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!"

- tom moody 5-11-2001 5:07 pm

your analysis of DJ Spooky as a bit pedantic seems spot-on; in my dealings with him as a performance curator, his references seemed "spookily" more credible than his art.
in talking to him about previous shows my group had put on, I mentioned 8-bit music, to which he responded "You mean, like Cory Arcangel?" I explained that we had Bubblyfish perform (another well known 8-bit musician). he seemed nonplussed, like the music seemed less important than the name.
it was a weird experience...
- Jeff S (guest) 12-17-2006 12:05 am

Thanks for commenting--it's funny to be talking on this thread started 5 1/2 years ago.
I guess as an artist he can't be blamed for being unaware of other artists, especially ones that came "after" him.
Also, on a superficial level one might think 8-Bit is pretty much the opposite of Illbient--harsh vs smooth, suburban vs urban, nerdy vs hip.
He's a smart guy with a lot of good, and I would say influential ideas, but he always had a "street cred problem" in terms of where those ideas were having the most impact.
In other words, maybe influencing intellectuals more than other musicians.
I'm more interested in UK jungle than Illbient--it had those Cagean ideas married to hiphop but "took it up another notch" in speed and intensity (and use of software and gear).
- tom moody 12-17-2006 12:45 am

old threads always inspire wonder for me...we are traveling through internet a star background gif

I agree that perhaps DJ Spooky is geared more intellectuals than musicians; a friend of mine was taking a class taught by RoseLee Goldberg, who claimed the prototype of musician-artist since the downtown scene has been virtually non-existent, outside of DJ Spooky. my friend called her out, mentioning several influential music and art crossovers, and she was just sort of silent about it.
I think the clash between folk and other contemporary-but-not-new artists, as you said "the nth repetition of neo-expressionist painting," creates a bizarre stage for conflict
- jeff (guest) 12-17-2006 5:29 am

I love the old "just fell silent" routine. It's hard to admit you don't know shit about something, especially when you're teaching, I guess. Unlike her, I've perfected the time-honored art called "bluffing until I've had a chance to check Wikipedia."
- tom moody 12-17-2006 5:57 am

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