CNMAT talk 2-16-93
COMPUTER MUSIC: A SOCIAL ART? (abstract)
Chris Brown, Co-Director of the Center for Contemporary Music (CCM) at Mills College in Oakland
I will present recordings from recent interactive works whose focus is as much on the new ensemble relationships they require as on the sounds that are produced by them. New instruments express a changing relation-ship between musicians, their personal identification with sounds, and with issues of spontaneity, physicality, and control. The function of music as a social ritual that conventionally edifies but potentially experiments with social relationships is extended by the changing role of machinery in performance. Is the value extended to this (and any) musical practice derived as much from the way it embodies and expresses social realities, as it is from some more abstract, inherent quality that it may hold for us as a work? Or does the abstract nature of this data-oriented medium itself call into question the notion of the individual masterpiece?
interactive works whose focus is as much on the new ensemble relationships they require as on the sounds that are produced by them.
taking a look at this practice of computer music as an ethnomusicologist might - how does this musical practice function for the individual and in the society? answers to this question are complicated by the fact that we need to be more specific about which computer music we are talking about - if computer music is exclusively represented by institutions such as this one and Mills' CCM which focus on research and experimentation, or apply to all the other situations where computing machinery is taking part in performance
- the valid question raised by the general context of the latter is, does the use of computers in popular media enhance or detract from the spontaneity and physicality of performance arts ? I think that obviously the answer is that it detracts more than enhances, because it is used primarily as a means to extend control over the product instead of focusing on ways in which it can change the process
- new instruments and ways of playing music will come about not by breakthroughs in our research, whether it is involved with new machines for creating new sounds, new ways of implanting our intelligence in machines, or with new ways of relating us to each other musically. It will only come about because masses of people start doing it for the entertainment of their own spirits.
Returning to the ethnomusicological vein, music fulfills many different functions in many different cultures, but for myself I choose to require it to fulfill at least these requirements:
1) It must serve to release the imagination, to incite it creatively - this is one that most of us require;
2) it must mentally, physically, and spiritually present a challenge with which we can labor - if music is too easy to do, then we don't bother to do it - why else to explain the lack of interesting music concrete now that it is so easily accomplished with digital editing;
3) it must engage us socially, putting us into relationships with each other that intrigue, give us reason for our technical chase - these could include love, fame, money
- but beyond the goals of personal achievement so valued by the present, the success (the survival) of a new (or old) form of music in the culture at large has to do with the necessity of the relationships between the people making it that it presents.
Music is rightly admired for the successfully co-ordinated, synergistic activity necessary for its creation and production. It is really in this region that I think computer music has something to offer, and that as I make them, my pieces that use computers are really intended to explore.
Whatever the innovations of sounds, or technology or the instrumental techniques that go into making them, these are just the surface of any music. Music functions and is valued because of the way that it reifies social relationships
- that's why contemporary music is not just a style, its a necessity for life. And why a music that comes from this time and place (and I mean that very locally) that doesn't deal in at least some way (even symbolically) with machines and the ways they mediate our social activity may possibly not even be contemporary !
HIS MASTER'S VOICE (1985) , 5'30" DAT
issues of spontaneity, physicality, and control
first works were dealing with the desire to extend instrumental music into the sonic vocabulary of music concrete - extension of computer controls was addressing first a physical problem - the awkwardness of access to modulation controls while playing another instrument lead solved by automating them
- the structural design this necessitated lead to perception of the program as a compositional instrument - building the instrument was part of the compositional process which would have been subverted by predetermining the sounds
- the program is a field for exploring interactions between instrumentalist and the rhythmic cycles of timbral/pitch/texture transformations - these cycles are defined by linear relationships between perceived pitch, loudness, and (in a limited way) rhythmic articulation and the various parameters of the signal processors
- but these relationships are not fixed, but change throughout the piece, sometimes triggered by the performer pushing a switch, and sometimes by a determinate cycle of changes running to completion - a cycle whose timing may be influenced by performer input.
Despite the simplicity of these relationships, the performance problem I had was one of giving up control - the computer's ears were unpredictable enough, and the bank of processing and its relationships to the vagaries of pickups, amplifiers, and space complex enough, that the instrument became a foil, rather than an extension, of the performer.
DUO (1989) - (or, how much can you do with 1 cheap reverb) bass and LXP1
Two players equally responsible for one sound - one player provides the acoustic signals, the other the reverberant distortions - the midi-keyboard is used to provide discretely exact control over transformations - continuity is improvised
HALL OF MIRRORS buy the CD
CHAIN REACTION (14'30")
the image is of an ensemble whose playing changes the response of each other's instruments
- the history of the performance affects airdrums performer is used to mediate/alter the relationships between all players in the trio - their changing relationships are integrated into the structure of the piece, along with written-note score, directions for improvisation, and progression of synthesizer sounds triggered from percussionist
- technically, these changes are made possible by the ability of the airdrums to send out different notes dependent on notes appearing at its input (these are sometimes routed from the computer, which derives them from a midi-keyboard and sometimes from the saxophonist (pitch follower)
- among the ensemble relationships developed are: piano feeds pitches to bass synth triggered from airdrums;
piano transposes sax (one voice), transposition gated rhythmically by airdrums;
piano harmonizes sax (four voice) gated by airdrums while the other tube starts and stops long enveloped cymbals sounds;
airdrums gates bursts of synthesized percussion, pitches derived from sax improv;
airdrums controls reverb/delay parameters applied to sax - each axis uses velocity and trigger to set parameters in the delay, gating may be related to midi-keyboard being played;
airdrums also plays and transposed according to velocity long samples of water and insects
HUBRENGA (3 minutes)
two computer networks, one of musicians (The Hub) connected acoustically via the radio, and linguistically by the Renga form
WHEELIES - (10 minutes)
one computer supplies midi-clock, which can and does vary during the course of the piece - all players slave to the clock, but subdivide and change their tempo relations to it -
New instruments express a changing relation-ship between musicians, their personal identification with sounds, and with issues of spontaneity, physicality, and control.
The function of music as a social ritual that conventionally edifies but potentially experiments with social relationships is extended by the changing role of machinery in performance. Is the value extended to this (and any) musical practice derived as much from the way it embodies and expresses social realities, as it is from some more abstract, inherent quality that it may hold for us as a work ?
Does the abstract nature of this data-oriented medium itself call into question the notion of the individual masterpiece ?