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Monday 18 July 2011

BiLE in Venice

Juju and I flew in a day before the Laptops Meet Musicians Festival, because we wanted to go to the Biennale. Our flight was at 6 am, so we slept about 2 hours before having to leave my flat at an ungodly hour. Once arrived in Venice, the first thing I noticed that it was about 15 degrees warmer than London. And I wondered why I thought it would be a good idea to wear steel capped boots!

We found our hotel, which said it could get us a 35% price reduction on tickets for the Biennale, starting the next day, so we spent the first day wandering the narrow streets and looking into churches. It was my 3rd time in the city, but I have always gone during the art show, so had barely been in any of the churches before. They are astounding.

Covered in marble and monuments many metres tall. The Basilicas have no shortage of relics. I saw St Theresa's foot! (Random aside: My mum had a piece of St Theresa in a tiny envelope, which I accidentally dropped into the carpet. Some bit of her was hoovered up and is now sanctifying a California landfill)

We walked down to San Marco square. It used to be described by The Rough Guide as "pigeon infested," but this has improved vastly since I was last there. Street vendors no longer sell pigeon food, thank gods.

At about 10, the lack of sleep and the heat were too much for me, so I went to go lie down in the hotel. I had booked a hostel bed, but they had reassigned us to a tiny hotel room with a double bed. It was theoretically a step up. I thought about asking for twin beds, but then didn't want to bother, as it was only for one night. I lay down on the bed and turned on the fan and lay awake sweating, wearing nothing but my shorts. For hours.

Juju came home at 2 and we both lay on top of the bed in nothing but shorts. It was not the best night of holiday ever.

Shelly and Antonio arrived the next morning, so we checked out and went to meet them at the bus station. We went then to the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore, where we were going to be lodged by the Foundazione Giorgio Cini.

Even though it was early in the day, they gave us our room keys and let us check in. during the long process of photocopying passports and signing documents written in Italian, the festival organisers happened by and told us where to meet them for dinner and gave us a sneak peak of the concert hall.

We took a vaporetto boat back to the rest of the islands and went into some of the national pavilions for the Biennale. This year, they're scattered around the city and largely free. The one that I liked best was Taiwan. Theirs was focused on sound. They had a large listening room and then a smaller room showing two movies side by side that were different perspectives on the same scene. Two sound artists were recording the harvest and processing of some grain or rice. They started in the fields and then tracked it's harvest, it's transport by train, the processing in a factory, the distribution, the processing of the chaff. They worked directly with the workers and got recordings form insides the cabs of vehicles and very very close to things. It was amazing, especially the sound, but also augmented by the video. I think it was my favourite thing at the Biennale this year.

The Festival took us out to dinner that night and the two subsequent nights, always to the same nice restaurant. The food was fantastic.

Antonio was talking about how he always buys travel insurance because he always accidentally eats something that he's allergic to. Then, moments later, he confused a fish for a chicken. Fortunately, medical intervention was not required, although he is allergic to fish. People teased him for this, but I totally understand not recognising something that you never eat. I don't really know many French food words for meat items because I never ate them, so I never made a strong association with the word.

The next day, we had the early sound check slot, so we did our technical stuff and then had some rehearsal time. We switched to using a BT home hub, in the hopes that supercollider would beachball less often. This was semi-successful. Supercollider just has a major issue with wifi, as far as I can tell. Also, when there were two iPhones running touchOSC on the network, data transmition got really blocky and jerky for SC users. I don't remember if the Juju was effected on Max or not, but we had to have one of them switch to using an adhoc network to talk to their phone. That fixed that. So after endless faffing, we had a not overly inspiring rehearsal. Then they took us out for lunch at the one café on the island. It ended with coffee and ice cream, as all good summer lunches should.

We spent the entire afternoon writing our 10 minute presentation on the ensemble.

The evening started with a presentation from David Ogborn about the Cybernetic Orchestra, the LOrk he runs. He spoke about how he uses a code-based interface for some pieces. He described this as Live Coding, but I think that term is much more specific and refers to a particular type of on the fly code generation, whereas, the players in his group start with a programme already written and make changes to it.

Code-based interfaces are, of course, entirely legitimate ways to write and control pieces. They also do have some pedagogical value, however, I think it's easy to overstate that case. For example, I can open a CSS file and make a bunch of changes to it in order to get roughly the look I want out of my website, but I cannot say that I know CSS and would not know CSS unless I actually studied it by reading a book or several help files and coding something from scratch. However, by being able to modify code, it does make the user into a kind of a power user and does demystify code, so it's a good thing to do, but one needs to keep it in perspective.

After the longish presentation, BiLE then played for about 20 minutes. We played XYZ first and Partially Percussive second. I think that musically, they work best in the opposite order, but Antonio decided he thought it would be best to do my piece without graphics and as the projection screen was on the other side of the room than where we were playing, we had to do that order or nobody would look back to see the video for XYZ.

Shelly's piece is normally for 4 audio players, so it scaled down very well for 3. I accidentally hit the mute button instead of fading out, so the end was a bit abrupt, but it was ok. It came out well enough that another band wants to cover it!

My piece is normally for 6 audio players and probably should have been practiced more for the smaller group, as it came out a bit more roughly. One thing that came out very nicely is that the piece ends with a bell sound and as that rung out, the church bells all over the city were ringing, so the bells sounded like a part of the piece. That was really nice.

Then we gave out presentation which probably went on for a bit longer than the allocated 10 minutes. I'm not sure if I said anything useful, especially after Ogborn spoke for so long. Normally, I want to differentiate between LOrks and BiLE, which is a laptop ensemble, but every band at LMMF was a LE, so I think this distinction was just confusing.

After the concert, they took us all for dinner again and then a bar. We all slept in a it later than intended the next morning, except for Juju, who flew to France. Shelly and I poked around the Foundation's buildings and then went up the church's clock tower in time for the noon bells ringing. I set up my zoom recorder, put in ear plugs and waited for the bells to ring. I could feel the vibrations of the big bells on my body and there were amazing partials after the ring. I haven't listened to the recording yet, but I'm hoping it's good.

After lunch we went to the Biennale at Giardini. We didn't see much of it, actually. There was an unfortunate tendency for the national pavilions to have art pieces that were self-referential and about themselves. Or worse, about the Biennale. I get that it's a lot of pressure and whatnot to do something for such a prestigious show, but maybe that pressure could be let out via long, rambling blog posts rather than via the art.

One high point was the USA's pavilion, which had what seemed like some very smart critiques of consumer capitalism, all with a million corporate sponsorships. They had the symbol of liberty in a tanning bed, for example. Given the number of sponsors and the apparent popularity, I am slightly afraid I'm attributing irony and critique where none exists, but for the mean time, I'm impressed by an upside-down army tank with a treadmill on it.

The big pavilion there had a bunch of stuffed pigeons on it. There were some cool things inside, but I was not blown away by anything. We didn't get very far in before we needed to go back for a concert.

The second night of LMMF was all music and no talking, which is good. All the bands were very good.

After dinner and the bar, we went to the old greek-style amphitheatre on the foundation grounds and opened a couple of bottles of wine. I crashed out around 4 am, but most everybody else stayed up until 5. Or at least, most everybody younger than me.

We were hanging out a lot with Benoit and the Mandelbrots, a live coding quartet from Karlsruhe, Germany. They were signing songs from youtube videos. At one point, we were walking along and everybody was singing the theme song from Super Mario Brothers. They have their finger on the pulse of pop culture, or at least internet memes.

The final day, we checked out and then went to Arsenal to see a last bit of the Biennale. Like in the last 2 times I've gone, I've like Arsenal more than some other parts of the show. (Although, this year, the stuff in the city centre was really the best.) There were a lot of pieces made out of trash, and dealing with waste and refuse and the disposability in general of pop culture seemed to be a major theme this year. There was a large hanging dragon made of discarded truck innertubes and fine embroidery, it was cool.

One very impressive piece was a giant statue, in the style of ancient Greece or Rome. It was as tall as a double decker bus. But instead of being made of marble, which it resembled, it was made of candle wax, was full of wicks and was actually burning. Already the heads of the figures had come off from the burning. The whole thing was gradually being consumed during the course of the exhibit.

Another piece that caught my attention beastiaity video from Germany called Tierfick. The animals involved were taxidermied. The video was disturbing but also silly. I actually do like stuff that tries to be shocking.

So, I heard a bunch of good music, ate a bunch of good food, stayed in rooms that were a reasonable temperature, talked to a lot of good people and saw a lot of art. I hope gigs like this become a trend for BiLE!

1 comment:

rukano said...

nice review of the biennale and LMMF. liked most the part where we were all in venice.

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