Cameron McKittrick (theremin, laptop) & Richard Windeyer (drums, laptop) at ‘Wired’ (Laurier Music Festival, Wilfrid Laurier University, January 31, 2016)
Last January (2016), Cameron McKittrick and I revived our digital performance project ‘Finger’ for an alumni reunion concert at the Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty of Music. Once upon a time, Cam and I were both composition students there. More recently, we both worked there as sessional instructors in composition and music technology — which is essentially how the Finger project came to be.
In this performance, Cam’s instrument consists of theremin-controlled piano samples which are activated and organized through MaxMSP software. My drum kit uses acoustic MIDI trigger data to manipulate a granular synthesis engine containing a vocal improvisation recorded by longtime friend, collaborator, and spoken word artist, Angela Rawlings.
Although our improvisation was brief, it seemed to succeed as a performance — or so it seemed based on post-concert conversations with audience members. This was (I suspect), partially due the fact that we intentionally chose NOT to focus our attention on the screens of our laptops, something which has become a persistent condition of so many laptop-based performances. Instead, we focused on anticipating, interpreting and reacting (sonically) to each other through our respective physical (especially facial) gestures.
It seems to me that one primary consequence of any performance that employs computers is that it renders far too much of the actual ‘work’ of performance invisible to the viewer. Our solution here, simply put, was to transfer the perception of that work to the interplay of two human bodies struggling to formulate — and then exchange — informational cues in realtime.
Interviewed by Hannah Dean on CKLN this morning about tonight’s FINGER performance at SoundPlay (8 pm, Theatre Direct’s Christie Studio, Artscape Wychwood Barns, 601 Christie #170, Toronto). Some really good conversational threads emerging about the re-defining of performance in the age of electroacoustic/digital technology; the role of the body in laptop-driven performance; the struggle to accept ‘liveness’ as something which itself accepts (and even embraces) technical failure as a deep-seated echo of ‘the sacrifice’ in ritual and spectacle. It’s the uncomfortable thrill audiences receive in watching someone fuck up onstage. A moment like that is truly alive – because in that moment, artifice and representation fall apart. Reality smashes the window and forces everyone to improvise until balance and control are restored. Ultimately, that same audience also wants to be captivated by virtuosity.
Hannah asked me to name my influences…who else does this kind of work? For some reason, I thought of Bob Ostertag’s writing (Human Bodies, Computer Music and others) and his acknowledgement that tension and struggle are key themes in all of his work. Isn’t a performance largely about witnessing a personal, physical struggle of some kind? To make all the right moves in the heat of a moment; to lose oneself to (or to give oneself over to) the music that’s being made in the moment. I couldn’t help but also think about the stage craft of Bryan Ruryck.
One last question – what, if anything, in this FINGER show is structured? Other than our assigned, physical tasks during the show, it’s only the timeline that Cam’s (McKittrick) computer follows as it collects, parses and conditions streams of data generated by our physical interactions with the sensors and materials of the show. This ‘brain’ runs along with us in the background like a ghost – somewhat reminiscent of the ‘ghost electronics’ compositions of Morton Subotnick. The system runs imperceptibly deep in the background, inaudible itself but forever modulating the audio-visual consequences of my/our physical activity – even to the point where (potentially) the system decides to punch-out for the day and leave me/us hanging in the wind?
The next likely stop with all this – the drum kit and National Exit Strategy.
When is a house a home? Or when is it not? And when or how does a structure (like even a cardboard box in an underpass) become a ‘home’ anyway? On the surface, the owner or occupant moulds the house to their needs (through renovations, decorations, routines and rituals), while the house secretly moulds the occupants to its needs. HABIT@ seeks a deeper understanding of this experience. FINGER opens up a cardboard box in order to figure out what makes a house a home.
Ingredients: 1 cardboard box
a handful of sensor technology
several digital recall devices
machines for crunching data
small things (including fingers)
…and one cat.
Since 2002, I have been collaborating with Cameron McKittrick and Leslie Wyber under the name of FINGER, a live electroacoustic performance trio creating new work and re-interpreting old works by mixing fresh compositional approaches with new performance technologies. We have become increasingly interested in the impact of electronic mediation on live performance – especially where it concerns the perception of physical gesture, interaction and issues of scale. In our recent work we have examined the role of mediatization in performance forms.
A common obstacle in creating convincing electroacoustic performance concerns the use of laptop computers as instruments — their computational (and compositional) power hugely outweighing their corresponding visual appeal as instruments in live performance. The traditional instrumentalist’s large and culturally familiar gestures are in stark contrast to the visual component of a typical laptop computer performance: In a laptop performance, the audience regularly reports frustration resulting from their inability to ground the sound they are hearing in the actions they are seeing. Past FINGER performances have often evoked experiences similar to that of sitting in a live radio audience watching the small physical actions of the sound effects artist become transformed into much larger, sonic images. For example, how the tapping of coconut shells comes to represent horse hooves in the mind of the listener. More recent FINGER performances – focusing specifically on the intense amplification of small, manually performed aural and visual gestures – have made us aware of the audience’s need for a larger performative context. At the same time, we are increasingly aware of the risks involved in amplifying an audience’s incredulity through fantastic gestural interface without apparent governing artistic intention.