[ PowerBooks_UnPlugged ] network music improvisation
° Many have claimed that 'The laptop is the new folk guitar'; if this is so, then PB_UP is the first acoustic computer music folk band: The laptop is their only instrument. It was synthesizer, realtime sound processor, networking device, and now it is understood as a fully autonomous musical instrument, including being its own hand-held sound system:
player + laptop =
°° No more cables, no PA behind the scenes* - it's all integrated in one mobile machine already. What was available ever since laptops are being made, is for the first time fully employed by a group of six musicians now. Deliberately avoiding rock'n'roll speaker stacks, volumes, and stage aesthetics has interesting side-effects: sustainable, this-side-of-tinnitus loudness from the built-in laptop speakers is an essential part of the plan; it leaves the listeners' and the musicians' ears fresh and opens up dynamic ranges rarely ever experienced, much less explored in electronic music.
°°° Fully accepting the laptop as a complete musical instrument means creatively using all of its resources: Communicating over a wireless network, the instruments and their players are connected to share code snippets, chat, and, most importantly, have access to pan and distribute their sounds over any of the computers, thus unfolding a subtle, spatially differentiated sound environment in the concert hall. Obviously this allows the musicians to move through the performance space at will, mingling with the audience, breaking up the audience/performer/stage conventions.
°°°° For generating, processing, sharing and performing their sounds, pb_up use entirely self-written software based on the open source language SC3 (including J. Rohrhuber's JITLib); the sound spectrum ranges from synthesized textures (e.g. granular, virtual-analog, etc.) to live-processed and feedbacked sounds from the internal microphones.
°°°°° The network structure of the shared instrument(s) and the text-only interface of code without any superfluous (graphical) interfaces allows for all kinds of improvised interaction: call-and-response games starting from identical sound code, evolving them in diverging directions (from cadavre exquis games to genetic algorithms with the player's ears as selection criterium); finding acoustical niches for oneself in time/frequency that leave space for everyone to co-exist, resulting in complex soundscapes reminiscent of natural environments; over mutual voice-stealing by volume drowning or finely-tuned degrees of CPU overload, all the way to writing entirely new sounds on the fly in live coding 'battles', all the while sharing code around for all to modify.
°°°°°° Another beneficial implication of the networked band architecture is the gradual vanishing of one's musical and artistic ego, along with rock star volume [as it persisted for centuries]. Since instruments and control algorithms are shared, there's no real owner anymore; the creators are discrete musical entities only if they choose to be, ideas belong to everyone. This aspect places the band's work in the context of a new tradition of multi-client, multi-user artistic practice. Even the number of band members is not a fixed one anymore: it varies from three to six or more players, like clouds coalescing and evaporating depending on local circumstances.
* We do use PAs as an extra player/subwoofer occasionally, just to be non-doctrinary; however we tend to leave out the somewhat overused melody root freq.
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