Phase Chancellor at the Stone

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This past February, renowned experimental composer and harpist Zeena Parkins curated an eclectic series of events at New York's avant-garde music venue The Stone. During the last week, Parkins invited a number of guiding lights from San Francisco's experimental media scene to perform. One highlight was the synthesizer trio Phase Chancellor, an improvisational group who have made memorable, yet infrequent appearances at various art and music spaces since 2005. Comprised of video artist Nate Boyce, musician J. Lesser, and Matmos's M.C. Schmidt, the outfit channels the early investigations in electronic art and video carried out by John Cage, David Tudor, and Nam June Paik. Phase Chancellor distance themselves from their predecessors through their integration of digital technology. The backbone of the performance is Boyce's mesmeric imagery, prepared mostly through the processing software Jitter, but altered and added upon live using a hacked video mixer fed oscillations by his Korg Mono/Poly synth. (In the accompanying video, imploding circles in the center of the image are generated by the arpeggiator function on this device.) The Mono/Poly is also part of the sound mix, to which Lesser and Schmidt contribute a rich counterpoint of electronic textures, avoiding the concept of drone altogether in favor of a perplexing and ever-shifting sonic environment. - Nick Hallett

Video: Phase Chancellor at the Stone, February 22, 2008

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Yes, No, Maybe So

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New York-based artists MRiver and TWhid (together, they are MTAA) began their collaboration as painters, but quickly moved into the world of new media. They were among the earliest internet artists and are at the forefront of a small handful who are still in practice from that first generation. Their work continues to push the boundaries of the genre, but is consistently informed by the history of conceptual art and performance. They very often contemplate the notion of "translation" between natural and computer languages, and in the form of "updating" works (their own or others') from the platform of one media epoch to another. While their newest piece, YES & NO (2008), grows very clearly out of this trajectory, it is refreshingly different. Like their One Year Performance Video (2004) and Karaoke DeathMatch 100 (2007), it uses software to string together pre-existing video clips of the two artists, but in a seemingly more random way than before. Always fans of language games, MTAA took turns taking sides in the binary of YES vs NO. They each recorded themselves saying these respective words sixty times and the computer randomly selects the order of each clip, so that the artists can disagree with each other in a myriad of chance combinations. Despite the randomness of these face-offs, they read as intentional, and like any good montage, meaning seems to emerge organically from the juxtaposition of the discrete units. The two-channel work looks quite a bit like the duo's Infinite Smile (2005), while perhaps illustrating that a sense of humor and the occasional agreement to disagree are the cornerstones to any happy artistic relationship. - Marisa Olson

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Symphonie Diagonale

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Video by Brock Monroe

The Icelandic new music ensemble Hestbak formed in 2003 as a brass-heavy improvisation collective. Under the influence of Aki Asgeirsson, who joined a year later, the band began experimenting with interactive technologies and the potential of animated scores to "conduct" performances of their compositions. A group recital last weekend, hosted by experimental folk singer Kria Brekkan at Brooklyn gallery Secret Project Robot saw the execution of several different pieces in which musical instructions, rendered as simple kinetic forms, emanated in real time from a video projector for viewing by both ensemble and audience. Each piece treated the passing of time as a stroll horizontally or vertically across the score, usually with a fixed point designated as the cue for performers to make sound.

Gudmundur Steinn's "Volma" referenced the graphical interface of studio recording software, while Asgeirsson's "Talfall" featured multiple strings of descending numerical values cascading along parabolic pathways. As each number disappeared off the bottom of the screen, a Hestbak member plunked its corresponding note on a piano, enabling a variety of casual rhythms and harmonies.

Performance of "Talfall" (Photo by Lisa Corson)

Perhaps "Hvitasuo" by Pall Ivan Pallson demonstrated the direct potential of video scoring most effectively to the uninitiated. Before the piece, Pallson distributed plastic party cups and instructed the audience members on how to position them in accordance to the length of slowly scrolling points in a projected diagram. Then came the sound: a relentless swath of pure white noise, which morphed differently for each individual in relation to the distance of the cups to his/her ears.

Audience during "Hvitasuo" (Photo by Lisa Corson)

While projected scores are nothing new to the experimental music community, graphic dataflow software like Max/MSP (and its free counterpart used by Hestbak members, Pd ...

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