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making music at the interface

dean linguey loops into jolt's interactacon


Input, updating, memory, computation/comprehension, output. These are what you need for interactivity, writes Jolt artistic director James Hullick in his program notes for Interactacon, an event focused on interaction between humans and computers.

Robin Fox, his face screen-lit, holds a detonator in each hand—game-like t-box sensor interface controllers. A barrage of rapid-fire sliced-in-a-blender sounds mixed with moments of Looney Tunes hilarity, sheets of sheer noise and room rumbling bass move from left to right at dizzying speeds. Fox’s relative stillness contrasts with the moment-to-moment interaction with his computer via the hand-held interfaces, much like a virtuosic jazz musician in the throes of a blistering solo.

The program notes reveal that the software has its own “behavioural” tendencies that “fight back” Fox's inputting. The result suggests war, conversation, laughter, dance, play and love-making—all at a hair-raising, impossible pace, if you can stay with it (a handful of people drop out of the battle early on). Huge dynamic shifts move over and slice into each other with momentary suspensions and windings up and down while Fox’s fingers twitch at the controls.

In Maculae, Natasha Anderson’s gestures are more theatrical and considered. The sensors she's attached to an impressive contrabass recorder allow her to trigger sounds from her playing as well as to add gestural input alongside vocal croaks and clicks. To one side small details from “self-portraits” and the interior of a room are screened, fading in and out and also triggered by her interaction with her instrument.

In contrast to Fox’s minimal spacings between sounds, Anderson creates a more open sonic field where languid movements and long tones are punctuated by sharp spikes of sound and gesture. The processing adds fleeting, decaying loops, watery masses, varying textures and brief abrupt buzzings, creating a cumulative rendering of a kind of subterranean or interior space.

Hullick’s first contribution to the event is Sk-eylike Mind, an interactive score performed by Bolt and comprising flute, clarinet, sax, double bass, percussion and viola. The projected score unfolds in real time displaying, among other things, pitch, directions and rests. Long overlapping tonal notes are textured with shorter gestural events. “Like a machine hum” and “let it ring” are some of the more curious directions in the score.

Hullick’s second contribution also features projected notation—bright dots on a black background are revealed left to right at various heights. The Crank-A-Maphone (a computer-operated instrument comprising a triangular frame within which sit Tibetan bowls, chimes, bells and more, see RT79) realises the score while a series of miked spherical glass objects appear to be improvised on by The Amplified Elephants, an “inter-ability” ensemble that has grown out of the Footscray Community Arts Centre’s Artlife program. The result is a spacious landscape of soft bell-like sounds with occasional metallic punctuations.

Without the aid of the program notes it's difficult to deduce the modes of interaction inherent in some of the performances. Sometimes the interactivity is visible, sometimes not, for example in how the functioning of the Crank-A-Maphone relates to the projected score. But does the audience need to be privy to the workings of interactivity? Isn't it about the overall effect of the interactivity, and especially its sonic outcome? These interesting questions are being posed in events like Interacton and in the discovery of new modes of composing and playing through human and computer interaction.


Interactacon, Jolt Winter Series Concert 4, artistic director James Hullick, artists Robin Fox, Natasha Anderson, James Hullick, Bolt Musicians (David Thomas, Martin Mackeras, Andy Williamson, Bernie The Man, Peter Neville, Erkii Veltheim), instrument engineer Richie Allen, The Amplified Elephants (June Bentley, Jay Euesden, Liz Hofbauer, Robyn McGrath, Enza Pratico), designer Emile Zile; 45 Downstairs, Melbourne, August 23

RealTime issue #81 Oct-Nov 2007 pg. on

© Dean Linguey; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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