Monday, May 19, 2008

Conducting Ghosts in Singapore

New project! In 2007, I pitched Quartet, a project I proposed to ISEA, The International Symposium for Electronic Arts, a new media arts conference and festival in Singapore. My proposal got selected and so I am now an artist-in-residence at the National University of Singapore, and with a tenure till early August.

I will be developing Quartet in collaboration with the Institute for Infocomm Research (abbreviated in print as I2R and in speech as "I squared R") -- an honest-to-god commercial research center, where the people invent stuff for a living. I'll be working with Corey Manders, an ex- professional saxophone player who fucked off from music, became a computer engineer and is now in I2R's Signal Processing Department trying (among other things) to make computers see.

For Quartet, I will be making video images play instruments in the real world. I2R will help me make an computer vision interface so that a person will be able to conduct the four video-instrument tandems by waving his arms in the air. (Mwahahaha! It's alive! Krakaboom! )

I'll be incorporating the circuits I used to make Spinning Jimmy, the conceptual-kinetic video installation I made for Visual Pond's End Frame exhibit. To recap, Spinning Jimmy had a video loop of a man lifting a sandbag over his head. A sensor detected each lift of the sandbag and moved a little crank that caused a thread to be wound upon a spool. (So I now have in my house a spool of red thread that was wound by a ghost in a television monitor. I should make a whole bunch of these and sell them in little glass boxes or something. )

For Quartet, I'll be using the circuits to play a stripped-down 'punk gamelan' ensemble, (essentially four gamelan instruments I will rip out of a full-fledged Indonesian orchestra) and write a bunch of algorithms that will hopefully create something interesting to conduct/listen to.

So the work might also be seen as a development of Volume Control, the visual score I developed some years back and which was most recently played by Tengal's Gangan Ensemble during Teddy Co's three-screen video-music extravaganza Sinemusikalye last March 16 at the Remedios Circle.

Below are links to Sinemusikalye, but I think you have to be on Multiply to view the sites.,

So yeah, Quartet : Spinning Jimmy Meets Volume Control!


Sunday, May 18, 2008

A Comforting Quote

The frame of mind in which interesting things germinate is often more confused and desperate than organized and confident.

--Randy Thom

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Noise and Causes

Some thoughts occasioned by the last NMAM gig (Minus Ten Decibels--- happened at the screening room on the 2nd floor of Mogwai at Cubao X last April 30. NMAM = New Media Arts Manila). Successful and not. Successful because most of the stuff was half decent to experience, and not successful because we couldn't play as softly as I'd hoped. Minus Ten Decibels was supposed to be an evening of quiet noise. Blums and I had actually hoped people would have to lean forward, searching for the sounds, but that was not to be. Aside from most of the performers apparently having difficulty wrapping their heads around that idea, the hubbub from the bar below was just too loud. Minimum volume was determined as the minimum volume level required to drown out the bar. Ah well. Maybe next time it can be held in a library or something.


Me, Autoceremony (Jing Garcia), Caliph8, Malek Lopez, Nun Radar (Pow Martinez) and Tengal performed sound, Jason Tan and Blums Borres performed video, which included insectoid footage created by the Lord of Mogwai, hizzoner Lyle Sacris.

Noise for a Cause?

A member of the audience, Atty Adrian Sison, asked if NMAM had ever thought of linking the shows to some kind of social theme, which made me bark a bit. I should have gone up and apologized, but I have to give it to him. He knew it was a legitimate question and he didn't back down. I eventually calmed down and gave him my 2 cents on the idea, which might be worth posting here.

I am against associating sound art with social/environmental/topical causes. And two reasons are that:

1) Doing so destroys the ambiguity of the work. The easiest way to "tame" new or unfamiliar forms is to link them to themes like poverty or hunger or imperialism. Then anything discordant in the work becomes the emblem of social iniquity, injustice, rage, or whatever. The work becomes a vessel for a set of prefabricated meanings. I prefer that the sounds and images in these works stay as sounds and images, or at least, that they remain available as signs/emblems for other meanings. Who knows. Keep social justice out of the picture long enough and maybe some of Lirio's robot cat solos might start to sound like love songs, heh heh.

2) The easiest way to convince people that you or the work are "serious," is to link the work to things which people agree are serious: things like poverty, rice shortages, tsunamis, etc. I don't like it when artists do this because it's an easy thing to do. Also, it's an easy way to pass off bad art, because the seriousness of the theme camouflages the formal flaws, making the flaws harder to see.

Pugad Baboy

I used to love the strip because Pol Medina used to be funny, creative, clever. His characters used to go into the future, parody batman, make surreal puns, etc. Lately he's run out of ideas or passion but he's been masking it with political commentary. Polgas and Mang Dagul drinking beer and talking about corruption in the Philippines. Topical, maybe slightly satirical, but most of the time, not really funny or even clever. Most of the time, it's kind of boring. I'd have to call this turn of events as artistic failure. Good causes are easy masks for bad art to wear.

Fine, what about good art? Say you put together a bunch of noises that actually have a beginning, middle and end, that have interesting dynamics, etc etc. Is there anything to be lost by associating it with, say, the Jonas Burgos kidnapping? Mingus did that a couple of times I think. He titled one composition I really liked as "Free Cellblock F, 'Tis Nazi USA" or something. Just tacked an incendiary title on the thing. He said he did it to make people think. Well, I dunno. When I listen to that piece, I just basically forget about the title and soak in the jazz. And another way of expressing that fact would be to say that I need to forget about the Nazi USA shit to be able to hear the damn horns, which would be another way of saying that linking sounds to sociopolitical themes make the sounds harder to hear.

Enough said. I want to thank everybody who came and soaked it in, and also our sponsors Intel, Globe and Sony Ericsson for feeding the performers and making the gig happen. Several people came up to me later and said they really liked the Q & A, so let that be a hint to anybody who reads this and shows up at the next gig: Speak up. People like it. ;-)