Pall Thayer was born in 1968 in Austin, Texas, USA. He is half American and half Icelandic and has spent most of his life in Iceland. He began his serious art studies at the Reykjavik School of Arts in 1986. At the same time he had just formed his first band along with some close friends. Since then, he has studied art and played music in Iceland, the USA and Finland finally graduating from the Icelandic College of Arts and Crafts (now the Icelandic Academy of the Arts) in 1999.
Having begun as a painter, with painterly aspirations, Pall's big conversion to computers came while a guest student at the Helsinki Academy of Art in Finland in 1997. Although Pall had been using computers and programming since about 1983, he hadn't quite accepted them yet as an artistic tool. However, in Finland he was introduced to an assortment of software and hardware that allowed for programmable, multi-user interaction and this was exactly what he was waiting for.
Since 1997 Pall has created a variety of audio-visual installations and web-based work involving multi-user interaction. The main theme throughout his work is visual abstraction, something left over from his days as a painter. However now this involves obscure interfaces that allow the public to participate in the creation of abstract visuals without actually letting them know how everything works or how what they do may effect the imagery. This is his method for maintaining the abstract. It's hard to draw a simple house if you're not the only one controlling the pencil.
AD: When you developed PANSE did you see yourself making a new musical instrument?
PT: No, the musical instrument portion of my work is usually a sort of crutch I use for other purposes. What I'm more interested in is finding out how people actually end up interacting with this sort of thing and by providing visuals that go with the music, I'm interested in finding out what drives the interaction. Are people more interested in messing around with the visuals, regardless of what happens to the music or vice versa? Personally I find that the musical aspect enhances the visuals tremendously and that's pretty much why I create projects in the form of musical instruments.
AD: PANSE differs from conventional audio software in that it is collaborative and easily used from a Web browser. Is it significant that you're involving people in making their own compositions rather than downloading someone else's music? What are some pros and cons of this approach?
PT: The way I see it, they aren't making their own compositions. It's hard for anyone to place ownership on any portion of the music that PANSE generates. I've often been asked why I don't record some of the audio from my projects and release a CD. One of the main reasons is that it would completely contradict what's going on there. One of the really interesting things about the PANSE music is that it's endless and how do you put an endless composition on CD? Another reason is that I don't feel that it's "my" music to do with as I choose. Most of the different modules available give very distinctive sounds. If I open the PANSE audio stream, I can quite often tell which module the last user was using just by the style of the music. Therefore, I have to give compositional credit to the creators of those modules. But of course they can't claim complete ownership because it's my system. On top of all that, there are the users. Surely they have contributed in a big way, so they must own part of it as well. But the most interesting thing about this type of work, and this is both a "pro" and a "con", is that you never really know what's going to happen and the more you open up an interactive project, the more control you give to the public, the more chaotic it's likely to get. Of course the downside is that the system has to be extremely robust. If someone does something that you haven't anticipated, it could crash the whole thing. The upside however, is that it can introduce you to directions that the work could take, that you would never have thought of yourself. When I first listened to PANSE while viewing Joachim Lapotre's modules, I couldn't believe that I was actually listening to PANSE. Even though I created the audio engine, I had no idea that it could sound like that. So it becomes sort of a creative breeding ground for new ideas.
AD: What would you say to a master musician or composer who finds fault with things like anonymous, spontaneous collaboration or single purpose instruments played with a mouse? Are you rocking the boat of musical tradition?
PT: I have discussed my work with a "master musician" (Icelandic composer Atli Ingolfsson http://www.atli-ingolfsson.com) but he doesn't find fault with things like anonymous, spontaneous collaboration, etc. But he's a very serious, experimental composer who's dealing with a lot of theoretical aspects of music. I know very little about music theory and that's why I quit trying to make my own music. What I claim to be dealing with in my work has to do with visual art theory and history. I'm trying to explore the relationship between this new medium and more conventional art practices. The emergence of abstract art had a lot to do with music and that's why I combine the two. Music, to me, is inherently abstract and that's a much easier concept to grasp than anything visual being abstract. We're used to hearing sounds and music that don't necessarily relate to an object. But when we see something, even a shape that's unfamiliar to us, we tend to say something like, "It looks sort of like a house." The way kids do when they look for shapes in the clouds. Wassily Kandinski claimed that he could "hear" his paintings however I doubt that everyone can "hear" the same things in his paintings (I can't hear anything in his paintings). PANSE brings this more down to earth. You can truly hear the "paintings" and everyone hears and sees the same thing. You don't have to say, "It almost resembles a horse sunbathing in front of a toll-booth." You can look and say, "It sounds like this." turn up the volume and everyone says, "Aha, I see." I'm not interested in "rocking the boat of musical tradition". I'm not even interested in "rocking the boat of visual art tradition". I'm somewhat annoyed by the fact that people seem to think that because we have a new medium at our disposal, we need to make new art. I'm more interested in finding out what happens if we try to make old art with the new medium.