Newsletter – February 2008

banner2.jpgWelcome to a late February 2008 issue of Networked Music Review Newsletter, a monthly review of some of the many events archived on Networked_Music_Review [to receive this via email, subscribe here].

In the recently launched interview by Peter Traub, Stephen Vitiello, talks about his residency in the World Trade Center and how hearing made him feel “the distance and height of the building more than seeing.

It’s taken me some time to understand that one of the central and perhaps the most exciting consequences of the emergence of sound art as a prominent practice is the enhancement of our sensorial experience. An inroad into the hegemony of vision is being made. And with it comes a deeper understanding of acoustical perception and how, through non-visual means, elements of environmental space can be revealed.

Several of February’s NMR entries help to keep this in context, by highlighting works by composers Alvin Lucier, Bill Fontana, and Bernhard Leitner whose long histories as sound artists have helped to bring this about.

Vespers (1968) is an early influential works by Alvin Lucier. About it, Lucier wrote “I would like to pay my respects to all living creatures who inhabit dark places and who, over the years, have developed the art of echolocation … I am envious of the astonishing acuity of such creatures …Vespers is performed in darkness. Each player has a hand-held echolocation device which emits a fast, sharp, narrow-beamed click. Given the task of orienting himself in the dark by means of scanning the environment and monitoring the relationship between the outgoing and returning pulses, the performer moves from place to place, avoiding obstacles, discovering clear pathways, and thus revealing the elements of environmental space through non-visual means.

Bill Fontana, whose career spans 30 years, and who was interviewed for NMR in November ’07, takes a different approach. Throughout his 30 year career, Fontana has used the urban environment as a living source of information that he transports to a new sound space, all with the potential of conjuring up visual imagery in the mind of the listener. His recent work, Speeds of Time, a Chelsea College of Art & Design / Tate Britain commission, can be heard on NMR.

Also among the February entries is one on the work of Bernhard Leitner: TonRaumSkulptur / Sound Space Sculpture (1968-1973), showing at the Museum für Gegenwart, Berlin, is a work in which sound creates the space and its special qualities. Or as Cathrin Pichler writes, Leitner’s sculptures “make it possible to experience physical space as an “inner” space… [The] work leads us to a quality of sound (as space) that remains concealed within stimulus streams. It shows the potentials of sensual experience that we are barely conscious of because they are either lost or have remained unknown as possibilities.

Other, more recent works – such as Spatial Z, a performance work by experimental instrument maker John Bowers, sound artist Ann Rosén and composer Sten-Olof Hellström; and Vertigo, an installation by Daan Brinkmann – explore the spatial experience of sound, raising questions about auditory perception.

In Spatial Z, sound is disseminated through a variety of spaces, some real, some virtual, some miniscule, others large, thereby raising such questions as: What is the connection between music and space? Between instruments and the environments they find themselves in? Between the spaces in which performers interact with their instruments and each other and the audience’s listening space? What is the relationship between the concert (architectural) space and the (imaginary) spaces suggested in the music itself?

In Brinkmann’s Vertigo, a circle of 32 loudspeakers, broadcast sound that revolves around the listener 16 times per second, challenging him or her to explore the boundaries of auditory perception.

In addition to these entries which focus on hearing are the growing number of entries in which the audio and visual are presented together. This suggests that while sound practice may indeed be impacting the hegemony of vision, there is a preference among many of the more recent works for conjunctions between the two rather than for a rejection of either.

Examples include: The beta version of Jason Van Anden’s, which launched at a Dorkbot meeting in early February. Based on technology Van Anden originally invented to enable robots to interact improvisationally, anyone can visit and combine colorful bubbles filled with music (or other sounds) to create new living compositions.

Or, Islands of Consciousness by Oleg Marakov and Mario Klingemann where sounds and images enter a very close relationship in which the randomly arranged musical phrases have a direct influence on the visual outcome. When you look at this piece you have to keep in mind that all the visuals are assembled in real time using photos downloaded from All the transitions and effects are entirely random and only happen on your screen.

Or, the open-ended group, Metamkine, that includes musicians and fimmakers. Through the magic of mirrors, multiple projectors and highly ingenious live on stage editing, Metamkine researches the relationship between image and sound. Working around a core narrative, they spill forth eddies of impromptu vignettes, accompanied by a live soundtrack of tape fragments and ancient synthesiser sounds.

A final note here: of the two NMR commissions launched in February — Air Detritus by Miya Masaoka, and Flou by Jason Freeman with Andrew Beck, Xiang Cao, Mark Godfrey, Jagadeeswaran Jayaprakash, Al Matthews, Rachel Ponder, Alex Rae, and Sriram Viswanathan — one, Flou, also falls in the category of works that utilize both audio and visual materials, and adds to it the participatory experience of a game. Well, not exactly a game. You do fly a ship through space, but you can’t shoot anything, score points, or win or lose. The focus, rather, is on the soundtrack: as you navigate through a 3D world and zoom through objects in space, you add loops and apply effects to an ever-evolving musical mix.

Mar 18, 2008
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Networked_Music_Review (NMR) is a research blog that focuses on emerging networked musical explorations.


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