Verdacht

electroacoustic piece for viola, electronics, and alto.glove controller

Herberger Institute, Arizona State University, December, 2016 | NYCEMF 2017

The substrate of Verdacht is the unique collision of the post-digital with traditional string instrument technique. The “suspicious” (verdächtig) element here is that very collision: it is a place where the viola does not belong, an uncanny fate for an ancient instrument made of wood, hair, and entrails. All electroacoustic music finds itself in this situation, but my goal is to push the “electro” and “acoustic” dimensions to opposite extremes.  Nearly all of the sonic transformations that occur in Verdacht are processed on the fly, meaning that the sonic input to the system can be improvised or rewritten without necessitating any structural changes to the system itself. Verdacht is, therefore, not an actual piece but a potential one, a singular performance rather than a generalized representation of more or less limited “resolution.”

The post-digital aesthetic is the natural corollary of the alto.glove's design principle, namely to favor continuous parameters over articulated or semiotic ones. When applied to the aesthetic decisions and dimensions of a particular performance/piece, the rejection of proceduralism (goal-oriented systems, classificatory threshold values, if-then statements, etc.) becomes a referendum on the digital itself, i.e., the schematic representation of the world as either this or that, 0 or 1. This is the unique ethos of post-digital aesthetics, which explodes the digital through its performance instead of relying on it to simulate or represent the real.


Tacna

suite of electroacoustic pieces for viola and electronics

Romanticism Deterritorialized | Four Studio Recordings

 

Sometimes the electroacoustic throws away too much of the “acoustic.” To the extent that one avoids contending with the richness of the “musical material,” this situation represents, in Adorno's vision, the regressive tendency in art. Although it is questionable if Adorno succeeds in establishing normative criteria for evaluating new music, it is still worth considering if the electronic mediation of acoustic instruments can give up too much in the process.

In this context, “acoustic” means the nexus of playing techniques, traditions, and musical languages - tonal language in particular and their stepwise, chromatic delineations - that have long accompanied analog instrumentality in the west. There are pedagogical boons to abandoning this tradition. When Joe Paradiso and Tod Machover ran into problems with the use of electrical field sensing for reading Yo-Yo Ma’s bowing position – whose right hand would absorb some of the field energy when approaching the bridge - the infelicitous result was transformed into a positive principle of field disruption that formed the basis of the subsequent shift from expert musicianship to haptic experimentation. While the commercial result of this (Guitar Hero) is a weak paradigm for subjective renewal through gestural expression and experiment, the shift affirmed the latent expertise of the everyday user, hence the disruption of expert paradigms and cultural auras, over the tendency to worship the mythical virtuoso.

Tacna 3 (excerpt)

Tacna 4 (excerpt)

Jacques Attali already had this situation in view when he affirmed the new era of composing that would contend with the dominance of repetition. The creation of new musical instruments is essential to this transformation, since “inducing people to compose using predefined instruments cannot lead to a mode of production different from that authorized by those instruments.” Here we find the grounds for throwing away the tradition's monopoly on expression.

I am not completely sold by the provocation: it buries the tradition rather than, to use Guattari’s term, deterritorializing it. If we look more closely at the tendencies of the late Romantic movements in music, Wagner in particular, we find the complicity of technology with virtuosity and expression. This can provide a hint or direction for the possibility of investing in the electronic hyperbolization of Romantic musical language and gesture.

Tacna 1 (excerpt)

Tacna 2 (excerpt)

Friedrich Kittler is the one who articulates this most cleary. His media theory is framed by a distinction he draws between the periods 1800 and 1900.  On his account, “1800” stands for the historical period when art is still representational and thus, according to his nomenclature, still “art.” If art is representational, it transmits something other than its own appearance. Representational art is allegorical, it speaks otherwise, and thus it is a matter of translating meaning across the interval of the constituted art work and its reception. This understanding of art changes in the period “1900,” by contrast, when sensation is disaggregated as a result of certain technical innovations. Wagner heralds this transformation. Even before the phonograph dissociated sound from sight and culminated in the idea of the objet sonore, Wagner’s Festspielhaus hid the orchestra from view, darkened the hall as one would do in a modern cinema, and arranged the audience in an egalitarian fashion such that every seat permitted an unobstructed view of the stage, in effect delivering very tightly controlled and parsed media to the no less mechanical eyes and ears of the Cartesian automata in the audience. Orchestral amplification, like ethereally acousmatic sound and sensorial immersion, is a technical apparatus that explodes the limits of representation and converts art from a formal to a material force. This is why Friedrich Nietzsche calls Wagner’s music “Dionysian.”

The finest example of technologically amplified bodies arrives, according to Kittler, not in the Ring but at the very end of Tristan, where the orchestral fortissimo drowns out the voice of Isolde as she sings the famous Liebestod. That fortissimo, as real rather than represented Weltatem or “world-breath” – uttered at the moment of the orchestra’s greatest intensification - fulfills Isolde’s wish to return to the undifferentiated beginning, the impossible leap from song back into the nothingness from which it first originates. It is fulfilled both technologically and by the rejection of a historical convention whose task was to conceal: “Operas before Wagner were limited to a dynamic range where sound effects were simply not allowed to drown out human voices and human language.”

Nietzsche’s Dionysus, therefore, is inseparable from technological amplification. So why not intensify this relationship? Why not return to chromaticism, tonal suspensions, maudlin vibrato, the whole expressive apparatus of the acoustic instrument during that epoch? That is my goal in Tacna: an experiment in augmented Romanticism.


Dahinterstehend

piece for DrumKat and kick pedal

Performed by Fred Kennedy | Grant Recital Hall | Brown University

Accepted to ICMC 2013 | NIME 2013

The Dahinsterstehend interface provides a simple countdown rule to the performer that generates the compositional structure by determining the progression of the soundworlds. The patch quantifies the gestures of the performer and uses this data to modulate a set of sounds. The sound material has only a minimal correspondence with each of the pads. The rules that it follows are opaque to the audience and, to a lesser extent, to the performer as well.


Amplitudes

electroacoustic piece for viola and electronics

Grant Recital Hall | Brown University

Accepted to ICMC 2014

Amplitudes is an iteration of a real-time system I developed for the viola in 2013. This particular iteration makes use of envelope following to control panning, tremolo, and other values. Delay lines and pitch-shifting are also used.


Marbles

quadraphonic networked game for four player-performers

With Bridget Feral, Caroline Park, and Asha Tamirisa | Wesleyan University | September, 2013

In its quadraphonic space, sounds from each computer enter into causal relations with the others at the quadrophonic nodes, which function as interactive stereo fields. Outside of the network, the patch also works as an independent and unique symthesis tool. Players can utilize this feature to exclude themselves from the game, temporarily or permanently disrupting the network triggers. In this mode, an individual node becomes recursive rather than passing its output to the next player.

In addition to the sonic features, Marbles implements a local chat room features that allows users to coordinate their actions. The chat room does not report the name or position of the player, however, and this anonymizing layer adds an additional indeterminacy as a subtext to the performance.


Thema

live sampling system for viola and electronics

The Granoff Center for the Creative Arts | Brown University

Thema is a four-channel looping station that produces complex, pseudo-automated signal processing of live sampled input. The processes are built on four loops that are too extended to be granular, but too contracted to be gesturally significant. Thema works in the liminal space between the synchronic or atemporal aspect of sound, and its diachronic unfolding in and as time.