transcontinental circuits (2009)

program text

This concert is part of an ongoing exploration into the artistic potential of networking technologies. Basic teleconferencing with tools like Skype is widespread today, but multi-site, networked, live performance is a less common, if quickly growing phenomenon. We are part of a large community of performing artists and researchers who are charting the contours of this new field, which we believe will become an important type of performance venue in the future.

As musicians, our first concern is with sound, and for this concert we have chosen to focus strictly on audio (and not video) transmission. We are working with open source software designed to network audio signals among distant sites with high quality sound and minimal time delay. For this and other projects some of us have been involved with recently, we have succeeded in networking full quality audio across several hundred miles (specifically, between Northern and Southern California) with a time delay of 20 milliseconds or less, which allows us to perform rhythmically complex, “in time” music. For today’s concert, we expect to achieve that kind of instantaneous synchrony between the California sites, but probably not cross-coast. However, even for the transcontinental connections, the software we are using allows for minimal, almost imperceptible delay, opening up many fascinating musical possibilities.

Another important aspect of this collaboration is that all of us have a longstanding and deep commitment to the practice of improvisation, informed by jazz – in the broadest sense of the word – as well as other traditions of musical experimentation. As improvisers, we feel a special connection to networked performance because we are already accustomed to using the space and time of a performance as central, defining elements, even when we work with pre-composed pieces as departure points. Similarly, today’s concert will include some of our compositions, but all are frameworks that depend heavily on collective improvisation, and some are new works that we designed specifically to explore certain dimensions of this new, telematic space. Some pieces also use programming tools to send computer graphic information – including traditional music notation as well as custom symbols – among our computer screens, creating an animated and algorhythmic score that unfolds in unpredictable ways to provide a structure for group improvisation.

As audio and video technology for networked performance becomes more widely accessible in the future, the implications are staggering to think about. Telematic technologies will inevitably have the kind of impact in the 21st century that audio and video recording technologies had in the 20th. When one considers contemporary debates about intellectual property or the globalized nature of arts industries and performance traditions today, it seems clear that human societies are still coming to terms with the full implications of audio and visual recording technologies well over a century after they were invented. Networked performance technologies will have an equally profound impact on how we understand the relationship between culture and place.

program notes by Michael Dessen

Transcontinental Circuits: A Multi-Site Networked Concert
Friday April 3, 2009
Jason Robinson (woodwinds and electronics), Buckley Recital Hall, Amherst College
Adnan Marquez-Borbon (woodwinds and electroncs), Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) Main Stage, Stanford University
Michael Dessen (trombone and electronics), Realtime Experimental Audio Laboratory (REALab), Music and Media Building, University of California, Irvine