performance, theory

live AV and the performance rationale

Turkish group Cotton AV (seen working above with Volkan Ergen) are one of many groups around the world exploring the live manipulation of audio visuals. One of their previous musical partners started up an interesting argument on the Audiomulch discussion list about the use of Visuals in live experimental music performance.
The following is an excerpt:

Korhan Erel:
I hope my words did not imply that I find all laptop performances dull. That’s not what I think.

Don Hill:
It wasn’t that you said it. Plenty of people (and not even here) I know have expressed the opinion that it’s hard to tell what’s going on. “Are they manipulating parameters? Effecting the incoming sound of the room/audience? Actually writing code? What, is this another guy with iTunes, checking his e-mail?”

I know what goes on. I have plenty of friends who do music/sound-artthis way. Doesn’t bother me if they’re staring at their screen.

I have seen a lot of LT artists using video or collabing w/ VJs lately. That’s the road I think I’ll take. For me it’s more a matter of insecurity. I’ve played bass for crowds as big as 5000+, no problem. Put me in front of 10 people where I’m the center of attention, and I’m all thumbs and left feet. :^P

Korhan Erel:
Actually, my first solo laptop performance in years was two weeks ago. It was based on a video of the Turkish prime minister babbling how fucking great he is. What I did was use the Kaosspad to control a few
effects here and there and use a keypad to trigger some samples. As I wanted the audience to focus more on the video, I placed myself and the laptop away from the audiences view. There was no reason for the audience to see me (and if someone was really desperate to see my fat face, they could slightly lean to their right and reach salvation).

Yiorgis talks about actually facing the speakers while performing solo. I have been thinking about that – to sit among the audience, preferably in the back rows. However, then there is absolutely nothing to look at for the audience. This may be desirable from a puristic perspective, but the audience in Turkey is fairly new to experimental, avant-garde music and there is a danger of alienating them when you give them nothing to relate to except for the music. Using video or working with VJs provide a practical solution to this, but I would prefer either to prepare the video myself or design the whole performance from scratch with the VJ.

Yiorgis Sakellariou:
By using visuals it’s like admiting that music just isn’t enough to sustain the audiences interest. Working with a visual artist for a specific concept is always a good idea but again I feel that music loses it’s unique power and the opportunity to live the excitement of “pure” sound. A friend who doesn’t use visuals told me once, in
sarcasm: “I can watch TV at home!” 🙂

Korhan Erel:
If you use video just to give the audience something to look at, yes.
That’s why I said I would not work with a random VJ in an improvised
manner. I had the pleasure of seeing Rechenzentrum, a german band with
two musicians and one video artist, twice and I loved their use of
video. I also watched a video / sound performance called Tempelhof by
Tom America in Amsterdam, which was another great example of merging
music, spoken word and video.

Club music is another story. There’s a driving beat and the audience
reacts to it in many different ways, ranging from bobbing one’s head
to jumping around like a lunatic 🙂 Mouse on Mars is great at that
too, though their performance isn’t only laptop.

As I said in the previous mail, I would never put visual just for the
sake of giving the audience something to look at. That’s absurd. It’s
like the text most electroacoustic tape music composers feel obliged
to provide to their audience – full of abstractions, metaphors, etc
which aims to ‘conceptualize’ the sounds/music.

Just a handful of opinions relating to the use / abuse of video in experimental electronic performances.
On one hand we have the suggestion that laptop based performance needs something beyond mere sound production in order to entertain the audience (visuals being one kind of extra). The other suggestion is that performers should not have to adopt extraneous performative tropes in order to satisfy a fickle audience; as if that might be cheapening your art somehow.

On publication (in September 08) this discussion was one of the catalysts behind my drive to commit to research in this area. The area of gestural control and performance aesthetics within electronic music have a theoretical basis going back over a decade now. What i’m interested in challenging is the separatist notion that audio and video, remain separate entities with one leading the other. The arguments broached focus on sound as the primacy whereas my focus is on a form of synaesthetic composition incorporating both equally.

I come from a background in Film, Multimedia, Music and Education. My sonic work has consistently explored notions of cinema and I have on occasions produced visual work to support my sonics. To my mind it feels comfortable and makes sense to combine elements I have interest in without lending priority to any one medium.

When Andrew Thomson and I started collaborating as n4rgh1l3 we were initially at a loss to really produce work that was really iconic, representative of our combined creative talents and of any real interest or quality. It was, after a period of reflection that we came upon the notion that our mutual appreciation of Abstract Expressionist images and sounds might be unified to produce a unique and representative performance aesthetic.

When generating the audio and video content we are conscious of working in similar fashions with both types of media. Sound elements are recorded from natural and occasionally synthetic sources are processed and filtered in order that they work to fulfill a role within a broader soundscape. In a similar fashion still images and captured footage are sequenced, filtered and composited in order that when combined they will provide an interesting visual landscape. Sound and Image are then combined in preproduction and both sound and image are mixed and manipulated live in software (currently Isadora Windows Beta and Audiomulch.) In addition to the software we use external midi controllers to allow for useful gestural control and design our performance interfaces with this in mind.

At this stage I feel that there is little inherently new in what we are producing. The production and performance aesthetic harkens back to the mid-late 90s when both of us earned our stripes producing and performing post-industrial drone/noise/electronica within the burgeoning Brisbane Noise Scene.

It is for me however very satisfying that the tools exist to be able to create what is for me a kind of Gesamtkunstwerk. The kind of total experience that i’ve always thought much live electronic performance seriously lacks. In this state of mind i’ve been lead to consider what this means to the art of electronic musical performance and how I see the relationship between the art, the performer and the audience. I share as much enthusiasm for Visual Music, the work of artists like Stan Brakhage and expanded cinema types as I do for the ideas behind the performative act as it relates to popular (and relatively unpopular) music of the last century.

Consider the following with reference to a laptop performance:

  • sound and image exist as data/assets on the live performance HD
  • neither has any obvious priority depending on what software you are using (Isadora, Pure Data and Max/MSP/Jitter amongst others consider them all to be media files for reproduction)
  • processes for generating, manipulating and reproducing both assets share obvious semiotic connections (opacity=volume / colour=tonality / cuts, sequences, loops etc…)

Given these simple few assumptions my goal with my work and research is to examine the frameworks applied by other practitioners who work with live AV to see if, and how they apply similar semiotic connections. While modern laptop musicians are more readily adopting gestural control systems that add considerable value to the use of computers in a live context, i’m concerned that this push to connect the historic notion of live musicality and virtuosity with computer based performance is ignoring developing areas within the field.

Is the performing audio-visualist a musician with videos or a visual artist with instruments?
A director, as in the cinematic sense?
As a form within forms there has been much development in content, awareness and technology over the last couple of decades. Has performative AV finally reached a point where it can finally leave the legacy of a stage bound performative act and strike out in the world with a new focus and original set of priorities?


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