DAVID BEHRMAN & PAUL DeMARINIS a conversation with BEN AZARM
DB: Using microcomputers in music is kind of a bottomless pit, because there is no end to what you can do once you start doing programs for music. And one thing that I've found that helps is to just define the instrument that you'd want to play. When a computer program defines the playable instrument in terms of a hardware system, then the music is a more human thing again, because you play the instruments though you were playing a video game with a joy stick. The inventiveness then comes back to human level, and you tend to forget about the computer programming. Until I added the touch-sensitive electronic finger-board to my input-output box, I was always fussing with my programs and always changing them, and yet I still wasn't satisfied with them. But this new addition has given me a chance to forget about the technology and made me feel that I'm very much in touch with music again.
PD: I got a chance to play it recently, and it's amazing, because you can pick it up and start exploring it without needing to know a language for it. It is very easy to figure it all out, and by just playing and listening to it you would naturally get a kind of musical intuition about it.
DB:This is not an idea that I originated. Actually, Paul and I worked together investigating the idea of instruments last summer. Other people have too, and I think the microcomputer technology which is mainly artificial intelligence is perfectly suited for making new musical instruments for people to play. Because computers are capable and are fast enough to acquire information from hand-held instruments and translate it into musical terms.
BA: And the electronic complexities of it do not necessarily have to create a departure from acoustical elements and confine it with the electronic context only.
DB: No. In fact, Paul is making an instrument that is mainly an acoustical one which is driven and played by a simple microcomputer.
PD: I always have tried to make simple instrument with microcomputers, but I was never quite happy with the simple sounds that came out of them, because I always wanted a lot richer sound. I figured one way of doing that was to add on a lot more hardware, and then I thought another way was to make an acoustic instrument that was to be driven and played by the computer. So I made this instrument that has twelve strings and the strings are resonated by electromagnetic coils which in turn are driven by the microcomputer. The electronics involved are not really that complicated. It is just a three by four inch John Bell microcomputer board that fits inside a box with the usual gadgetry of a Digital to Analog convertor, a voltage-controlled triangular oscillator and some other circuits. The sound that comes out of the box itself is just like an awful oscillator sound, but what comes out of the acoustic instrument is a lot more interesting and richer sound. It is basically like a fancy loudspeaker, and yet it still has all those decision-making properties of the computer. It seems to me the decision-making process was sort of lacking in my previous systems. It was like a situation where most of my systems were producing all these wave forms, but they would do the same thing to every wave form and the same thing to every frequency.
During the time of my dealing with the computers, I realized that the concept of process was very interesting to me, so I tended to go for musical identities. If our involvement in music is with two kinds of attention, playing and hearing, then it is important that there be identities, the kind of entities that can be recognized and followed. I guess what was possible with acoustic instruments was the melodic and harmonic materials, and it somehow got to a point where the identities of the instruments got to be pretty much frozen and could not have been played around with anymore.
What has always left me cold about synthesized video is that if somebody comes on the screen who looks like a person and, let's say, is selling a product--when that spot is over and that person walks off the screen, you have no doubt that person still exists, and that the product still exists. They have the quality of an identity. but if some pattern comes on, unless it is a simple non-geometric figure or is something which already has some external identity, when that pattern goes away the existence of it is very unconvincing. I see this as a problem with synthesizers, too. During the time I was building my own kind of synthesizers, I always had to deal with the problem of the ambiguity of the sound, and it seemed most of the character identities were lost from one place to another--just like a waveform which really doesn't mean anything. Nobody can identify a harmonic value of a triangular wave from over the whole range of hearing as being meaningful just by itself. It doesn't have any form or characteristic. It is merely a harmonic.
DB: Or if it happened to have any, it would be so simple that it is almost beneath the realm of perception compared to any acoustical sound.
PD: In dealing with the real time aspect of my systems, I realized that what I was processing had always ended up having a much stronger identity than the process itself, and the kind of ambiguity which existed didn't allow my system to make any musical sound that I was really interested in. I think that made me notice that I was then much more interested in the process. But with microcomputers that whole world has changed for me. It is still electronic but it has given me that extra depth which could enable me to make things that are more identifiable and meaningful to hear again. pp. 1,11