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Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Managing Extremes

Puberty . . . wow. I won't say that being 20 years older than last time isn't making it easier, because it is. But getting used to a really different hormonal situation still takes some time to get used to it, like probably several months. In the mean time, I'm kind of feeling at extremes. I'm not neutral about much of anything. Things are either amazingly great or the worst fucking thing ever. Sometimes my mind can change on whether something's fantastic or awful within a a very few moments. It's emotionally exciting and as such is completely awesome! It totally fucking sucks!

I try to moderate my responses when I'm around people, and this actually helps keep them moderated. So I'm trying to get out more. Also, music helps. My appetite for loud, angry punk rock has recently re-emerged. And, again similar to my youth, making music helps a lot. Even esoteric, algorithm driven, computer pieces that sort of play themselves. They almost help more because of the emotional detachment necessary to get them working, but the need for emotionality in evaluating the results. It's like slowly releasing pressure from a canister.

Although, it doesn't sound like slowly releasing pressure from a canister. It sounds like the canister has just fucking exploded and killed three people. Or something. Yesterday morning, I was actually shaking the music building. I feel a little guilty about that, because the studios are supposed to be soundproofed, but I kind of forgot about how low frequencies will travel through soundproofing and through walls and apparently disturb a class next door. Oops. My supervisor came by afterwards to see what was going on, mentioning only once his class was over that it had been hard for them to hear. Oops. He left, telling me to "rock on." So maybe it's ok in moderation, as long as I don't disturb all his classes? I could get night hours and not disturb other people, but then I would lose all the value of interacting with other people. Valuable interactions like, "what are you doing??" and "I feel sorry for your ears."

A couple of years ago, Brum got a gigantic grant of something like £500000 to buy speakers and fix up the studios. And they did a great job. We can gig with well over a hundred discrete audio channels and speakers. It boggles the mind. When I was a wild and crazy youth, I really wanted to have a million dollars worth of speakers and A/D converters. Think of all the things you could do! But my laptop only has stereo outs, and it turns out that if you have 8 or 16 or N number of speakers, you have to carry them and all the cables and everything, so I learned to love stereo. I don't think that I had a real idea of what to do with 60 speakers then, and I really don't now. I mean 60 speakers! You can do it just to show off your vast speaker wealth (and thus how incredibly sexy you must be), but I think it's better to justify it somehow. The piece you do with 60 speakers should really need that many of them. My colleagues all succeed at this, but I want to work within my pre-existing vocabulary of very artificial sounds. If you're using recordings of water drops, you can just send a bunch to the upper left side and then that part of the audience feels like you're going to drip on them. But what do you with sine tones?

Well, obviously what you do with sine tones is to come up with something that will hurt the audience! You assault them with sine tones! Out of tune, slowly phasing low frequencies shaking you from every direction! Muahahahaha.

I think I want to do an installation. There's a lot of hierarchy and social control inherent in the concert hall paradigm. People come in before everything starts, sit quietly and appreciate your music, clap at the end and the shuffle back out when everything is finished. But 60 or 100 speakers really creates a physical space. There's no one sweet spot in the middle where everything sounds best. There's sounds coming from every direction. If you're close to one particular speaker, that's entirely different than being in the center or at another edge. I don't want to dictate to people how long they should listen or where they should listen or how they should listen (or if they should bother at all). I'd like to give them something that slowly evolves over several minutes and gradually returns to it's starting state and then re-evolves. That kind of music requires a patience that I don't want to enforce. I don't want to make people wait it out if they're not drawn in on their own. I don't want to tell them them what to do. Of course, anything presented has some hierarchy, it's inescapable. I've got control of the speakers and they don't. But it does have a slightly more anarchist edge to it when they don't have to just sit and suffer through if they don't want to.

So I want to hurt people, but in a non-heirachical, listener-empowering fashion. I can't decide if that's the most fucking stupid contradiction ever, or the most fascinating idea to ever emerge from the academy.


Polly Moller said...

Let's do "Inquisition" with all 60 speakers! How about in November?

Les said...

the speaker system of doom is gigging only. it's not permanently installed anywhere. 20 or 30 students show up and spend several hours setting it up. then there' hours of practicing for people presenting. then a concert. then hours packing up.

I can enquire as to whether there's anything sscheduled for november. The curating-types are really into acousmatic music, so this would be very outside their normal booking. Normally they do a bunch of 10 minute long fixed media, live diffusion 8 channel pieces.

Not to say it's impossible, just that it would have to be abridged and wedged into a larger event.

Polly Moller said...

How about the week of November 16-22? That would rock...

Les said...

Um, I want to get this damn thing WORKING before I even begin to think about spatializing it. Neither the thing itself or putting it into many channels is a trivial undertaking.

I just got my wireless USB hub which was going to solve the problem of not electrocuting you, but it doesn't work, so I have to return it. I'm going to apply for a residency at STEIM to get some help on this. The options at this point are to find another wireless USB thing that does work or building an opto-isolator board for USB or find a way to make bluetooth talk to my as-yet-unwritten program or run it off an unplugged laptop. I'm leaning towards the last option, but it is the most perilous in a gig. I'd give it upwards of a 25% chance of failure. things get unplugged. The battery runs dead between the sound check and the show. Then there's no show. The work around is to have a CHARGED spare battery, which is expensive, but solves the problem. "Just being careful" is not a solution, since things always get kind of fucked up at gigs. Obviously, an working wireless USB is the best solution, because I don't have a fucking clue how to do the other ones. This is just getting data into the computer. Wtf do I do with the data? Don't know yet. Working on it.

Anyway, STEIM can definitely help me with the opto-isolator thing, which is the cheapest solution. Hopefully, they won't freak out about liability. I don't think any British foundation would touch this with a ten yard pole. They put up bird boxes in the park yesterday to encourage nesting. This project took ten months because all the boxes needed to be insured in case they fell on somebody's head or something.

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