Concert Review: 23/04/09 bang.grab.stutter and Biomuse Trio

OpenStudio presentation on April 23 2009

bang.grab.stutter performed first, playing in two halves. First up was the piece Tanto de Nada for voice (Evelien van den Broek), live electronics and live video manipulations (Danny de Graan). A camera was trained on soprano Evelien, this image then projected onto the wall to their right, magnified into abstraction. As the performance took place, all vocals were sampled and processed in real time by computer, triggered by each utterance, and the visuals in turn were transformed by these altered audio signals.

The aesthetic of the piece, from both its sonic and formal characteristics, was somewhere between a Parisian, IRCAM sound and perhaps something more German; a lot of purity in filtering and very long, sustained processing, but heavy use of granulisation. The video reflected the more fluid elements of the piece, taking the live feed and contorting it into lava-lamp tableaux, adding smoke-like ‘currents’ across the image’s form. I would have been interested to see how these visuals would have looked with Evelien in a different costume, e.g. something very textured or layered.
My main criticism of this would be the activity. The duo explained that due to the high volume of processing they had to limit functions to one video action every five seconds. However, this led to unexpected movements on the screen during periods when there was no discerning audio activity to cause it, thus disrupting the intrinsic link between the audio and video content.
An improvised piece followed a short break for reconfiguration, and did not utilise video. For this, elements of the original processing patch were used in a slightly different manner, creating large waves of highly granulised stuttering micro-samples of Evelien’s voice. The performance last about ten minutes and moved through three sections; a first part that explored all ranges of the voice, a second that concentrated on sibilance and more percussive noises, and a final section using more sustained vocals, before allowing the electronics to take over entirely. Since there was one sonic ‘theme’ dictated by the processes involved, and because all vocal content became a part of this due to the continuous sampling, the aim appeared to be to sculpt a homogeny. This was very effective, and the harsh DSP happily tore at the speakers occasionally. My only thoughts on how this kind of piece could have been improved would have been via pitchshifting individual elements; to have samples taken from the voice pitched into new ‘chords’ would have been a nice addition and could have pulled the improvisation in different ways.

The Biomuse Trio followed with a discussion of the technology they were using, followed by extracts from Eric Lyon’s new work (also called Biomuse) and then a question and answer session.
Gascia Ouzounian was performing violin, Eric Lyon on live electronics, which was sampling and transforming aspects of the violin’s part to create an accompaniment, and Ben Knapp was using muscle-tension sensors monitoring the activity and position of his forearms to control aspects of the computer playback.
Apart from a couple of small technical hitches, the performance was a complete success, with a few very nicely composed sections – although I thought the audio processing sounded surprisingly low fidelity for the results Eric was going for. It was intriguing to see the connection between Ben’s slow arm and hand gestures and the emergence of samples, and what processes it became apparent that they were controlling.
It was also a pleasure to see how such technology can be applied in a performance context when considering the future of musical instruments in the ‘post-Wii’ generation; as somebody mentioned in the discussion that followed, advances in component and cost reductions in sensory technology will advance rapidly over coming years. This kind of practical demonstration that such equipment is usable, and with a potential to expand is encouraging. I am sometimes sceptical about how new technologies, or hacked existing technologies will actually fair in commercial or artistically ‘progressive’ terms (compared to, say, the invention, evolution and revolutionary impact of the synthesizer), but this performance made me more confident about the future of biosensors in music, dance and theatre performance, these latter two fields being something I would very much like to see them utilised in (especially Butoh).

biomuse1 biomuse2

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