observances


Subject: observances
From: Naut Humon (naut@sirius.com)
Date: Fri Jul 16 1999 - 19:20:19 EDT


>You may recall seeing the posting of the email I sent to the Prix Ars
>Electronica people. Below is their reply and my response. To date, two
>weeks later, there has not been a reply from Naut Human.
> Barry Truax

  Don't worry Barry - there will be! I've been observing this
most fascinating discuss list for a while now but my intense
activities have postponed my thorough answer to the last few
months of Prix Ars Digital Music dialogue. Having been back
from the jury for the last month or so I still look forward
to responding to many inquiries and criticisms. Meanwhile
I leave you all with Kodwo Eshun's article for the Prix
Ars Cyber Arts publication to be released in September
at the festival. Its great to see the sparks fly!!

Lets continue the helpful dialogue even though some
of you out there may have become weary of this topic.
I even have more to add than Kodwo but I too will have to
be notified when this whole controversy becomes too
saturated or repetitive. But meanwhile .........

Stay tuned ......... ........ naut humon.. (jurymember)

 Jurystatement "Digital Musics"

Statement of the Digital Musics

In 1996, the composer Bob Ostertag pointed to the paradox that had driven
the Prix Ars Electronica for Computer Music to a point of crisis: 'Š as
computers' presence in music has mushroomed from nearly invisible to
downright unavoidable, so the range of music considered to be Computer
Music has become increasingly fixed and rigid. Why this emergence of
Computer Music, instead of an openness to all the musics which computers
make possible?'Changing the Prix Category from Computer Music to Digital
Musics acknowledges this 'openness to all the musics which computers make
possible'. Focusing on digital innovation, the 1999 Jury embarked on a
mission to immerse itself in the soundworlds of 720 entries. We listened
eagerly for new ways of listening. Nothing would have pleased us more than
to hear the new Todd Dockstader or the new Bernard Parmegiani, but the vast
bulk of electroacoustic and acousmatic entries showed no such iconoclasm.
As the judge and composer Laetitia Sonami said 'There's a certain arrogance
that comes with the language which says that to be recognised you have to
follow that language and nobody questions it. There's no self regeneration.
Because it's an academic world ,it can live on its own. In this case,
there's no commercial imperative, so you can keep this kind of bubble
going.'
Like a Cavalier king only too aware of the new dispensation, the ancient
regime of electroacoustic music has automatically assumed a noblesse oblige
for itself, awarding itself an undeserved authority at the cost of cultural
irrelevance. But Sonami's argument applies across the board; there was just
as much formulaic music produced outside academia as inside. Today,
graphical software packages such as GRM Tools or SoundHack with their menu
upon menu of options enthrall producers, generating a situation where the
track and the composition become a predictable outcome of programmes like
SuperCollider. This year's Jury included the producer-engineers Jim
O''Rourke and Robin Rimbaud aka Scanner, both of whom were especially
attuned to digital transparency where signature sounds are directly
attributable to particular software.
Many entries, for example relied on digital signal processing. The gorgeous
shuttling, tumbling, shingling sound of GRM Shuffler VST mode was heard
repeatedly. 'I'm getting allergic to people processing things just because
they can,' O' Rourke complained more than once. 'It doesn't matter what
they put in at point A because it's just the sound of the process.' On the
one hand the proliferation of software has a democratizing effect. Because
the late 90s minimal techno producer uses the same software in his bedroom
studio as an acousmatic composer at her university studio, both become
digital musicians, Powerbook composers.
On the other hand, the latest GRM upgrade matters less than a distinctive
sonic thought process. So the approaches to the virtual studio become even
more crucial and the clash between ways of hearing becomes a battle between
the noises of art and the musics of sound. In its gleeful glide between
horror n' humour, its split second slide between a grin and a groan, the
Jury recognised a new digital aesthetic in the music video *Come to Daddy*,
unanimously awarding the Golden Nica to its English video director Chris
Cunningham and the influential English electronic producer Richard
James/Aphex Twin. Filmed on Thamesmead Estate in South East London where
Stanley Kubrick shot A Clockwork Orange, *Come to Daddy* is the first in
Cunningham's classic trilogy of videos, followed by 1998's superkinetic
Squarepusher video *C'mon my Selector* and 1999's ultralascivious
*Windowlicker* video, again for Aphex Twin. The Cunningham-James
collaboration is characterised by what composer-conductor Naut Humon calls
a sound driven aesthetic of extreme digital mutation, one which speaks to
the artificial in us, as it veers from micro engineered rapid-edit rhythms
to brutalizing psychotic music with a visceral virtuosity.
When programmes become immediately recognisable, it's easy to hear how the
software is manipulating its user. A key approach in 90s digital music
obstructs this tendency by amplifying the point of breakdown into a new
digital irritainment, an immanent disobedience that maximises the moment
when the CPU reaches 100% and your Powerbook crashes. Back in the 60s,
Hendrix exploited the immanent potential of the guitar feeding back through
the amps, turning the noise of destruction into art. Today's Powerbook
composers are doing the same as they turn electronic catastrophe into
music, training us to enjoy the sound of failure, and the art of the
accident.
'What I like is when digital doesn't work,' says Robin Rimbaud. Across the
audio-spectrum, producers are arranging digital error into new granular
synthetic tones, turning accidents into new texturhythms, opening all the
sound files until the graphic user interface gives up the ghost. This
tendency was pioneered by Aphex Twin and by the winners of the 1999
Distinction: Vienna's Mego label. Rather than splitting the prize between
the two Mego entries: Christian Fennesz's *Hotel Parall.lel* and Pita aka
Peter Rehberg's *Seven Tons for Free Remaster* Version 1.2, the Jury broke
with Ars Electronica convention, agreeing with O' Rourke''s suggestion that
the Distinction should be awarded to the Mego label as a whole.
Sonically speaking Rehberg's *Seven Tons for Free Remaster* Ver.1.2
consists of pulsing, hissing, flapping sinewave tones,arranged on an early
8 bit 520 Powerbook. In the *Hotel Paral.lel* CD you hear a micro-pulsing
variation where sounds transform in and out of recognition, pulling you in
and out of perceptual focus. A tinny guitar becomes a scratch which blurts
into an ear shredding sinewave that modulates into high pitched whines that
become a new kind of brand new improved tinnitus. Since the mid 90s, Mego
has defined what O''Rourke calls a 'brand new punk computer music, a punk
aesthetic, like do it yourself, press your own records, get your own
distribution going.'
They achieved this firstly by mutating the real-time sinewave synthesis
strategies familiar from academic computer music, and secondly 'by taking
it out of the context of art music as O' Rourke argued, a move 'that should
be recognised just as much as the music.' As Robin Rimbaud explained,
'There's a recognition of a wider world, where I get the feeling with
electroacoustic music that there's nothing outside it.'
The second Distinction unanimously went to the veteran New York based
Japanese composer Ikue Mori for *Birth Days*, her stunning 3 part Alesis
drum machine suite. Performed live, Mori's virtuosity enables her to draw
cross- and counter polyrhythmelodies from the most basic factory presets,
arranging these into an enchanting audiomaze of a composition. Mori's
rhythmatic wizardry underlined the extent to which rhythm remains the next
frontier for Ars Electronica in 2000 and beyond. Approaching producers from
the overlapping worlds of turntabilization, hiphop,and electronica for the
1999 Prix, the judges encountered a spectrum of resistance ranging from
indifference to antagonism. Years of insularity have created the sense that
Prix Ars Electronica was no different from the Bourges Festival, another
elite competition in which composers award prizes to other composers.
And so an influential duo like Autechre would not be moved, insisting there
was nothing special about what they did. Such extreme self-deprecation
contrasted with the majority of entries where, inadvertently or
deliberately, compositional statements often became an alibi for
underwhelming music. Complex explanations detailing how MetaSynth software
scanned visual data to generate audio often raised hopes which their music
failed to satisfy. O Rourke spoke for the Jury when he noted that 'If
somebody makes a big deal about where they're coming from and then I don't
hear it then I'm gonna hold it against them' Separated from its program,
much acousmatic music sounded indistinguishable from Hollywood sound design
but drained of the drama of, for example, John Frizzell's music for *Alien
Resurrection*.
The key exception here was Montreal based artists collective The User.
Their manifesto succinctly explained how their *Symphony for Dot Matrix
Printers* reshapes 'ambient technology' into a 'musical structure that'
doubles as 'a critique of technology' in the form of a parody of an
archetypal office unit. Architect Thomas Macintosh and composer Emanuel
Maden's *Symphony for Dot Matrix Printers* impressed the Jury enough to
earn an Honorary Mention. 'Dot matrix printers' they explain 'are turned
into musical 'instruments' while a computer network system, typical of a
contemporary office becomes the 'orchestra' used to play them. The
orchestra is 'conducted' by a network server which reads from a composed
'score.' Not only did their ideas amplify their project; more importantly
their installation overcame the decontextualizing effect of the video
player, an effect which fatally drained all the other pieces of their site
specific impact.
Late 90s digital music tends towards the pragmatic rather than
programmatic. Programmatic statements are disguised; a misspelling like
Mego group Farmers Manual album title *fsck* or *Mouse on Mars*
compositions such as X-Flies or Tamagnocchi says as much as any manifesto.
In fact a misspelling that makes you disbelieve your eyes is an entire
manifesto, one compressed and abbreviated, encrypted and delivered under
the Trojan Horse of derision and sarcasm.
Of the 12 Honorary Mentions, the Jury was especially pleased to award an
Honorary Mention to Berlin producer Stefan Betke for his *Pole* project.
*Pole* uses the simple Waldorf filter to generate the mesmerising pop,
crackle and snap of his *Pole 2* CD. The implied rhythm of its enwombing
bass skank acknowledges and extends the massively influential techno-dub
continuum pioneered by Berlin's Basic Channel/ Chain Reaction label
throughout the 90s.
Cologne duo *Mouse on Mars*-electronic composers Jann St Werner and Andi
Toma earned an Honorary Mention for the bewitching micro-engineered
texturhythms of their sumptuous 1997 album Autoditacker. Emotionally,
*Mouse on Mars* exemplify the joy of a toy, what another Honorary Mention,
the electroacoustic composer Rose Dodd termed *kinderzimmer*, the animistic
life of toys in a child's playroom. Their melodies spangled and twinkled,
wriggled and burst. Like the younger hypermelodic sister to *Hotel
Paral.lel*, Autoditacker's restless variation reveled in insectile
complexity. Running too much information through the inputs produces the
bursting effect of frictional forms in ceaseless life.
German producer Bernhard Gunter's suite *The Ant Moves/The Black and Yellow
Carcass/ A little Closer* was another popular choice for an Honorary
Mention. As Robin Rimbaud pointed out, 'He influenced an awful lot of
compositions that have happened in the last 5 or 6 years.' The extreme
quietness of Gunther's microsonic pieces demanded an extreme concentration
to the processed natural sounds occurring at the far edge of hearing.
Listening to the act of listening, your attention zoomed into the
electronics of everyday life, the hums of radiators, the tock of clocks. At
micro-perceptible levels, the borders between silence and accident became
porous. At one point O''Rourke asked Naut Humon to turn off his Power Book
and the sonic events obscured by the machine's hum loomed audibly into
earshot.
At the other extreme, composer Zbiegniew Karkowski's *Metabolic Speed
Perception* used the granular Internet sounds of Dial-up Connection to
generate a riverrun of harmonic overtones in the noise tradition of Merzbow
and Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music. Like many composers, Karkowski used the
internal sounds of software, but unlike them knowing this only added to the
fascination of his music.
Digital processes generate new kinds of chaos; music organizes this into
what Felix Guattari termed a chaosmos. 1999 was the year in which the Prix
Ars Electronica heard the chaosmos, the year in which danger and unknowing
returned to the unstable media of digital musics.



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