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Energy Music

We’re not talking about the kind of Sundance sustainability issues in a showbiz fashion says Jamie. What we are talking about are issues of the performer and the body. The context of the enviornment and the ecology of communities. Jamie is keen to point out that his discusion is about how to relate these issues strictly to music and art practice. Jamie points out there are three ways of looking at technology, the antagonistic approach, the folk sensibility and a third way concerned with the idea that we use energy constantly in the process of living and that the real issue is in how we route it and choose to use it. This idea purports that we are part of an ecology concerned with the use and transmission/reception of energy. As an ex-physicist this is an idea I feel worth relating to. Jamie talked about Michel’s sense of energy and exertion on stage, he was motivated to start the discussion by seeing how Michel was physically tired after performances. He had put energy into creating the music that had depleted him in the process.

Jamie’s first assertion is that energy and information signals are really the same thing and that as artists we are already concerned with the routing of this energy and signal information. Jamie talk about the importance of self-reliance, this motivated his his desire to raise the energy discussion. Jamie is also interested with the idea of exclusionary technological domains and cites artistic examples of an ethically grown leather installation and a site specific piece concerned with lighting up bulbs beneath power lines using only the energy gathered from the high intensty e.m. fields that were (freely) available there.

Ben Knapp then took over the presentation and after introducing himself brought to the discussion two ways of looking at energy. Ben points out that the body is a source of power, it can supply energy and then makes his second point that it is also a source of signal information. This is similar to Jamie’s point that there is an interchangable, dualistic nature to energy and information. Ben goes on to describe the energy harvesting technology that is currently available. Kinematics, pressure, vibration and elasticity are all properties of materials we can cloth ourselves with to garner energy from the simple process of living. Ben points out that some of the technology is quite old in the sense that kinematic powered watches were available in the 80’s. Moving to more microscale technology Ben talks about the new ability afforded by nano technology to gather energy for circuits from blood flow. The temperature gradient present over the body can be used to gather not just energy but information, the temperature of the body is a useful first step in sensing the emotion of a person.

Ben pointed out the wealth of research that is currently taking place concerned with gathering energy. Ben is primarily concerned with his interest in bio-electric signals, the nervous system as a self-powered communication source. Getting as close as possible to the source of physical energy, the same energy we use as artists when say playing a piano, and using this energy and the signals encoded in it to create music. After citing Alvin Lucier’s EEG music as an old example of this kind of idea Ben pointed out Dick Raaijmaker’s 1978 piece de Grafische Methode. The sweat generated in the simple movement of a man getting off a bike stretched out over 30 minutes is a visceral indicator of how much energy is consumed in the performance of the piece. In terms of signal data that can be attributed to this energy transfer Dick was using EEG, EKG / GSR and a nasal microphone to take this energy information and sonify it. Ben talks about Atau Tanaka’s 1992 piece Tibet where he starts creating music from a singing bowl and then lifts his hand while continuing the motion and carries on making the piece sound. Ben is currently excited by the examples of meausing energy during performance and he talks about research that is going on in measuring how the energy of performers goes on to create changes in the state of the audience.

How do we harvest information from the body? EEG sensor arrays placed on the head can supply information as well as look pretty scary. Looking at the energy generated somatically this too can be used as a signal source, using devices such as the electrooculogram, blood pressure monitors, skin temperature thermometers signal information relating to the energy states of the body can be gathered.

Talking about the anthropological side of our bodies Ben raises the fight-or-flight predator response example that produces changes in the stickyness of our palms and feet. Ben talks about how the cracklebox works best on the palms of the hand and fingers or even your feet and toes as this skin is different to that on your belly.

Ben then goes on to talk about his research with Niall Coghlan concerning how to take emotional energy information from the body by using electric chairs that are sensor laiden. The chairs can measure galvanic skin response. Ben talks about the idea of emotional contagion as he stands up to talk to the audience he points out that the energy is transmitted to the audience as they look up with their eyes to follow him and then laugh as makes as joke about it.

Ben shows us a patch that he made in Max/MSP to visualize the energy of violinist performing. Ben finishes by asking the question how do we harvest this energy and signal source the body provides to create what he calls ‘the integral music controller’. Ben brought his discussion to a close by discussing his work with Dowling and Ford on the Reluctant Shaman at this year’s ICMC. This piece allowed the audience to hear the recorded signals gathered from a man walking through a sacred irish site through earphones, they heard his breating and footsteps, everything he experienced while seeing live irish traditional music take place before them, of course they were all sitting in the bio-chairs Ben and Niall have been working on.

Dr Brian Degger then took over the discussion. He comes from a background in biotechnology and he is interested in exploring energy music. He is interested in art pieces that are informative about energy without being preachy. He feels that we have to accept that human ecology is the primary ecology influencing the planet. He accepts the idea that everything is unsustainable but that we have to get over that and find ways of making this work for us. Brian thinks that if this is ever going to become relevant for artists then we will have to get over the embarrasment of being labelled with the connotations of the ‘green movement’.

Brian makes the point that to the larger public sonification as a method of providing information is the poor brother of visualization, he feels we are primarly concerned with visualizing information. This is a fairly controversional point to make to a room filled with sound artists used to the rareified field electronic and sensor based electro-acoustic music.

Brian goes on to raise the issue of energy and mapping tieing in with earlier discussions this week. He points out that loud, shouty and preachy environmentalism is not the only way of addressing the issue. Esther Pola and Leva Auzina’s piece was concerned with milk production and energy ecology but in a more quiet reserved fashion. A group called hehe are concerned with pointing out the energy being used by a community near a power station, by conserving energy a laser on attached to the power stations’smoke stack would visualize information on the plumes of smoke the community’s consumption created.

Brian finished with the question is this the end of the age of innocence for artists? Is it now time to put aside fear about being seen to comment on issues traditionally the ground of the green lobby and make more art that directly comments on the issues of energy.  Brian points out that a forum has already been created by the FoAM group in Amsterdam called Luminous Green to discuss issues of art, luminous life and the sustainability of it.

Jamie then returned to the discussion and showed us his new sketch of a self powered sine wave turntable. This entirely self sufficient device can produce tones using only the energy required to play it. He plans to carry on his work by creating new art music objects that are totally self powered.

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