Remembering MW

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In Memoriam Michel Waisvisz (Nicolas Collins)

Memories attack, and sometimes you are suddenly hit with the fact that someone is really gone. Last June we hosted a season ending party on the same day that Michel Waisvisz passed away a year before. He always played his music loud, so we didn’t want the event to be sentimental but instead energetic and vibrant. I was too busy and stressed out that day to really reflect about him, but the other day I found this wonderful video by Nic Collins that made want to put some words down.

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My current musical path started with the shock of seeing Waisvisz perform at NIME03 in Montreal, 2003. At the time I was a first year graduate student in a computer arts program, attending an academic conference for the first time. I remember feeling quite depressed prior to this concert because most of the performances that I had seen there were really bad, and I felt that I might have wasted an enormous amount of time and money studying physical computing and Max/MSP to only find out that the artistic results are mediocre. However, Waisvisz’s performance was mind blowing to me, it was really a unique form of music that was only possible by him and his instrument. After the concert, I was filled with excitement and hope. That night, I had found my next inspiration after Grandmaster Flash and Christian Marclay.

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My work at STEIM for the last 2 years has involved digging through STEIM’s archive. What became clear to me was that although Waisvisz was officially not one of the founding members of STEIM, he was involved from the very beginning. Starting from the late 60’s, as a teenager he helped composers by making and repairing electronic gear, and throughout the 70’s, prior to his directorship, he was the main artist “client” experimenting with new electronic instruments. He didn’t start as a pianist or composer who became interested in electronics – he was an electronic musician from the beginning. He really defined and lived the STEIM philosophy his whole life.

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A glimpse of young Waisvisz is seen in the Taj Mahal Travelers World Tour documentary, 1972

His idea of “Touch” which materialized through the Crackle series, The Hands, The Web and other computer instruments, continues to remind us our relationship with electronic media and how we interface it. The Cracklebox foresaw the coming of circuit bending and mobile music making. The Hands is an important reference for gestural controllers and how one can become a virtuoso on an one-of-a-kind instrument. As a director, it’s impressive how quick he was on sensing what the next thing was in each period of time. I remember 3 years ago when the Nintendo Wii came out, while most of us were laughing it off as a toy, Waisivisz already saw it’s potential and encouraged me to organize an event around it. He was always tinkering with new devices and gadgets.

Crackle series

The Hands

What Waisvisz also created was an international hub and safe house for artists. The idea of having a guesthouse connected to a studio and lab is essential to what we do here at STEIM. Over the years thousands of artists, especially artist in a transitional phase, have passed through. Waisvisz built an atmosphere where artists were free and safe to do any experimentation they wanted and can also meet like-minded people from around the globe. Nic Collins always talks about the peculiar encounters that happen in the guesthouse kitchen that would lead to fantastic future collaborations. The door was always open (although sometime hard find) for artists that were outsiders or on the fringe of their scene.

brunch at the guesthouse

asian feast extravaganza
not always like this, but parties are held occasionally at the guesthouse

A profile of Michel Waisvisz would not be possible in just one blog post. His involvement with the free jazz scene in the late 60’s, collaborations with Moniek Toebosch in experimental theater, his musical robots “Slungels”, his compositions and recordings, his ideas on energy in music, his drawings, etc, etc. Waisvisz meant many different things to many different people, I only knew him for the last 3 years of his life. But I’m pretty certain that the impact he left on all of us is equally significant, someone with so much energy and generosity is hard to come across.

M.Waisvisz on the Cracklesynth

We all miss you Michel.

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