tinkering as composing
setting up realtime environments for improvisation
[pell-mell samples of thoughts about realtime improvisation and composition]
seppo gründler, janacek academie, brno feb. 2003

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this was never intended to be a scientific lecture held in correct english, so apologize the crude form and language, but as I ‘m always ashamed not to speak my neighbours language, I prefer to talk in english I want to thank the Janacek Akademy for inviting me and so for making it possible to meet so many kind and interesting people and spendig some fine time in Brno. The following lines are the sceleton of my lecture in Brno, unfortunately I like to speak mainly free, but I have no record of this afternoon. As there was a lively diskussion going on and I like to fade away to ohter topics. I try to fill them up with some of my memories about what I may have said (all later on added lines are within [ ]).
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◊quotationmania is the biggest enemy of a good lecture“ (Lenin?)
◊talking about music is like dancing about architecture“ (Laurie Anderson)
◊truth is a liars invention“ (Heinz v. Förster)
as we are in the city of Gödel I want to remind you that one can never describe a system completely without using a metalanguage thus prolonging the problem to the next level and so on... so I hope to provide more questions than answers

problematics of improvising – improvising as realtime composition - improvising composer vers. composing improvisers
problematics of electronic music on stage – without the physical existence of an acoustic instrument, do the people like to look at buttonpushers or screenclickers ?
problems of realtime performance – fighting the latency problem, interfacing the mashine
composing problems – how to set up the environment, is this the composition ?
hardwareproblems - bluescreen on stage, living in fear of crashes
software problems – what to use, grafic/signal stream oriented systems versus script oriented programming paradigms
pragmatic problems - like transportation, sound projection, beer/cola on stage....

I will lay out some of the problems and my approach along the latest project (the great score) of Elisabeth Schimana and Seppo Gründler.

[ The great score is our attempt to face the above mentioned problems. Both of us have been living in the electronic improvisers scene for many years. Five years ago we met in Moscow at a festival (midi-alternativa musica) and recognized that we share similar problems and dissatifactions. In special the situation of arising laptop music on stage let us feel more and more discomfort. A male-dominated technoid scene showed the absence of the physical human body and the absence of physical interaction, feedback and response from an instrument. We two wanted to provide a more physical and performer related experience to the audience, the people who donated their time by visiting our concerts, without compromising our music. Besides we were very unhappy with the fluctuating scene and the lack of time for deepening projects. A spin-off is the built in deflector for any new-newer-newest hipe, as the project runs over 5 years. So we came up with this framework.]

there will be 8 concerts, the first 6 follow this scheme
1.improvisation, material creation ,data aquisition
we (Seppo Gründler and Elisabeth Schimana) improvise with the instruments voice, guitar, theremin, digital processors and analoge filters. This part is the so to say “ordinary musicians part“. At special points we (the computers) collects data for analysis and resynthesis
2.freezing/analysis loops are generated from the material of the first part. The computer analyses the sounds of the first part to synthesize the third.

3.synthesis/regulation The computer plays part three, we are only technicians, doing subtle corrections.


this somehow resembles the reverse history of electronic music – realtime -> sampling/concrete – >tape music
the first 6 concerts last for 52 minutes, the 7th combines the material from the first 6 plus 52 minutes of new material in a 7x52 minutes marathon. (the 8th is a net-concert with particiapants from the first 6 locations)

Improvising – our improvisation is not pitch oriented but sound/stream oriented, nevertheless it faces the same problems as other improvisations.

What do some others say: ◊One of the first lessons a sound composer must learn is this. Sounds are not notes. ....The most important thing to understand, however, is that a sound is a sound is a sound is a sound. It is not an example of a pitch class or an instrument type. It is a unique object with its own particular properties which may be revealed, extended and transformed by the process of sound composition... ...To deal with this change of orientation, our principal metaphor for musical composition must change from one of architecture to one of chemistry“ (Trevor Wishart)

As Pierre Schaeffer was at pains to stress, once we begin working with sounds as our medium the actual origin of those sounds is no longer of any concern. This is particularly true in the era of computer sound transformation.

Improvised music has to destroy the codes and rebuild them during performance. Ohterwise the music is drowning in clichees and preproduced phrases. The problem is that, without a referential frame, information is not possible, and the audience gets lost (sometimes not bad). Our efforts - we start with acoustic material, voice, guitar, source oriented and move over to process oriented transformations in the late parts of the concert.

[ What is the situation of people improvising and listening – is the improviser listening to his music and the audience is listening to the improviser listening to his music, or is the audience listening to the same music as the improviser. What difference is between a scientist watching an experiment and an improviser improvising, or the audience listening – the audience and the scientist eagerly want that what they expect will happen, but the improviser/musician is the rat being explored by them. A good chance that they press the food button, if the rat behaves right ]

On stage and realtime – we use no tapes, no cds, no prerecorded material, so we have a fresh aproach each time we go on stage (and no safety system).

How do we control the electronics on stage - we are lucky, we use the theremin and guitar as controllers. [ Elise does not make any direkt use of the sound produced by the theremin. The only purpose of he instrument is to control the electronic devices, filters and MAX-patches, the processed sound source is Elises voice . The gestural component of the touchless instrument is perfect for the presentation on stage.] I play an electric-guitar equipped with a midi interface. [ So I get an acoustic source and the possibility to control my electronic equipment with the same device getting at least some kind of haptic control. Besides we both use the mouse, keyboard and conventional midi-controllers/knobs etc. to control our equipment. Twiddling and fiddling around with the devices the following questions drift through my mind - what does resonance, feedback etc. mean for an electronic instrument, where is the haptic control. At the current stage of technology and budget feedback and haptic response are only possible in a very rough sense. ] We keep the first part as open as possible, second part as immersive as possible, getting a sense of memory of the first part. What I miss most from electronic instruments is physical feedback like from a guitar, and the redundance. You never hit a string alike. Indeterminancy - how do I get it into an electronic instrument: we are crossconnected with our outputs. Once the material is produced we loose certain control over it, the whole sytem resonates (intederminancy is not randomness). At the moment at least I think that the redundnce in electronics is not big enough, thats why we always feel a kind of dissatisfaction. Cues for musicians are provided through the stage lightning which is a static, but to the structure of the piece corresponding, projection. It changes over time and provides us with the timeline.

Composing interactive is just a buzzword (nearly everything is interactive, its just a matter of degrees). The system reacts to the input. I didn‘t want to name it composing system. How to get a structure of longer pieces with the aid of a computer out of an improvisers musical input ?
Getting inprovisation as input for structures , what parameters to take ?
What does the union of technician, musician and composer mean ?
Pragmatic: transport, sound projection [ nearly all music heard today is loudspeaker music ] Very fluctuating scene, no time/money for longer projects, a new piece/ensemble every half year Hardwareproblems: just boring

At the end I want to read a piece of the speech Herbert Brun held in front of the UNESCO over 30 years ago ◊It is desirable that the technologist takes a fresh view of the composer. The time has come for the technologist to see that composers are not merely music makers, or art makers, who think that their products have to measure up to an established standard of culture and who are eager to call them merchandise and sell them. Many composers today would like to live in a socially concerned and courageously heuristic environment: they are looking for problems; they do not claim to know but are eager to create models for solutions; they would rather produce some dynamic input than find their product flatly output and consumed; they have experienced the width and the narrowness of at least one medium in depth and so can move in it or on to the next. They would want contemporary technology to return the respect they have for it, by using and assisting them, so that their work may escape the psychologist's case study and the aesthetician's collection, and instead, be given a chance to become a dynamic input to the contemporary social system. Together with technology, the composer defines input as something that induces and initiates such changes of state in a system as would not occur, without this input, at the moment or possibly ever.“ [ P.S: pushing yesterdays questions about the composing children forward: ◊To the question whether a composition is music, let there be added the question: what if this were music ?“ (Brun) (and do the same for programming and other to (electronic) music related activities) ] .