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Back up to the Whitney tonight for a panel on digital sound art. (I'm working on an article on "Bitstreams" and other recent digital shows, so a lot of the notes are going here). The panelists played excerpts from their work and/or performed, and then fielded questions.
Elliott Sharp used a small microphone attached by a cable to his laptop to make a pocket symphony of white noise/metal machine music. He held the mike in the air to pick up room sounds, twirled it like a lasso, dangled it over the keyboard, and hummed into it, but the sounds coming out of the speakers bore no resemblance to the sounds you'd expect to be produced from such activities. He constantly clicked buttons on the laptop, changing the texture of the sounds as he performed, from clicks to roars to feedback honks--all very downtown and "no wave" and enjoyable.
John Hudak presented "nature sounds as minimalist music": field recordings of crickets time-stretched into ambient washes. The lecture part of his segment was so timid and halting that I noticed the critic next to me writing "MINIMALIST SPEAKER" in her notebook.
The highlight of west coast artist Pamela Z's segment was a brief demonstration of the "body synth": a group of sensors attached to her arms that turned muscle flexion and extension (i.e. dance movements) into synthesized hiccups, trills, and Art of Noise-style vocal stabs. This could have been bad, but it was quite charming and unpredictable. Marina Rosenfeld played a live recording of her 17-woman band Sheer Frost, consisting of 12 guitar players (hitting the fretboards with nail polish bottles in accordance with a strict score of basic "moves") and 5 laptop players reinterpreting the performance in real time. This wasn't so good--it reminded me of Fred Frith's late-'70s experimental period when he was using a light bulb as a slide and refusing to do anything virtuosic.
Last, the inevitable DJ Spooky (with shaved head) treated the audience to a mad whirl of self-promotion (passing out stickers and LPs), name-dropping of French critics and American jazz musicians, and video-game style graphics from his laptop. The guy really talks the talk--"the net mirrors the street; as above, so below," "architecture is frozen music," and so forth--but does he walk the walk? I liked one loop where a brief flurry of typography on the screen was accompanied by steroid-enhanced Smith Corona sounds, but I was not convinced by his manifestation of "dub architecture": wireframe images of a 3-D graffiti tag writhing above glass-and-aluminum balconies. He brags about his club dates but he's really a creature of museums, wowing curators with drum-and-bass and hip-hop quotations. I would have enjoyed him more if he wasn't so pedantic: "Have you ever heard of [so-and-so]? You haven't ? Well, he invented the record sleeve!"