Music for 832 Loudspeakers

I attended a {sounding code} concert last night with a good friend, her son was having a premiere of one of his pieces of computer music that evening.

The concert took place in the Wave Field Auditorium at the TU Berlin. They have 832 loudspeakers in a 600+ seat auditorium that are driven by an assortment of computers in order to permit, among other things, generating the impression of sound in the middle of the room where there is nothing.

There were about 70 people assembled as Marcus Schmickler presented his Bonner Durchmusterung (2010). The table in the middle of the auditorium has a large screen, a keyboard,  and three MacBooks on it. The lights are dimmed and the artist steps forward, pushes a start button, and takes his seat again. The work was done in the weeks (months?) past.

It is quite a new experience to have nothing to look at while experiencing the sound. It began rather soothingly, and I perhaps nodded off at some point. Every now and then some sudden sound erupted to shake the audience awake. I looked at the clock hands down front, crawling ever so slowly forward, and thought that I perceived an ending coming two or three times. I was wrong. It took a good 30 minutes, and it would have been better if it was shorter.

During a round of applause the door was opened and another 70 or so latecomers were admitted to the auditorium. Now it was Alberto de Campo's turn, with a premiere of Reversing Pendulum Music. The booklet explains that Steve Reich composed music for swinging pendulums and suspended speakers that creates feedback on purpose and calls it music. I don't know, I seem to be more on the side of avoiding feedback. Anyway, de Campo reverses this and uses stationary microphones to collect sound - I suppose our collective breathing and coughing, and amplifying this with the feedback produced to some sort of sound.

de Campo sat at the computers and had two screens open, one with a box that had an edged droplet in it, perhaps the sound sampling sources, and one with the outline of the room. There were little balls bouncing around that he seemed to be doing something with, as he could draw them all into the middle of the droplet, or spin them out through some controls. I later read that there is some sort of "gravity" constant that he can control.

I must admit that I enjoyed having something to watch. It was fascinating to hear the sounds that he created, rather like insects moving thorough the room, in the nothingness.

After a short break John Bischoff presented the premiere of his Sidewalk Chatter (Redux). He used something called a crackle box to create what sounded like radio static with an occasional fire engine thrown in. Not my cup of tea.

Up last were Bjarni Gunnarsson and Miguel Negrão with a premiere of Fallacies. After a bit of muttering incantations at the computer altar, assisted by Schmickler, the duo pushed their respective buttons and released their sound. They remained seated to occasionally tweak what was being presented. The had the lights put out, which was really good, because it really helped to focus on the sound.

It sounded like I was in the jungle - or at least the jungle I know from TV and movies. There were sounds all around me of strange insects and animals, some high in the trees, some low on the ground. Somehow it also felt a good bit warmer in the room. It was probably just all the warm bodies heating up the air, but it did make it feel more jungle-like.

After a while some sort of machine (a spaceship?) whisked me out and away, it perhaps transformed itself into a helicopter. Even through the helicopter noise I could hear a waterfall we seemed to be passing. A rather startling, loud noise was rather unpleasant, but was followed by what I understood to be soothing, water noises that slowly petered out. It was hard to tell when a piece was over, because a loud boom could shake you at any moment, but they lowered the lids on their MacBooks to signal that they were done, and the crowd clapped and clapped.

It was an interesting evening! This is not catchy music to sing along with or to dance to (although I am sure that there are people who can interpret this in dance presentations). But it seems to attract a lot of geeky types that weave intricate sound patterns out of electricity and programs: Sounding Code.

No comments: