Max Mathews (1926–2011) Interview with Geeta Dayal for Frieze

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Max Mathews Radio Baton Demonstration


Rhizome contributor Geeta Dayal recently interviewed Max Mathews for Frieze magazine. Sadly the pioneer of digital music (creating MUSIC in 1957) passed away three weeks later. It's a fascinating conversation going over the history of computer music and Mathew's many high profile collaborations, while explaining the creative energy at Bell Labs at the time.

Your boss actually encouraged you to take time off from work to write MUSIC? Bell Labs sounds like it was an amazing place.

Bell Labs was a golden era. Golden for several things. One was that the research money to support it was gotten as a tax on the earnings or the profits of the telephone companies. We got it as a lump sum. The vice president in charge of research, William O. Baker, insisted that there be no strings attached to the money and that we could use it in the way we thought was best. So a lot of very important things were done with this support, or byproducts of things that were used in telephony. There were the radio telescopes, and the measurement of the background radiation with the very low-noise antennas that we developed that supported the Big Bang theory, and there was of course the transistor. And there were all sorts of speech codings that are still very important, and error correcting codes. The departments originally only hired Ph.D. physicists, mathematicians, and maybe a few chemists. Then they gradually let in some engineers. The whole research department, the position you took was a member of staff – MTS, member of technical staff. That was the highest position in the research department! [laughs]...

What’s your attitude about how difficult it was for you in the 1950s to make computer music, versus making computer music ...

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Le Révélateur - Bleu Nuit (2011) / Video by Sabrina Ratté

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Bleu Nuit is made using video feedbacks as basic material. Through various processes of image manipulations, colors emerged from electronic light to create improbable landscapes. It is also a collaboration with Le Révélateur, who’s music was the primal inspiration for the completion of this video. Bleu Nuit is a track from Le Révélateur's forthcoming LP on Gneiss Things, Fictions. - DIAMOND VARIATIONS

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Fairlight: "The Rolls Royce of synthesizers"

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Fairlight CMI on "This Week" ABC TV

The Register covers the history of Fairlight synthesizers. "An Australian-made music production system based on the Motorola 6800 processor, the Fairlight was - at well over £20,000 – a stupendously pricey piece of kit." Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel were early adopters...

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How Large is an Atom of Music? A Tour through Today’s Spectral Music and Software at UCSD

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Well, the short answer is .093 seconds. That’s about the shortest amount of time mathematicians need to generate a full analysis of a sound’s component frequencies.

On an even smaller scale, computers typically store sound information in 44100 samples per second. This makes up the typical waveform view of sound that most are accustomed to seeing. However, each sample only gives information about amplitude (or volume), which is a pale portrait of sound. Sound in the physical world is essentially an unfolding of waves over time. Therefore, when translating from physical to digital, frequency information over time is essential to give a meaningful atomic definition of any sound.

A waveform view plots time vs. amplitude. A spectrogram plots frequency vs. time with color representing amplitude

Armed with the calculus technique of the Fast Fourier transform, mathematicians typically take the amplitude values from a mere .093 seconds of sound and draw a complete audio portrait. This portrait consists of the volumes of each component frequency that makes up a complex sound.

Thus, the Fourier transform is the key tool for spectralists, a loosely related group of composers and scientists whose goal is to analyze and resynthesize sound using sound’s most basic digital elements. Spectralists literally rip apart sound into its tiniest grains and develop diverse strategies to reconfigure those microsounds into a new sound barely resembling its original form. Between the two poles of granular analysis and synthesis, musicians have only begun to chart a new world of expression.

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SSLEEPERHOLD - Ashes (2011) / Video directed by Seth Nemec

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"Ashes" by SSLEEPERHOLD from the forthcoming album on Living Tapes. Produced and recorded by Jose Cota. Video directed by Seth Nemec.

This video was created with Paik-Abe raster manipulation unit, Brewster analog modular synthesizer, Hitachi vectorscope, Panasonic CCTV camera, Processing 1.2.1, Final Cut Pro. Produced at the Experimental Television Center.

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Video Roundup: Severed Heads

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Severed Heads on ABC Television's program "Edge of the Wedge" in 1986

Originally founded in 1979 by Richard Fielding, Andrew Wright and Tom Ellard, Severed Heads was an electronic group based in Sydney. They used synthesizers, tape loops, and an array of electronics to yield a distinctive sound, one which could most easily be described as industrial music, which later developed into abstract pop. While the lineup changed over the years, Tom Ellard has been the main continuing force in the group, up until his announcement of its end in 2008. In 1983, Severed Heads began integrating live video in their performances, which became a mainstay in their work. This post collects videos of the group, the majority of which date from the early 1980s, and many of which document their use of video synthesizers. For more information about everything Severed Heads, check Ellard's official site.


Below: Videos of a live set performed on Metro TV, a community video center, in 1982. The video synthesizer used here was developed by Stephen Jones.



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Mane Mane - Twinkle Sr (2011) / Video directed by Aaron Katsnelson

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[BEST IN FULL SCREEN]

Originally from Altered Zones

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Interview with James Voorhies of Bureau for Open Culture

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Opening reception for "Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven" on April 5, 2011 at Bennington College

James Voorhies is the Director and Chief Curator of Bureau for Open Culture (BOC). BOC operates through exhibitions, screenings, performances, and informal discussions that happen in and outside of the gallery space. Working with a variety of collaborators, Voorhies has sought to question the role of institutions in the dissemination of various art practices. I got to know Voorhies when we collaborated on the BOC’s The New Administration of a Fine Arts Education, a conversation series with leading individuals of contemporary art that took place at the Columbus College of Art and Design in Ohio. This spring and summer, BOC will present two projects. Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven, from April 5-29th at Bennington College, and I Am Searching for Field Character, presented at Mass MoCA this summer. Incorporating a series of public conversations, performances, installations, workshops and a beer garden, BOC will be bringing artists, writers, designers and thinkers to North Adams, Massachusetts to explore the economic and social character of the cultural laborer. I took this opportunity to talk to him about BOC and his hopes for the future of his organization.



How would you describe the mission of Bureau for Open Culture?

The mission is to reconsider the art exhibition as a new kind of learning site. We don’t necessarily prioritize the gallery as a site for engaging with art or seek to provide an absolute conclusion to the ideas exhibitions raise. To do this, BOC welcomes people from disciplines outside of the usual visual arts⎯landscape architecture, literature, philosophy, design and activism⎯to intermingle. We produce projects that take place in storefronts, gardens, libraries and unused industrial spaces within a wider consideration of the nature of contemporary art and culture.

The exhibitions are made with an awareness of the effect that an art institution⎯as a physical space and a concept⎯has on how art is produced and how people experience it. A lot of my interests in the structural behavior of the art institution come out of watching organizations like Office of Contemporary Art Norway, Shedhalle in Zurich and IASPIS in Stockholm. These are institutions of critique that have taken up the kind investigations of institutions found in artistic practices like those of Michael Asher, Hans Haacke and Andrea Fraser. These institutions were not long ago categorized loosely within a term called “New Institutionalism.” But, I don’t think that term is used so much today.

Using alternative spaces, Bureau for Open Culture tends to mediate more strongly or maybe less didactically between visitors and art. Moving the action out of the gallery is one way we do this, but I also care about what viewers will get out of a connection with a visiting artist or a talk. For example, the collective artist Claire Fontaine participated in the exhibition Descent to Revolution. Part of their contribution to the exhibition was to give a talk related to Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy. I organized a weekly reading group for Lyotard’s book with about 10 to 12 participants who discussed the book, which is really difficult to grasp, alongside images of work by Claire Fontaine. We had participants from all sorts of backgrounds⎯students of philosophy and comparative studies, activists and visual artists. We did this over the course of five to six weeks in a kind of preparation for Claire Fontaine’s visit to Columbus. While we did not devour the book as much as one could, the reading group created an investment and interest in Claire Fontaine. We had an incredible turnout for their talk, a great conversation. The talk took place in an unused storefront space where other projects and actions were occurring during the course of the exhibition. It was late October and the rundown space with its leaking ceiling and lack of heat helped reduce the formal effect of the institution to put audience and artists on closer levels. I really liked the whole experience.

There are also lots of private moments between visiting artists and the community. Those moments, to me, are as important as the public engagement. So, all of this combined is what I mean by rethinking the exhibition as a new kind of learning site.

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Oramics (2011) - Nick Street

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A brief glimpse of Daphne Oram's pioneering and unique Oramics synthesizer, designed in 1957 after she left the legendary BBC Radiophonic Workshop to pursue the project.

This short film features Dr Mick Grierson, Director of The Daphne Oram Collection, acquiring the synthesizer from a collector in 2009.

The machine is now in the hands of The Science Museum in London and is currently being restored.

Originally via /mediateletipos)))

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Art Tape: Live With / Think About (2011) - Michael Bell-Smith

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Originally via VVORK

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