The Extensible Toy Piano Project
"Play!: Contemporary Composition, Technology and Listening"
Symposium: Saturday, November 5, 2005
Schedule & Abstracts
Session I: Performing/Composing
chair, Benjamin Korstvedt (Music, Clark University)
Presenter Paper Title Michael Boyd "Becoming…everything else" Paul Sanden "Modern Performers and Modern Performance: Technology’s Various Roles in Performances of Electronic Music" --BREAK-- Sonya Hofer "The “I’s” Have It: Multiplicity, Technological Mediation and Electronic Music" Helen Thorington "On the networked_performance blog"
Session II: Listening
chair, Parminder Bhuchu (Sociology, Clark University)
Presenter Paper Title Derek Michael ‘"The Performative Condition of Prosthetic Thought" Brad Osborn "An Application of Character-Driven Hermeneutic Listening and Analysis In Radiohead’s Idioteque" --BREAK-- Anahid Kassabian "On not paying attention to music" Nancy Newman "Dr. T’s Toys go Tingel–Tangel: Frederick Hollander’s Extensible Orchestra"
Visual art installations, now common in museums, can be found increasingly in public spaces. For example, Robert Irwin’s installation 56 Shadow Planes, which features hung white scrim that subtly accentuates building features, is found in Washington DC’s Old Post Office Building, a large, bustling shopping and dining area. In many other less interesting cases, artists have created a plethora of banal, “corporate” art that is found in office buildings throughout our country. Despite this omnipresence of both engaging and cliché visual art in public spaces, sound and performance installations are much rarer (aside from popular radio being broadcast from ceiling speakers) though notable examples exist such as Rzewski’s Street Music and Oliveros’s Bonn Feier. A recent work of mine, Becoming…everything else, follows this tradition by integrating aspects of performance and installation art. In this paper I will discuss the piece itself, three recent performances, and issues raised by those events.
Becoming…everything else is a work for three or more performers from any discipline to perform within a single building over a larger timeframe of their choosing (day, week, month, etc.). Once these initial parameters are met, performers decide when to actually perform (for any duration) based on their personal schedule. Performances are shaped by cards that are distributed to all participants who each begin with seven. Example 1 provides sample cards (there are a total of 67 different cards). Each card provides information about when to start and end the card (based on things seen, heard, or encountered), and a graphic and verbs that are simultaneously interpreted by the performer. Because of the generic nature of the graphics and verbs, performances are naturally quite varied. Detailed performance instructions are provided in Example 2.
This piece was performed in the University of Maryland College Park’s Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center for a single day event on April 30, 2005, Maryland Day, and then for the entire first week of May while normal academic and performance activities proceeded. It was additionally performed in the Fine Arts Building at the University of Maryland Baltimore County on May 15, 2005. Though mostly musicians were involved, they were drawn from different disciplines such as performance, theory, musicology, and composition; the College Park performances featured fifteen performers while the Baltimore County performance utilized six. Many interesting interpretations emerged during these performances such as creating a string mobile in a stairwell that hung actual performance cards, segmenting spaces with “caution” tape, encircling oneself with paper and other objects, and holding a cryptic conversation with other performers in a prominent lobby. In addition to heightening one’s perception of the buildings, these performances raised interesting issues including the blurring art with daily routines, contrasting performer and “audience” reactions at different times and locations, and reveal much about how observers act when encountering the unusual in familiar spaces. This paper will additionally incorporate extensive photo documentation as well as performer statements and interviews.
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"The “I’s” Have It: Multiplicity, Technological Mediation and Electronic Musics"
Artist who adopt different names or even different identities are nothing unusual. Some of music’s most famous alter egos include: Florestan and Eusebius, a.k.a. Robert Schumann’s comical pen characters, whom he also depicted musically in miniatures; Igor Stravinsky, whose compositional oeuvre reflects a chameleon-like body of musical styles for which we now have created specific names like “neo-classical Stravinsky” and “serial Stravinsky”; Parliament, a.k.a. P-Funk, a.k.a., Funkadelic, the same funk band, but reincarnated under different names for different audiences; and “ Prince,” whose various names changes, including a symbol, a sentence, and back to his original stage name, have resulted in no one knowing what to call him anymore. That a plethora of musicians continue to adopt pseudonyms accordingly does not seem to be such a significant phenomena. But in the following, I will argue that recent technologies have further enabled, de-stigmatized, and for some, made preferable, or necessary, this idea of the performed, multiple identity with profound social and cultural ramifications. Drawing upon ideas offered by both cybertheorists and musicologists examining notions of the multiple personality, I will profile one multifarious musician with the aim of framing this practice within broader theoretical discussions of identity opened up by recent discourses. One such figure who fits this model is German techno-chameleon Uwe Schmidt, an artist who has radically intensified the creation and practice of multiple personae. In profiling Schmidt, who may be better known as Señor Coconut, Atom HeartTM, Geeez ‘N’ Gosh, Flanger, The Lisa Carbon Trio, or about 100 other pseudonyms, I will illuminate how this increasingly widespread practice problematizes aspects of representation, marketing and reception by undermining notions of authorship and thus enacts certain key concepts of a postmodern and posthuman existence.
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"On not paying attention to music"
In this paper, I will argue that accounts of music have systematically ignored listening. The absence of serious engagement with listening threatens the study of all musics, but perhaps ubiquitous musics most obviously. Ubiquitous music--The constant presence of music in homes, public spaces, and various media forms and the ways audiences consume it--has been given almost no scholarly consideration. I will argue that listening can and must be given a central place since it serves as the network across which contemporary subjectivity is distributed; without theorizing listening, therefore, one cannot theorize subjectivity.
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‘"The Performative Condition of Prosthetic Thought"
That we might better understand the cultural and aesthetic significance of the new “ live performance” software paradigms - what they do, and what they do that is new – I will in this paper consider these sonic cultural artifacts by way of cybercultural, and postmodern, philosophy and theory, presenting postulations concerning prostheticization, the composer and the listening subject, the embrace of influence, and the proleptic anticipation of the new. I will begin laying the ground by taking up Michel Serres and Marshall McLuhan's respective ideas on prostheticization, in outlining the networked computer as a prosthetic brain, and by extension our environment - which today is the digital network - as an environment of prosthetic thought. That is to say then, the meta-reality by which we construct the world is now simultaneously and without lag, outered reality.
I will then make use of this understanding of our contemporary environment, firstly relating it to the paradigm of the sound installation, drawing as example on the navigable works of Christina Kubisch, in which the listening subject recalls, or
reperforms, not necessarily one's own, sonic memories. Further, I will posit that Kubisch's comment that 'the visitor becomes a “mixer” who can put his piece together individually', signals not so much the death of the romanticized author, and the priveliging of the subject, but rather that this listening subject is the very much alive and well, repositioned composer, for whom then, said sound installation moves from being a kind of toy, to becoming an instrument. What this also signifies, I will argue, is how the “anxiety of influence”, has long since become the embrace of influence - influence no longer a hindrance to, but indeed a strategy for, achieving the romantic notion of originality, as regurgitation
becomes creation. The sound installation, defined as a prosthetic archive performance instrument, is thus employed in mining the past for speciative aims. I will show how the new live performance software paradigms, such as Ableton
Live and Steim Centre's LiSaX, take the prosthetic archive performance instrument a step further, in looping back into prosthetic memory, for further performance and speciation aims, the real-time generation of new audio (and visual)
events. With regard to the intensiveness of the feedback-looping of the real-time present into itself, my penultimate postulation will be that what this does is foster the Deleuzian notion of the "shock-to-thought", or to use the science fiction term, the
proleptic anticipation of the new. In it's mapping to the more widely observable, ever-more-intensified, speciative condition of digital networked culture, this documented phenomenon will return me to my initial postulation on the
contemporary environment. I will thus conclude by positing the new live performance software as a paradigm of the contemporary cultural condition – that is, the performance of real-time prosthetic thought and memory as the meta-reality that
constructs outered reality, which then feeds back into the meta-reality, producing an ad infinitum looping process of constructing ever-newer meta-realities, and outered realities.
1 Serres, Michel 'Hominescence' 2003
2 McLuhan, Marshall 'Understanding Media' 1964
3 Shaviro, Steven ‘Connected’ 2003
4 Braxton, Anthony, 'Tri-axium Writings' 1985
6 Barthes, Roland ‘Image, Music, Text’ 1977
7 Cage, John 'Silence' 1961
8 Patterson & Pitaru 'Insert Silence' CD-ROM
9 Bloom, Harold 'Anxiety of Influence' 1973
10 Tidd, Anthony 'Sound of Logic', online essay, 1999
13 Deleuze, Gilles 'cinema 2' 1989
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"Dr. T’s Toys go Tingel–Tangel: Frederick Hollander’s Extensible Orchestra"
The reasons for the critical and box–office failure of Stanley Kramer’s 1953 musical, The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T, remain mysterious. Was the movie too silly or too highbrow? Too childish or too grown–up? The film’s seeming contradictions are epitomized by its centerpiece, an 8–minute ballet choreographed by American dance pioneer Eugene Loring and accompanied by a romantic, Hollywood orchestra. The incorporation of ballet into the mass–medium of film was regarded by contemporary audiences as proselytization for “Culture.” However, the sophistication of the scene is undercut both visually and aurally, through fantastic props—Dr. Seuss’s crazy, bold–colored musical instruments—and by Frederick Hollander’s score, which extends the orchestral palette with unusual timbres and allusions to popular culture.
This paper argues that the cognitive dissonance produced by this number has been a key factor in The 5000 Fingers’ persistent circulation. For more than fifty years, this playful and humorous film has goaded audiences to re¬–examine assumptions about the position of the listening subject and the possibilities of an unfettered musical imagination. Somewhat surprisingly, similar concerns are found in the essays, “Who Cares if You Listen” and “History of Experimental Sound,” by Milton Babbitt and John Cage respectively, published just a few years after The 5000 Fingers’ release. Unlike these essays, however, Hollander’s score admits direct knowledge of popular culture. Specifically, the ballet scene draws upon the vocabulary of jazz, a reflection of Hollander’s youthful work directing cabaret ensembles during the 1920s. Taken together, all three composers represent late 20th–century modernism, having shaped the questions that persist into our own century.
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Brad Thomas Osborn
" An Application of Character-Driven Hermeneutic Listening and Analysis In Radiohead’s Idioteque"
The postmodern field of musical hermeneutics, which is largely concerned with generalized plot structures in music, has received considerable attention from such scholars as Patrick McCreless, Robert Hatten, and others. Some such scholars, such as Carolyn Abbate and Marianne Tatom Letts, have taken this narrative one step further to include character-driven studies, especially in forms of music such as opera and even the music of Radiohead where text and lyrics can provide additional clues.
This paper shows how a character-driven hermeneutic listening and analysis of Radiohead’s song Idioteque, from the album Kid A, reveals a truly rich plot in which two opposing forces (S and P, representing perhaps a conquistador and a native land under attack) battle for control. This battle is paralleled on the musical surface by an intense metrical conflict in which P’s comfortable six-pulse dance beat is assailed by S’s large 20-pulse structure where the idea of 2+3 pervades all. In this frame of mind the resulting metrical dissonances alone yield a fantastically captivating study, but are ultimately made all the more enjoyable and musically significant by a marriage with the hermeneutic literary critique. In the following paragraphs I will succinctly outline the dramatic points of my hermeneutic reading for Idioteque.
In the exposition, P states its six-pulse dance beat (fig. 1), only to be soon over-taken by S’s 20 structure, in which all P can amass is a mechanical alternation of hi-hat and snare, a mere remnant of its once beautiful self (fig 2).
After a brief counter-attack at the end of the exposition, S reveals its leader, or figurehead, in the rising action. This figurehead proclaims (lyrically) that a battle is coming with a rather “run for the hills” tone, and to this P remains in its broken, paralyzed state until the climax (fig 3).
At the onset of the second verse P makes a significant counter-attack on the battleground of S’s 20, keeping its true identity almost intact, except for a miscalculation it makes the larger grouping structure. This flaw, from an almost Freudian stance, shows how that which P has been trying to repress (the 2+3 structure) comes out in larger form (fig 4).
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"Modern Performers and Modern Performance: Technology’s Various Roles in Performances of Electronic Music"
This paper will discuss the influence of electronic technology on modern performance contexts. Since the invention in the 1920s of the electric microphone, and especially now in the age of affordable, mass-produced digital technology, twentieth- and twenty-first-century performers have faced a new shift in the development of their art which has yet to be dealt with sufficiently by music scholars. Electronic technology has now permeated our lifestyle to such a degree that it holds a substantial influence over many of our cultural practices, including the performance of music. In performances of electronic music, various relationships are established between technology and performer, and these ultimately call into question our traditional definitions of performers and performances.
In the performances of some works, for example (such as Davidovsky’s Synchronisms series), “live” human performance is coupled with pre-recorded music, placing the performer in a partnership with technology in the communication of music to the audience. In these situations, the performer’s interpretations no longer provide our only means of engaging with these pieces of music in performance: we now also receive the composer’s transparently mediated “tape” component. In other performances (such as those of Stockhausen’s Mikrophonie II), a performer’s agency is challenged even further by the involvement of electronic signal processing. In these situations, performers relinquish control of their sounds to a sound engineer, a piece of electronic technology, or both.
In addition to challenging performative agency, these scenarios also question an audience’s traditional engagement with the visual and physical act of making music. In the performance of a piece of acoustic music, for example, we can relate each sound that we hear to a visual physical gesture made by the performer(s). In a piece for performer and tape, however, we observe an incongruency between the sounds produced by the performer and the sounds produced by the prerecorded tape. In the performance of other works, such as John Cage’s Cartridge Music, technology is employed in such a way as to create sounds that do not seem to associate properly with the physical gestures that produced them.
Throughout this discussion, a few general themes will recur that bear serious consideration. The perceived tensions between humans and technology that are sometimes made apparent in performances of electronic music give rise to discussions about performative agency, lack of human presence, and perceived disembodiment. Yet these same perceived tensions are the source of much of the aesthetic appeal of electronic music, and must therefore be considered from various perspectives. This paper makes no attempt to offer definitive statements on any of these issues, but rather to bring several points to general attention, so that we may begin to evaluate the very important influence of electronic technology on modern performance practices.
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"On the networked_performance blog"
On July 14, 2004, Jo-Anne Green and Helen Thorington of Turbulence.org, along with Michelle Riel, Assistant Professor of New Media & Department Chair, Teledramatic Arts & Technology at California State University Monterey Bay launched the networked_performance blog (http://turbulence.org/blog) to explore the shifting paradigms in performative cultural practice. The goal was to take the pulse of current network-enabled performance practice, to obtain a wide range of perspectives on current issues and interests—which we felt were under-examined—and uncover common threads that might help shape a symposium in 2006.
With more than 1,012 entries in its first year, the networked_performance blog reveals an explosion of creative experimental pursuits, as artists investigate the possibilities opened by the migration of computing out of the desktop PC and into the physical world, and by the continuing advances in internet technologies, wireless telecommunications, sensor technologies and Geographic Information Systems (GIS).
Helen Thorington proposes to examine the musical work on the networked_performance blog – there are several hundred works involving music and sound -- and show that the most forward-looking works are conceived to provoke interaction between people, and between people and their spaces. More often than not they encourage people to be performers within the work and thus to enable or realize the work.
Examples of this can be found in the work of Jason Freeman. In Glimmer, performed at Zankel Hall in New York City in January ’05, Freeman, engages the concert audience as musical collaborators in the shaping of the performance. Each audience member is given a light stick, which he can turn on and off during the performance as a way of instructing the musicians. The information is picked up by computer software (which analyses a video of the audience's use of the light sticks) and the instructions conveyed to the musicians. Freeman was one of several collaborators on a Max Neuhaus project, Auracle, “a collaborative, networked, voice controlled group instrument,” the purpose of which is to make possible “real time, interactive, distributed music-making over the Internet.” The word “distributed” as used here means that the work engages a broad public in ‘playing’ with sound. (http://www.turbulence.org/blog/archives/000285.html)
Malleable Mobile Music, the work of Atau Tanaka at the Sony Computer Science Laboratory in Paris, is similarly a system for collaborative musical creation on mobile wireless networks. It extends music listening to a proactive, participatory activity.
This focus on the user as the shaper calls into question the accepted nature of performance and introduces a shifting relationship between the artist (composer), artwork (composition) and audience.
The paper will locate this practice within an historical continuum (Cage’s 4:33, Kaprow’s “Happenings,” the Situationists, Fluxus, etc.) and suggest that this trajectory is beginning to redefine the performative as a socially networked, collaborative model for artistic and cultural practice.
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David Claman (College of the Holy Cross) <email@example.com>
Matt Malsky (Clark University) <firstname.lastname@example.org>
This project enjoys the support of the Group for Electronic Music (a joint endeavor by Clark University and The College of the Holy Cross). Special Thanks to:John Shirley; Magnetic Flux Music.
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