Thursday, June 25, 2009

conductor vs network

The sage on the stage or the dynamic inter-connectivity facilitated by a central organizer. Great music and great knowledge distribution depend on different degrees of this sort of interaction.

My day job for the last year and a few months has been closely involved in experimenting with and creating new educational technology resources at a major university (CSUEastBay in Hayward, CA) However my years of previous work in the dynamic distribution of musical decisions and actions via networks is never far back from the front of my thoughts. This is a consensus based way of creating music with machines that had grown out of a post-hippy community utopia vision that was ironically fostered as an under current in the new anarchy unleashed by the "new wave" and punk culture of the early 1980's. For all the "Sic Vicious" sneering and safety pin earrings, there was a feeling of a new paradigm based on a consensus of the crowd. This undercurrent fostered the now burgeoning open source software revolution and manifested itself in my life as series of musical projects, most centrally charcterized by the work of the HUB (Please reference this link for more than enough information about this work )

The over riding experience of playing music in this new way was one of a sort of intense engagement that appeared to the audience as a complete separation of the actions of the performers from what they were seeing. The visible concentration and small motions did not coincide with the resulting bombardment of sound the issued forth. A recently revelation from my son, now 28, who grew up on this musical genre was that the listening experience was alway discorporate and detached for him. This is something that Iannis Xenakis had mentioned to me when I had the rare opportunity in 1983 to work with him for several weeks. He walked up to one of the 10 loudspeakers that we were setting up for a live acoustimass mix of his "La Legend D'eer" and put his hand on it and said only, "This is the problem with electronic music". I understood this to mean, the discorporate nature of using the loudspeaker itself was the problem of connection. It was only later when the electronic pulsing of the loudspeaker created an atavistic collective dance urge that something more primal was satisfied, but those of us who have been working at the filigree at the edge of these beats are examining something more ephemeral and less easily understood and defined.

Cage tried to let us believe that it was all alright, and to a certain extent this world of sound is all alright, but there is a way to proceed with care and attention to detail that was clearly the unspoken part of Cage's (and Tudor's) process when I saw them working. All these great pioneers of electronic music were equivalent to conductors in a more traditional context. Conduits for the enery they were harnessing.

In some ways none was more emblematic of this concept of a thought conductor than Pauline Oliveros particularly with her "Sonic Meditations". This ground breaking work, a set of simple instructions about sonic mindfulness, pointed the way to a new type of musical context based solely on collaboration based in procedure. The late great composer/performer/theorist Jim Horton maintained that Oliveros' early works in this vein carved the conceptual path that is now referred to as "free improv". This focusing of the intent through guidance has in some cases led to a form of unwarranted idolatry, almost cultism, but there is no doubt that it deserves our respect and attention.

At the time of Cage's death in conversation Serge Tcherepnin told me he was under the impression that "the only real future would be in collective work and cooperation between artists, colaboration." It is this sense of unification and collective consciousness that is at the basis of what makes any orchestra great, and I would say that technology gives us the advantage to circumvent these mechanisms of performance and create on-going contexts of performance and sonic intervention that are at once anarchistic and yet unified in the common need for the expression of that place between the random noise of exsistence and the single beautiful tone of a bell.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Cellphonia: 4'33"

Call: 1.212.937.7725 to add your note (of silence)
Visit: to see the scrolling score and listen to the installation performance at The Miller Gallery, Carnegie Mellon University.
Commissioned by New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIME)

Designed by: Steve Bull & Scot Gresham-Lancaster