dimestore acoustic meets the supercomputer
particle guitar
crackle pop
tunnel bird
slow boat to china
between planets
4K 161
a guitar slowly eating itself


Reviewed :

at the milkfactory . . . and here



Having spent 15 years playing banjo and assorted other instruments I started to use the computer more and more to make music. Starting work on the composition of Longplayer in the mid 1990's (a 1000 year long piece of music ) meant abandoning even the input of data with keyboard as I was working more and more and more with emergent systems.
By the time Longplayer started I was having a problem finishing anything. The nature of working with Longplayer was so much based in long durational processes that my whole approach to "composing" had changed beyond all recognition.
I wanted to find some way of using these new strategies to actually perform music live - something I'd started to miss.
I spent a bit of time working out a framework in SuperCollider (real time audio programming language) so that I could have to hand a library of "instruments" which I could call up and run in parallel, with control over both their parameters (via individual edit windows) and their relative volumes (via a global mixer). This worked in a modular manner so that as I wrote new "instruments" I could simply add them into the library. Their functions ranged from simple effects - delays, filters etc - to various emergent systems. For example there's an instrument that’s based directly on Longplayer - except it takes only between 10 and 60 minutes to play itself out.
I played a bit using this system with samples and then mixing this approach with sampling other people and using that input as material. I felt though that something was missing . . .

I realised that somewhere along the line I'd managed to reduce my physical participation in making music to one hand on a mouse - or a finger on a track pad - and my brain, eyeball and ears. I may has well have been some sci fi freak with a robo arm wired to a pulsating brain floating in solution.
I decided to go along to open rehearsals for L.E.G.O. (London Electric Guitar Orchestra) that were advertised in an London Musicians Collective mail-out and started playing guitar again.
In July 2001 I was invited to take part in a SuperCollider event at Public Life in Spitalfields. This was to involve talking a bit about ones approach to using SC and then playing for a while. I decided to talk about my frustrations with the loss of my body . . and try and re involve it.
I called it "ooops, where's my body gone ? . . . . one finger music and the terror of infinity". The terror of infinity bit referred to trying to find ways to come to terms with the exponentially expanding number of possibilities and outcomes of working with computers and obliquely to Longplayer. One of the instruments I was working on was based on the idea of genetic algorithms. A way to breed music from the overwhelming mess of permutations of certain processes. I digress, that never really got anywhere.
I figured that one thing to do was to start using an instrument again and find a way to interface it with my SuperCollider system.
I'd never been that happy playing keyboards so I decided to use the guitar. I started to wonder if I could find a way of avoiding midi and started to experiment with a system using pitch recognition. I wrote a simple instrument which read the pitch of the guitar and used that to set playback rate of a sample - which could be that very note that was being recognised. This could get messy but gave rise to a simple and exciting feedback loop between what I played and what the computer did in response . . . and back to me and the guitar again.
The guitar became a form of controller and sound source. All the raw material for SuperCollider came from the guitar. The experience of playing with L.E.G.O. had led me to treat the instrument in much more varied way . . . so I wouldn't just strum away, I'd use different preparations and quirks.
This was the basis then of a new approach. My buggy programming added to the unpredictability of the computers response. A lot of the instruments I wrote didn't work exactly as planned. Things would start to happen which I had no idea where they came from. Another bonus was that by getting away from midi control I escaped the quantisation that comes with it.

So I got (some of) my body back and the found a way to perform music based on emergent processes. The outstanding problem of computer crashes found a resolution in accepting that these were decisions of the computer, my collaborator, to call a halt. So a crash meant that that was the end of the piece. Otherwise it was up to me to guide the improvisation between us to a conclusion. "gtr" is a collection of edited improvisations that grew out of the above, guitars played live with various preparations and processed live by my SuperCollider "Particle Guitar" system.


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dimestore acoustic meets the supercomputer

crackle pop


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