreal artificiality in their music culture, so it’s not surprising technology would follow. Even given that, it seems the success of Yamaha’s Vocaloid software caught the developers by surprise, as the tool earned a massive fanbase. And while extreme AutoTune effects have fallen out of favor in the west, it seems Japan hasn’t lost its appetite for this unique sound – nor the cult following of aficionados that has grown outside the country.
Vocaloid isn’t really robotic – it uses extensive, detailed samples of a real human singer – but the software is capable of pulling and stretching those samples in ways that defy the laws of human performance. That is, this is to singing as the drum machine is to drumming.
That said, if you go out and buy a conventional vocal sample library, the identities of the singers is relatively disguised. Not so, a Vocaloid sample bank. The fictional character is detailed down to her height in centimeters, her backstory … even her blood type. (Okay, if you know the blood type of a real pop star, that’s a little creepy – but somehow I can imagine fans of these fictional characters gladly donating blood if called upon to do so.)
Lest this all seem to be fantasy, equal attention is paid to the voice actors and their resume.
And the there’s the software. Vocaloid is one of the most complex virtual instruments on the market. There’s specific integration with Cubase, obviously owing to Yamaha’s relationship to Steinberg, but also having to do with the level of editing required to get precise control over Vocaloid’s output. And it is uniquely Japanese: while Yamaha has attempted to ship western voices, Japanese users have told me the whole architecture of Vocaloid is tailored to the particular nuances of Japanese inflection and pitch. Vocaloid is musical because the Japanese language is musical in such a particular way.
All of this has given rise to a music subculture built around the software and vocal characters that live atop the platform. That naturally brings us to Hatsune Miku, a fictional singer personality for Vocaloid whose very name is based on the words for “future” and “sound.” She’s one of a number of characters that have grown out of Vocaloid, but has seen the greatest cultural impact both inside and outside Japan.
Of course, ponder that for a second: something that shipped as a sound library product has taken on an imagined life as a pop star. There’s not really any other precedent for that in the history of electronic music … so far. No one has done a spinoff webisode series about the Chorus 1 preset from the KORG M1. (Yet. Please. Make that happen. You know it needs to.)
Hatsune Miku has a fanbase. She’s done packed, projected virtual concerts, via the old Pepper’s Ghost illusion (don’t call it a hologram).
And you get things like this:
Though with Hatsune Miku alone (let alone Vocaloid generally), you can go down a long, long, long rabbit hole of YouTube videos showing extraordinary range of this phenomenon, as character and as instrumentation.
In a western-Japanese collaboration, LaTurbo Avedon, Laurel Halo, Darren Johnston, Mari Matsutoya and Martin Sulzer (and other contributors) built their own operetta/audiovisual performance around Hatsune Miku, premiered as a joint presentation of CTM Festival and Transmediale here in Berlin in 2016. (I had the fortune of sitting next to a cosplaying German math teacher, a grown man who had convincingly made himself a physical manifestation of her illustrated persona – she sat on the edge of her seat enraptured by the work.)
I was particularly struck by Laurel Halo’s adept composition for Hatsune Miku – in turns lyrical and angular, informed by singing idiom and riding imagined breath, but subtly exploiting the technology’s potential. Sprechstimme and prosody for robots. Of all the various CTM/Transmediale commissions, this is music I’d want to return to. And that speaks to possibilities yet unrealized in the age of the electronic voice. (Our whole field, indeed, owes its path to the vocoder, to Daisy Bell, to the projected vocal quality of a Theremin or the monophonic song of a Moog.)
“Be Here Now” mixed interviews and documentary footage with spectacle and song; some in the audience failed to appreciate that blend, seen before in works like the Steve Reich/Beryl Korot opera The Cave. And some Hatsune Miku fans on the Internet took offense to their character being used in a way removed from her usual context, even though the license attached to her character provides for reuse. But I think the music holds up – and I personally equally enjoy this pop deconstruction as I do the tunes racking up the YouTube hits. See what you think:
All of this makes me want to revisit the Vocaloid software – perhaps a parallel review with a Japanese colleague. (Let’s see who’s up for it.)
After all, there’s no more human expression than singing – and no more emotional connection to what a machine is than when it sings, too.
More on the software, with an explanation of how it works (and why you’d want it, or not):
Digital? Ha. Analog? Oh, please. Biological? Now you’re talking.
The core of this synthesizer was grown in a lab from actual living cells sliced right out of its creator. Skin cells are transformed into stem cells which then form a neural network – one that exists not in code, but in actual living tissue.
Now, in comparison to your brain (billions of neurons and a highly sophisticated interactive structure), this handful of petri dish neurons wired into some analog circuits is impossibly crude. It signifies your brain sort of in the way one antenna on an ant signifies the solar system. But philosophically, the result is something radically different from the technological world to which we’re accustomed. This is a true analog-biological instrument. It produces enormous amounts of data. It learns and responds, via logic that’s in cells instead of in a processor chip. Sci-fi style, biological circuitry and analog circuitry are blended with one another – “wet-analogue,” as the creator dubs it.
And for any of you who hope to live on as a brain in a jar in a Eurorack, well, here’s a glimpse of that.
Artist Guy Ben-Ary comes to Berlin this week to present his invention, the project of a highly collaborative inter-disciplinary team. And “cellF” – pronounced “self,” of course – will play alongside other musicians, for yet an additional human element. (This week, you get Schneider TM on guitar, and Stine Janvin Motland singing.)
There are two ways to think of this: one is as circuitry and cell structures mimicking the brain, but another is this biological art as a way of thinking about the synthesizer as invention. The “brain” lives inside a modular synth, and its own structures of neurons are meant in some way as homage to the modular itself.
Whether or not cellF’s musical style is to your liking, the biological process here is astounding on its own – and lets the artist use as his medium some significant developments in cell technology, ones that have other (non-artistic) applications to the future of healing.
The cells themselves come from a skin biopsy, those skin cells then transformed into stem cells via a ground-breaking technique called Induced Pluripotent technology.
Given the importance of skin cells to research and medical applications, that’s a meaningful choice. The network itself comprises roughly 100,000 cells – which sounds like a lot, but not in comparison to the 100 billion neurons in your brain. The interface is crude, too – it’s just an 8×8 electrode grid. But in doing so, Guy and his team have created a representation of the brain in relationship to analog circuitry. It’s just a symbol, in other words – but it’s a powerful one.
Of course, the way you wire your brain into a modular synthesizer when you use it is profoundly more subtle. But that also seems interesting in these sorts of projects: they provide a mirror on our other interactions, on understanding the basic building blocks of how biology and our own body work.
They also suggest artistic response as a way of art and science engaging one another. Just having those conversations can elevate the level of mutual understanding. And that matters, as our human species faces potentially existential challenges.
It also allows artistic practice to look beyond just the ego, beyond even what’s necessarily human. CTM curator Jan Rohlf talks to CDM about the “post-human” mission of these events this week.
For me personally, the underlying and most interesting question is, if how we can conceptualize and envision something like post-human music. Of course, humans have long ago begun to appreciate non-human made sounds as music, for example bird-song, insects, water etc. Nowadays we can add to this list with generative algorithms and all kinds of sound producing machines, or brain-wave-music and so on. But the questions always is, how do we define music? Is this all really music? Can it be music even if there is no intentional consciousness behind, that creates the sounds with the intend of making music? It is a blurry line, I guess. Animals can appreciate sounds and enjoy them. So we might say that they also participate in something that can be called music-making. But machines? At this stage?
The point is, to have the intention to make music, you need not only some kind of apparatus that creates sounds, but you need a mind that has the intention to interpret the sounds as music. Music is experiential and subjective. There is this quote from Lucian Berio that captures this nicely: ” “Music is everything that one listens to with the intention of listening to music”.
Following this, we really would need to have an artificial or non-human consciousness that appreciates music and listens to sound with the intent of listening to music. And only then we could speak of post-human music.
Anyhow, thinking of the post-human as way to rethink the position we humans have in this world, it still makes sense to call such artistic experiments post-human music. They contribute in a shift of perspective, in which we humans are not the pivot or the center of the world anymore, but an element among many equal elements, living or non-living, human or non-human, that are intensely interconnected.
Robert Henke in his post-Ableton life has continued to see his stock rise on the media art scene.
But in some ways, that’s a funny thing. You’ll very often see Robert in one of two guises – as club act, or large-scale AV event. Yet the very thing that makes his style so distinctive is somehow the opposite of what you normally expect from those arenas. Robert’s approach is meticulous, detail-oriented, compulsive. In some sense, I think that’s what makes it scale. Rather than crank the volume, push emotions, and embrace spectacle (in the AV/concert) and the visceral (in the club), what you get is the surgically precise, artful use of those settings.
Now, it’s just my own personal taste, but I find that I can relate to Robert’s work emotionally most in the smaller scale works – the ones at the margins, the gallery performance, the sketch. These are the miniatures to the full-canvas, big budget numbers.
“Spline” isn’t physically small, but it is one of these marginalia in comparison to the flagship Lumiere. And talk about scaling: it’s hypnotic to watch even just in this short video.
It may add the element those lasers were missing, in all their precision – some organic rough edges. A trip into Spline promises to feel like a field trip to an alien aquarium.
Have a watch/listen:
120 meters of thin fabric are suspended from the ceiling to form a curved curtain. Four lasers in the corners of the room each project sixteen sharp beams of light onto it. The curtain’s shape has been calculated using the mathematical principle of spline interpolation. By tracing the surface with the laser beams, a complex geometric figure of 64 intersecting lines emerges, built of light and fog. Movements are synchronised with sonic events. Sound and lasers are controlled in realtime by an algorithmic process, creating an infinite number of variations over the course of the exhibition period.
This week also coincides with news about another titan of German media art, Carsten Nicolai, who has again separated his brand/label (Noton) from what had been raster-noton. But it’s worth saying that Robert is a unicorn in this scene, essentially a one-man studio all his own, aided by an assistant or two and joining in collaborations (as with Christopher Bauder), but insisting on writing his own code and getting involved in every element of engineering. That’s not a criticism of Carsten – on the contrary, a solo alva noto show is a great example of his own ability to jam in any setting. But since there is limited room in the world to start something like Noton, it’s worth considering that even Robert Henke’s biggest works still have his literal fingerprints on them, not just his aesthetic ones.
And that part gives me hope. The honest truth is, an emerging media artist simply isn’t going to have access to big resources. The whole medium is actually doomed if we assume the biggest budget and the greatest technical wizardry and the largest scale always wins.
But instead of looking to that as the model, an up-and-coming artist might look at the fact that a Robert Henke piece can be self-coded. It could use, in place of those fancy lasers, projection and still work compositionally. It could be as effective on a 2-meter wall as in a big venue.
And so long as we appreciate those elements of the medium, anyone can be a star.
And from these smaller sketches, Robert continues to build the flagship into a magnum opus, each a new version – the laser AV equivalent of Beethoven’s iterative overtures.
The best way to see the state-of-the-art evolution there will be through an event for which CDM is media partner, along with our friends at CTM Festival. (Like-minded, like-acronymed, we.)
Is artistic refactoring a thing? It is now. Here’s Robert on the process that has led to Lumiere III, the latest version we witness:
The desire to create a third iteration came not so much from a perceived problem with the second one, but rather from an abundance of new ideas created during the performances and also from the urge to update the graphics software in such a way that it also could drive upcoming laser installations. The Fall installation presented in 2016 already made use of the new software, and the Spline installation in March 2017 will also rely on it, but requires again a detail improvement which has not been integrated yet. That technical aspect is essential as it provides the means to create both more complex concert works and more complex installations without the necessity to reinvent the wheel each time again. A desired goal for Lumière III was also to focus more on sound design. The sound engine got a major update therefore, too.
The complete software package that is now driving Lumière, both visually and for the sound became so complex that writing documentation about it became an essential part of the work. Lumière III will probably get some minor updates and changes after the initial series of performances and is planned to tour for 2017 – 2018.
Read up on the whole history on Robert’s site:
And if you’re in Berlin, Technosphärenklänge #3 arrives on Friday the 12th of May, to the Haus der Kulturen der Welt. We’ll be bringing you more on the other partners in this event, as well.
What if scores could be touched and felt instead of only read? We’ve just come from a deep, far-ranging discussion with artist Enrique Tomás, a researcher at the Interface Culture Lab in Linz. It’s part of Enrique’s residency with CTM Festival and ENCAC – European network for contemporary av creation, who also support some of our work. And it’s presented as part of another of our MusicMakers hacklabs at CTM Festival. It’s worth sharing some thoughts already.
One of his more compelling illustrations of this was his PhD project, tangible scores:
Credits: Enrique Tomás – PhD at Interface Culture Lab – Kunstuniversität Linz
Supervised by Prof. Martin Kaltenbrunner
A “Tangible Score” is a tactile interface for musical expression that incorporates a score in its physical shape, surface structure or spatial configuration.
Using sound as a continuous input signal, both synthesis and control are available simultaneously through direct manipulation on the engraved patterns of the physical score.
Every interface is conceived from a different graphical score that still represents a musical idea but it has been also specially designed for providing a diverse palette of acoustic signals when touched. But more important, the tactile scores define and propose specific gestural behaviors due to the different affordances and constraints of the object in front.
Sound is generated through a polyphonic concatenative synthesis driven by a real-time analysis and classification of input signal spectra. Each of the scores is loaded with a specific sound corpus that defines its sonic identity.
Thus, “Tangible Score” provides a implicit visual and haptic feedback in addition to its sonic core functionality, making it intuitive and learnable but as well suitable as an interface for musical improvisation and sonic exploration.
But some stand-out issues from me were his thoughts on rethinking representation in musical interfaces, and returning to the body as the integral part of expression and thought itself. (That included examples from the likes of choreographer William Forsythe – bringing us full circle to some other CDM connections, as Forsythe’s work has been deeply involved in investigations of dance and technology and embodiment work in that field. Oh – plus we all have bodies. So there’s that.)
It also says a lot about the fundamentals of performance interactions – whether you’re just practicing your finger drumming on pads or building an entirely new interface. It says that part of what we’re doing is exploring our thoughts and emotions through our body – and that challenge requires new collaborations, new experimentation, and very often modifying or constructing new interfaces and techniques. That cuts to the heart of why we’re here in Berlin for another hacklab.
If you have projects you’d like us to see, or questions you’re pondering, do share. And thanks to our hosts at CTM Festival and Native Instruments as we venture into unexplored territory yet again. (Come visit us if you’re in town.)
Finally, some of Enrique’s music — which lately has been turning radios into instruments:
In this album, Enrique Tomás appropiates of SDR devices (Software Defined Radios) and makes them use as electronic music instruments. Through the active exploration of the radio spectrum (1MHz – 3GHz) at various european locations, Tomás builds artificial soundscapes with extreme ranges of frequencies and amplitudes.
Originally composed for a multichannel setup, here we offer you the stereo version.
Original recordings take in Linz, Madrid and Cambridge (UK).
Mixed and mastered in Linz at Berisha´s Studios.
First Performed: Salzamt Linz (pre-release) and STWST Linz (release)
Recording released in October 2016.
All rights reserved – Enrique Tomás
released October 18, 2016
Audiovisual experimentalist Robin Fox has been busy. In 2016, the Australian composer and laser charmer toured Europe, presented his latest show RGB to Atonal Festival, performed at the inaugural MUTEK.JP Tokyo, and opened an organization (alongside Byron Scullin) meant to “open a wormhole into the history of electronic music” via rare synthesizers, MESS (Melbourne Electronic Sound Studio).
And at the Melbourne Fringe Festival, he has premiered an installation of macro proportions. “Sky Light” took over Melbourne’s night sky with a reverie of laser beams shining from the city’s highest towers, connecting dots to turn the capital into a huge audiovisual installation. To add to the thrill-inducing experience, Fox composed new music on the Buchla synthesizer especially conceived for the hyper-spatial occasion).
Over the summer during Atonal festival, we chatted casually with Robin about his future projects, key moments in his artistic process, and some beautiful influential books and concepts. The voice recorder did stay on, and that’s very fortunate, because now we’re sharing with you a piece that professes fascination for electronic music with every turn of phrase.
Robin Fox at Atonal.
Anahit: Did you come here straight from the airport?
Robin: Yeah, I played last night in Turin – the same show you saw with Atom, “Double Vision”, was last night – so I haven’t had much sleep.
I remember when I saw the show at CTM Festival 2015, I was very amused by the lyrics. “Mr Fox will make you see in RGB” was a lovely moment in the show. How did that rhyme come up?
Atom [Uwe Schmidt] has an amazing sense of humor – throughout his whole career, actually – the earlier techno works that he did always show that and, of course, Señor Coconut.
That’s the one where he’s doing the Kraftwerk covers.
Indeed. In his work, he always has those – as he calls them – moments of tension, where he likes to break what’s happening, and leave people with the sense that they have experienced something strange. In that piece, “Double Vision”, there were a couple of moments where we made the piece remotely, because he lives in Santiago, and I live in Melbourne, so it was a really long distance collaboration, happening a lot over the internet. Then we had a short period of time in Krakow before the premiere, where we finally were physically in the same place.
He wrote this beautiful pop song, “RGB”, for the middle of the piece. He also proposed a moment where everything stops, and there are just images of boxers, who don’t connect [their] punches, and it’s really slow and totally changes the whole pace. I remember when he suggested these things I thought he was kind of crazy, but I think he has a brilliant instinct for humor – and for the way it can work really beautifully without being cheap. He’s an amazing collaborator.
One of my favorite satirical commentaries of his, and a really obsessive track about pop culture, is “Stop Imperialist Pop” – it’s on this Atom line of humor.
That’s right. But I’m a total hypocrite, because I love that song and I also love Lady Gaga.
That makes two of us. But I don’t find it to be actually hateful towards pop.
I’m not really sure about that. (laughs)
Now back to Double Vision, there was also an animation, as far as I remember – adapted to the lyrics. How did that come about?
When we started working together, I was just working on a new solo project, which was an extension of my old laser work. I had been using a single green laser, and I started working with red – blue – green lasers, because I wanted to split the visual spectrum up like that.
So I was working with audiovisual materials, and he was working with video – there was some real connection in the way we were working. I was interested in this very direct, electrical, synesthetic relationship between the sound and the image. And he was, as well, particularly in the way he performs video and sound simultaneously live, so there is a physical connection that he forges between sound and image. When we came together to write that piece, we both brought a lot of information from the solo work that we do in our other projects. So I guess he wrote the song about RGB because it resonated with him — because of the way RGB is represented in all computer formats, in pixel form.
How did you decide on switching from green laser work to something involving the RGB color standard?
The work that I’ve done with green lasers is about sound and geometry, because there was no color. And I wanted to start to work with an expanded sense of color. That totally changed the way I work. I used to make sounds, and then visualize them with the green laser. Now, I almost draw pictures of electrical signal, and then listen to them. So I draw pictures of electricity with the lasers and then translate that into sound – it’s almost like hieroglyphics, or pictograms.
The solo show I’m doing here at Atonal is the solo show that I was working on when I started working with Atom. So it’s basically a red laser, a green, and a blue one, all controlled separately, and all of the sound that you hear is also the electrical signal that you see. So it’s what I like to call a mechanical synesthesia.
The concept of synesthesia is central to your work. Is it an intention you bear in mind before proceeding with production, like a vector? And I’ve read that this interest was initially related to your experience with an oscilloscope?
That’s right. The way I started looking at sound first was with an oscilloscope. So you plug in the left and right of the audio signal into the x- and y- axes, and then look at the sound.
Also, when I studied music at university I used to write compositions on paper – and I was quite frustrated with that, and so I started to examine why. I wrote a short thesis about graphic notation and drawing sound, even with notation – so even when I was interested in more traditional music and I was studying that form, what interested me about it was how can you draw it. How can you express something in a non-linguistic, gestural form?
For me, something like music notation is a linguistic paradigm. It’s very much a language – and a lot of composers of the 20th century that I looked into then were interested in shifting traditional notation into a more graphic form. So I was into that even before I got a computer.
And you studied sound, as well.
Not always. I also studied Law and Literature first. But music was always around in my household. My mother was a composer as well, she wrote computer music in the 1980s, so she used to make music on the big mainframe computers, and my stepfather ran the Computer Music Department at the university in Melbourne, where I studied.
I was interested in sense perception, and also I had this childhood experience of synesthesia through my mother, so it was always there – and then there was this chance encounter with the oscilloscope, so it was a combination of those things.
It was something that was already in my mind, but then it became real in that moment, and synesthesia became something that was no longer a romantic, mystical idea – it became a very tangible and real connection, between sound and vision – that could be experienced without having this cross model association as a neurological condition – you could experience it simply by putting sound into a oscilloscope and looking at it. That’s how it all began.
Somehow that’s why the brain recognizes it as something like an archetype that you knew forever.
I think archetype is a good description actually. I think that when I first experienced this mechanical synesthesia with an oscilloscope, there was something really powerful in that moment. It was just like a second and it all came together. It was like a jolt in my brain, and I knew there’s something in that connection, that I wanted to work with – which I did, for 15 years or so.
Did you come across this more by trial and error, or did you have like a neuro-insight about how the brain converts the same signal by sight and hearing?
It’s actually a combination of both things. I was always interested in sense perception, because I was interested in writing music. I was interested in the way you perceive information as a human being. There’s a great book James J. Gibson, written in the 60s, called “The Senses Considered as a Perceptual System”. That book was talking about sense perception as a complete ecology, as a whole way of being in the world, rather than that very western scientific method of isolating the hearing and the sight and the touch and separating them out and working out how they work independently of one another.
So it’s like the way we work on genetics at the moment, splitting it all up and figuring out exactly what each piece does. I’m sure in the end it’ll work out that it’s something to do with the whole thing that we missed by zooming in on the picture.
What type of synesthesia was your mother experiencing?
It was sound and color and number, so there were three things. Every sound had a number and a color. And every color had a number and a sound. So it goes in a loop. You know, synesthesia is romanticized in the arts as a kind of creative gift, but when I got interested in it, later in life, and I talked to my mother about it more seriously, it was almost more like a mild form of autism – in the sense that she said ‘you can’t switch it off.’ And sometimes you don’t want to make that association, so she described it actually more as a barrage. But it had helped in her career as a singer, for example, because she made perfect pitch associations so she could sing in perfect pitch whenever she wanted very easily.
Was she also making music?
Is it released somewhere? There’s a growing interest now in the work of female electronic musicians and composers.
Yes, it’s an interest I’ve had for a long time, via my mother as well. She passed away a few years now, but she did leave a legacy of a few pieces. She didn’t make a lot of pieces, but the ones that she left behind are quite beautiful. I have to find them all, and I should make them publicly available. I helped her put together a CD before she died of all the pieces that she wanted to have remembered. And there is one composition that’s for electronics and brass ensemble and a choir, because she used to sing and write beautiful choral music, this piece called “Maze Songs”, which I don’t think has ever been performed properly – maybe before I die I’ll make that happen.
Now I definitely want to hear that record – I’ll ask you for a track of your choice; it would be great if we could share it.
Sure. My favorite one is called “Death of an Insect”. It is based on a poem of the same name. It’s a short poem about a bird killing a beetle. It’s a brief poem, but it’s quite dark.
She turned her voice into a bird through electronic manipulation and it’s quite dramatic. Do you know Trevor Wishart? He wrote an amazing book called “On Sonic Art”. He had this practice in the 60s and 70s, of merging sound fields that shouldn’t sit together. An obvious example is crossfading together the sound of the city and the sound of a jungle, so you get this sense of an intermingled space.
How do you define your working relationship with technology? How did you come into electronic music?
When I was a child, all the newest things would arrive in the house, for testing [via his father’s university position]. So I had access to samplers when I was very young.
I would just get obsessed with things. There was a sampler that had a car crash sound, and I used to play that car crash sound for hours. There was also a cat sample, so there was a car crash and a cat meowing, so I remember alternating those sounds musically. Then, I was a drummer in my teens. I still love to drum – I think I was never as happy as while playing the drums. It’s like meditation: you lose sense of time even if you should be kicking time – which is also probably why I was never a good drummer. You lose sense of space; it’s really beautiful.
Now I work a lot with analog synthesizers. I think it’s a very similar meditation. The journey of making electronic music with these analog machines, where you start with nothing and gradually you build a sound, and you hear something that you’ve never heard before.
How do you work with it now? Do you, for example, work on redesigning every possible setting in Ableton and stuff like that, or what software do you use?
Believe it or not, I don’t use Ableton except every now and then – and I think it’s incredible. When I decided to work with computer music, I decided to learn one thing, and that was Max/MSP, and it’s more about building things from scratch. So I thought, if I learn this particular thing, I can do anything. Now, with Max for Live you can integrate this creativity into Ableton.
In terms of work, for me, it was always building things from scratch, in the end — finding the simplest possible way to do things. And the way that I work with the RGB show is so simple that it’s almost stupid. It’s just like taking the voltage that makes an image, plugging it into a mixer and then turning it up. And that creates this incredible connection between the sound and the image. But it’s also the most simple and direct way you can do that.
Would you describe synesthesia as a leitmotif you seek in your musical work?
It’s interesting because the synesthetic work that I do has been the most visible. So it’s what I do in public the most. But I’m constantly making music, so I also make a lot of music for contemporary dance, and I was actually adding it up recently. I think in the last five or six years I made ten contemporary dance soundtracks which I need to release.
I think sound is at the heart of what I love. I get frustrated sometimes about this misunderstanding that I am some kind of lighting designer. I’ve actually done some lighting designs and it’s not for me. Too much paperwork! For me, sound is at the basis of everything. I spend a lot of time in the studio, working on sound and music and generating sound, also a lot of field recordings – the last Editions Mego release was “A Small Prometheus” which was mainly the soundtrack to a dance work by Stephanie Lake with a focus on recordings of heat, and intensity.
How did you record heat?
There are a lot of ways to record heat. Some are obvious, and I like to start with an obvious premise because it’s that kernel that often leads to more interesting development. So I started with just the striking of a match and recordings of fire – which is not particularly radical, but it was quite beautiful to do it and to analyze those sounds and try to work with them compositionally.
The next experiment was to fill up a bath with water and put some bricks at the bottom to hold down a fire blanket, and then put hydrophones in the water, and shotgun microphones on top of the surface. Then I got some hot coals from a barbeque, and plunged the hot coals into the water. You get what you would expect [at first], which is a hiss, like when you put water over a hot pan. That’s an amazing attack anyway, but then as the hot rocks settled into the water – the recording is about 2 minutes long – suddenly it starts to sound like you’re at the beach, the sound of the sea and birds, even. It sounds really natural and organic, and strange. And from there it changes into these almost electronic tones, moving through the water. So that’s another way of recording heat or at least heat dissipating through another physical system.
Also, when I was on tour once, during that process, every hotel I stayed in I recorded the electric kettle. I did this because each one has a slightly different ramp time. They actually sound quite similar, but they take a different amount o time to come to the boil. It’s always this low, filtered white noise to begin with, and then it grows into a bubbling sound, then there’s the click – and it turns off. So each one has that form, but each takes a different path. So I recorded twenty of these kettles. The idea was that maybe I could transform them into some multi channel, massive kettle.
Like the hundred metronomes of Ligeti.
Exactly. And the rhythmic event would happen at the end, when they all click out in various timings. So those recordings formed the basis of a track from A Small Prometheus.
These days I’m working a lot with analog synthesizers. I just started an organization called MESS with my colleague Byron Scullin– that’s Melbourne Electronic Sound Studio. It’s a not for profit organization, a studio that’s set up for access, not for profit. Basically people become members, and gain access to an incredible collection of antique (and new) electronic musical instruments, things that individuals could never really afford, but we managed to find collectors and musicians willing to contribute their collections for public use.
I don’t like the word museum though, partly because there’s a problem with museums and electronic musical instruments particularly, because when an electronic musical instrument goes to a museum, the policy is that it never gets switched on.
Yeah, it’s the death of it. Old synthesizers are like old cars, if you don’t start them, and play with them, they actually stop working. So the idea that they go into a museum and can’t be turned on just in case it breaks them makes no sense. What’s the point of looking at a synthesizer?
So MESS is definitely not a museum, in the sense that it is a collection of musical instruments that all function and work and are accessible to be played. They’re constantly being repaired; some are older than I am, and they need care! But it’s been a very rewarding experience to set that up. It’s taken a lot of the last couple of years of my life, actually.
Did you have a lot of artists in residency already?
We just had a short artist in residency with Puce Mary. She came to the studio and made some really fantastic stuff. She came over just as I started this tour, so I only got to spend a day with her. We have other residencies planned; we’re definitely hosting people from all over the place. Chris Clark from WARP records is there quite regularly, because he lives some of his time in Melbourne. We also are lucky enough to have Keith Fullerton Whitman who lives in Melbourne now as well, so Melbourne is becoming like a place for great electronic sound making.
Last but not least, I wanted to ask about the evolution from the more apocalyptic music you were doing before, to the more technology-oriented, abstract or sensory. Is it a change of philosophy?
The one thing that nobody can avoid is getting old, and the difference between people is how they decide to do it. I am a strong believer in the fact that people change, as they move through life. So I definitely don’t have the same sonic energy to put out as I had when I was making those earlier records.
Was it more a rage impulse?
Not really, we (Anthony Pateras and I) used to have an incredibly good time making music, there was a real sense of joy. Even when we were making stuff that would be considered noise, maybe even bordering on harsh noise (laughs) we never really went there. To us, it was very ecstatic, in a way – it was a statement of life, not of the negation of life.
A lot of the stuff that I make now is different because that energy has shifted. I just finished a half-hour composition for a piece that I’m doing in Melbourne, where I have 16 lasers mounted on a skyscraper in the Melbourne CBD, and I shoot them into the city, like a constellation. I made a piece of music using a Buchla synthesizer, which you can download and listen to while you walk around the city as an active experience. That’s a meditative piece, and actually melancholic. That surprised me, because I wasn’t trying to make something melancholic, but with the Buchla you always start with an idea and end up somewhere completely different. You know, I’m also making some music now that might be considered quite popular, or tend towards that style as well – which I haven’t released yet.
Popular, in which way?
Music you can dance to, for example. If you come from where I came from, which is the avant-garde, noise community, sometimes putting a beat with something is like selling out, or doing something too easy. There is this idea that everything has to be difficult. I don’t believe that, I don’t believe that everything has to be complicated, anymore. And I think that’s one of the energies that I lost, the energy of radicalizing something for its own sake. And this is why I think it’s about youth actually, because I feel that when I was younger, that radical energy was just there, it was coming out, it wasn’t like a choice, or a thing we were trying to do, we were just doing that, and it made sense, and it felt right. If I was to try do that again now, I don’t think it would feel right, I think it would feel strange, and I think it would feel foreign to me now.
It’s like over years you get to different means of expressing that raw energy. I was listening to noise and black metal when I came across your work. And well, that is a very problematic music to enact in your everyday life, but I think what gets you most hooked is the ecstatic feeling to it.
Yes, that’s adrenaline. I realized something about noise when I read this quote that sound is the fastest sense. When you hear something, it’ is quicker than your vision – and the reason is that sound goes directly to your reptilian brain, so that’s why when you hear a loud noise you get that fright. And what happens to me when I listen to noise, or experience it and particularly when I used to perform it is you’re in a constant state of that adrenalized feeling. That’s a great feeling – and again, doesn’t have to be negative. Adrenaline is often seen as negative but it doesn’t have to be so, it’s quite exhilarating.
Moving beyond stale means of framing questions about musical interface or technological invention, we’ve got a serious case of the feels.
For this year’s installment of the MusicMakers Hacklab we host with CTM Festival in Berlin, we look to the role of emotion in music and performance. And that means we’re calling on not just coders or engineers, not just musicians, and performers, but psychologists and neuroscientists and more, too.
The MusicMakers Hacklab I was lucky enough to found has now been running with multiple hosts and multiple countries, bringing together artists and makers of all stripes to experiment with new performances. The format is this: get everyone together in a room, and insist on people devising new ideas and working collaboratively. Then, over the course of a week, turn those ideas into performances and put those performances in front of an audience.
This year talks and performances we hope will tackle this issue of emotion in some new ways, the embodiment of feeling and mind in the work. It comes hot on the heels of working in Mexico City with arts collective Interspecifics and MUTEK Festival in collaboration with CTM. (Leslie García has been instrumental in collaborating and bringing the event to Mexico.)
The open call to come to Berlin is available for submissions through late Wednesday. If you can make it at the beginning of February, you can soak up all CTM Festival has to offer and make something new.
Now that our sense of self is intertwined with technology, what can we say about our relationship with those objects beyond the rational? The phrase “expression” is commonly associated with musical technology, but what is being expressed, and how? In the 2017 Hacklab, participants will explore the irrational and non-rational, the sense of mind as more than simply computer, delving into the deeper frontiers of our own human wetware.
Building on 2016’s venture into the rituals of music technology, we will encourage social and interpersonal dynamics of our musical creations. We invite new ideas about how musical performance and interaction evoke feelings, and how they might realize emotional needs.
I’m really eager to share how we bring music psychology and cognition into the discussion, too, so stay tuned.
And I think that’s part of the point. Skills with code and wires are great, but they’re just part of the picture. Everything you can bring in performance technique, in making stuff, in ideas – this is all part of the technology of music, too. We have to keep pushing beyond our own comfortable skills, keep drawing connections between media, if we want to move forward.
Berlin native Byrke Lou joins us and brings her own background in performance and inter-disciplinary community, which makes me still more excited.
In the audiovisual field, it’s hard to top the virtuosic collaboration of Christopher Bauder and Robert Henke. Robert Henke, known to many as Monolake, has himself taken on lasers as visual instrument alongside his signature electronic sounds (controlled in Ableton Live, the software he co-founded). But pair him with long-time collaborator Christopher Bauder (of WHITEvoid), and you have an epic duo.
What’s striking about their work is the careful, meticulous construction of synesthesia. Each noise, each flash of light or movement is carefully choreographed so as if to seem fused. “Kinetic light show” is the term WHITEvoid uses for the result. It’s a combination of mechanical movements (in this case, orbs that can shift up and down in saves), lighting (here, lasers), and spatialized sound.
The approach goes back to ATOM, which set light-up balloons in a dance of sequenced rhythms, accompanied by Robert’s unmistakeable, minimal sounds. The effect is obsessive-compulsive, to be sure. Oddly, on some level, it’s not terribly showy – despite the grand scale. It’s about precision – a point hammered home in the Deep Web by the lone orb that frames the start and end of the performance.
And maybe that’s why I’ve found some people are split on their response to the Bauder/Henke work. There’s a decided avoidance of narrative. (raster-noton told me in a panel in June that their tendency toward abstraction stemmed perhaps from a rejection of propaganda in the DDR – but Robert and Christopher are from West Germany, not East.) That even disappointed some, in particular, because of the reference to the Deep Web – in this case, evidently more pun than political statement. This isn’t some data visualization of people using Tor or something like that; it’s a spatial poem in light and sound.
But give yourself over to being entranced by it, and it’s as though you’ve just stuck your head inside a modern digital Oskar Fischinger work. The physical presence of the orbs gives that sense of real immersion, of getting intimate with this otherworldly creature of color as it undulates above your head. Color palette, orb, and beam can interact as compositional elements with sound to form different spatial-sonic constellations, constructed into phrases and larger sections like a symphony.
In Berlin, there were two versions – a meditative, sparse installation rendition, and then a more extravagant live performance. Robert was also able to “jam” on the materials from Ableton Live – and following the ovation after the premiere, did just that as the audience departed, a gleeful smile on his face.
The technology is no small feat. That involved producing perfect sonic effect in the reflection-happy former power plant of Kraftwerk, and years of experience in tuning the high-speed motorized winch system (on Christopher’s side) and high-power lasers (on Robert’s). Software is custom-created in TouchDesigner, that ubiquitous choice of high-end AV work.
But even with all this technology, you aren’t given a sense that the instruments themselves are meant to dazzle: this isn’t about laser light or orbs, so much as it is about those producing an effect of pure abstraction. And the scale, too, almost seems necessary to contain the volume of the work rather than the other way round. I think it’s notable that Robert is equally effective as a performer working with just one laser.
It’s a celebration of discipline, not extravagance. But by being such, it’s also richly sensory – because you can let yourself get lost in hue and timbre.
And since I missed out on the Ballets Russes, I think I’m lucky to be alive for this artistic meeting.
More images, courtesy WHITEvoid:
KINETIC AUDIOVISUAL INSTALLATION AND PERFORMANCE
BY CHRISTOPHER BAUDER AND ROBERT HENKE
COMMISSIONED BY THE FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS LYON
Deep Web is a monumental immersive audiovisual installation and live performance created by light artist Christopher Bauder and composer and musician Robert Henke. Presented in enormous pitch dark indoor spaces, Deep Web plunges the audience into a ballet of iridescent kinetic light and surround sound. The work was presented as a preview at CTM 2016 Festival Berlin and will be followed by its original presentation at the Festival of Lights Lyon in December 2016.
The generative, luminous architectural structure weaves 175 motorized spheres and 12 high power laser systems into a 25 meter wide and 10 meter high super-structure, bringing to life a luminous analogy to the nodes and connections of digital networks. Moving up and down, and choreographed and synchronized to an original multi-channel musical score by Robert Henke, the spheres are illuminated by blasts of colourful laser beams resulting in three-dimensional sculptural light drawings and arrangements in cavernous darkness.
The installation brings together decades of separate research and experimentation by two artists with unique visions and passions for sound and light, and by innovative companies working in these fields. High-end laser system manufacturer LaserAnimation Sollinger provided the technical expertise and development for this very specific spatial laser setup. The high precision motor winch systems with real time feedback and the main control software are provided by Design Studio WHITEvoid in collaboration with Kinetic Lights. This novel combination of computer controlled kinetic elements and laser systems allows for setting animated end points to normally infinite laser beams. DEEP WEB uses light as a tangible material to construct threedimensional vector drawings in thin air.
The work was originally commissioned by the Festival of Lights Lyon 2015, and developed in cooperation with local producer Tetro. Due to the festival’s cancellation after the tragic events in Paris, Berliners had the unique chance to attend an exclusive preview before the project will be presented in December 2016 in Lyon for the Festival of Lights 2016.
An artist and designer working in the fields of light and installation art, media design and scenography, Christopher Bauder focuses on the translation of bits and bytes into objects and environments, and vice versa. Space, object, sound, light and interaction are key elements of his work. In 2004 he founded the multidisciplinary art and design studio WHITEvoid, which specializes in interactivity, media, interior architecture, and electronic engineering.
Bauder has brought his installations and performances to art events and spaces around the world, including Centre Pompidou Paris, MUTEK Montreal, Festival of Lights Lyon, Luminale Frankfurt, The Jewish Museum Berlin and The National Museum of Fine Arts in Taiwan. He is best known for his city-wide light art installation “Lichtgrenze”, created in 2014 together with his brother Marc, for the 25th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall and his large scale kinetic live shows ATOM and GRID. Both in cooperation with Robert Henke.
Alongside his numerous releases as Monolake, Robert Henke is also well known for the music, audiovisual installations and performances he has been creating under his own name since the early 90s. Due to his background in engineering and fascination with the beauty of technical objects, the development of his own instruments and algorithms has always been an integral part of his creative process. Henke also co-developed the omnipresent Ableton Live music software, which since its invention in 1999 has become the standard tool for electronic music production and completely redefined live performance practice.
His installations and performances have been presented at Tate Modern London, the Centre Pompidou Paris, PS-1 New York, MUDAM Luxembourg, MAK Vienna, the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Australia, KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin, and at countless festivals.