Video Feedback Jam, Digital Folk Music, and Studio Nostalgia

Submitted for your perusal, in the eye candy/ear candy category, is this latest meme™ jam, a meditation on video feedback set to an unpolished, unsequenced electronic jam from 1991.

Visuals: two channels of Rutt-Etra video synthesizer set against a blurred video background. Input video is pointing at the screen for feedback. Created in Quartz Composer.

Music: Bad Mind Time™ Digital Symphonies, first few minutes of Volume I, part 1. The entire collection—over 12 hours of electronic and acoustic sketches and improvisations—was created between 1991 and 2005, and can be streamed, downloaded, or remixed here. BMTDS is one big, online musical sketchbook: lots of thumbnails, doodles, and scribbles in sound. Some sketches are very rough, some are more developed. There are multiple experiments with samplers, sequencers, keyboards, live and extended instruments, and voices.

You may hear echoes of your own electronic studio: Ensoniq ESQ-1 synth/sequencer, Roland S-10 sampler, Roland R-8 drum machine, the Casio VL-Tone, the Kawai G-Mega and Emu Proteus Orchestral midi modules, Alesis Microverb, Mackie 1202 mixer, Pioneer RT-2044 2/4 track open reel deck, Tascam DAT deck, Tascam 788 digital 8-track; Opcode Studio Vision Pro software run on a Mac Iici (25 mHz processor!), and/or the PowerBook 5300cs (100 mHz !). Ah, good times! And p.s., I’ve sold or given away almost all that vintage equipment (as well as all but 8 or ten LPs from a collection that was once maybe a couple thousand records), because, well, I’ve moved around a lot.

This is the sixth in a aeries of meme™ jams, short videojams to document how I’ve approached the form. The other five can be downloaded on iTunes.

Channeling Cage, Cunningham, and Paik in Quartz Composer

So this work—Trialog and Interludes— began as a formal idea for a visualist presentation by meme™ (media experi mental ensemble): audiovisual compositions by individual meme-bers of the group would function as interludes between three “takes” of a larger, 17 minute work for visualists, dancers, and electronic music, the Trialog.

The Trialog is expressed in two ways—first, as a set of  three-voice chantings of micronarratives (this is done in Flash, and the score is below) played as bookends to the entire performance (in an ideal performance; didn’t happen this time), and secondly as perhaps an imaginary 3-way dialog between the works of John Cage, Merce Cunningham, and Nam June Paik, representing their progressive approaches to music, dance, and electronic visual media, and giving the work its aesthetic frame of reference, but re-imagined through contemporary means. Are we good with that?

This was meme™’s first performance exclusively using Apple Quartz Composer to manage all the visuals and interactions. The fantastic Rutt-Etra Video Synth plug-in by Vade was a key visual element: it enfolded the dancers in a 3D mesh that responded in real-time to their movement.

Each dancer was asked to develop a vocabulary of 12 events, and she was given an instruction track she listened to over a clip-on iPod mini.

 

Special thanks to dancers Stacee Lanz and Kori Epps, and to my graduate class, Creating Interactive Culture: Cynthia Gutierrez, Michelle Hipps, Chandra Maldonado, Miguel Oubina, Steven Wang, and Xuan Zhang.

And a word on the sound component: This was also the first time meme™ performed without a pre-produced sound track (I know, high time). Compositionally, each of the visual sketches had a set of samples associated with it, and those samples were mixed live via Kevin Holland’s wonderful Sapling software (free, for those of you running Mac OS). The dance video above used a bunch of samples I created from the waterphone; other sections remixed Tallis (Spem in Allium—see earlier post—with editorial voices provided live by Bebot, the Singing Robot), as well as SkyRon’s Bister Badgent, my instrumental track Echo Mic (appearing on the American Sock™ soundtrack), and music I wrote for an interactive presentation of humanitarian work in Cambodia (based on indigenous melodies and instruments). Samples to be available soon!

Music of the Spheres

The image is the class video intervention object my Advanced class created last spring—it’s an image of Music of the Spheres by Francinus Gafurius, published in Florence in 1496. The Eight Muses (Clio, Caliope, Terpsicore, Melpomene, Eratho, Euterpe, Polihymnia, and Uania—such great names of nobody’s daughters these days) are mapped to the heavens (the five known planets, Moon, Sun, and stars) and the Eight Musical Modes (Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, and their hypo-counterparts). A Cerberus-headed serpent at the bottom of the chart invokes the Four Elements, and so forth. An amazing graphic, and I refer to it in my little book (forthcoming post) as a 15th century interface design. Anyway, we rendered the image in our class in plexiglass, magic marker, mylar tape, shiny broken pieces of CDs, shards of wire mesh, and the broken electronics from ancient synthesizers.

But, one needs some suitable music to contemplate Music of the Spheres, so let’s go with the 40-part motet Spem in alium (probably between 1572-1596) by Thomas Tallis. The above linked recording, long out of print, features the Clerkes of Oxenford, conducted by David Wulstan. If that’s not celestial, shoot me. And look at the score sometime, to see how a composer manages 40 individual vocal parts.

(I can’t top that. Maybe the closest I ever came to celestiality is the moment of Vin’s Suicide from the BLUE HAMMER soundtrack. Go to iTunes U, download EarFilm2, and Vin enters other dimensions at around 17:44.)