Network Music Festival: interviews with artists

Page 1




Glitch Art by Antonio Roberts



Articles & layout by Ross Cotton



Set to take place on 27-29th January at Friction Arts, Cheapside, in Digbeth, Network Music Festival is the beginning of a networking age. With performances from international, pioneering hi-tech musicians, who each bring their own experiental edge to the laptop, live coding experience. The festival will also present sound installations and workshops for the audience to get involved in, opening up Birmingham’s creative community for all to bask in. Set up by the Birmingham Laptop Ensemble (BiLE), they explain exactly what the festival will bring to England’s second city..

BIRMINGHAM LAPTOP ENSEMBLE Birmingham Laptop Ensemble (BiLE) are a team of experimental sound performers. Focusing on instrumental and electroacoustic music, the ensemble improvise and interact together to generate and manipulate new ways of expression for live performances. The six piece (consisting of Shelly Knotts, Julien Guillamat, Charles Celeste Hutchins, Chris Tarren, Norah Lorway and Iain Armstrong), are also accompanied by glitch artist Antonio Roberts, who crafts supporting visual wonders for BiLE's on stage shows.


are playing two pieces [at Network Music Festival]”, says laptop enthusiast Shelly Knotts. “One of them we've performed at two other festivals, which is our XYZ piece, and then we are doing one of Les's pieces.” “It's a premiere”, says fellow member Charles Celeste Hutchins. “It's a 'Laptopera', we're doing just act two of it, but as far as I know, it's the first ever opera for laptops!”, he says. “A guy I really like called Gino Robair did an

Glitch Art by Antonio Roberts

improvised opera for really open instrumentation. “There were guys performing it with singers and laptops. “I also really like things with spoken text. So I thought, what if we did a similarly open opera thing with computers, but with more text”, says Les.

“So this is a way we could be really communicating. I've got my iPhone, if I move it one way, it controls one piece of sound, if I move it another way, it controls another part of the sound in three dimensions. And then, everybody in the ensemble has a sound which has three things you can control on it. “Then I can say, I'm going to control the pitch on Les's sound, the resonance on Chris's and the density on Julien's. So it's 3 dimensions with the iPhone controlling those things. “And we're all fighting the whole time to control each other's sounds.”


Shelly continues by explaining the story behind XYZ, which will also be performed at Network Music Festival, “we wrote that for the New Interfaces for Musical Expression conference in Oslo in May. “The idea was that we'd all be able to control each other's sounds, with an iPhone or using a Wiimote for example. I wanted to think of a way that wasn't just sharing sounds or chatting to each other during the performance”, says Shelly.



“It's like a big sonic battle!”, adds Julien. “Sonic arm wrestle was the working title!”, says Shelly. With elements of both art and music within their sound, BiLE fuse together two creative outlets and present their experiments through performance. “It's very much a musical background that we all come from, and I think that translates into the approach that we take” says Iain. “I was a classical violinist.” Shelly adds, “and I came from writing instrumental music, to doing electronics, to doing BiLE. “We're more about exploring other avenues alongside the other things that we are doing. But the stuff that we're doing in BiLE is definitely influencing my other compositions. “Working with a group of composers with other ideas just opens your eyes to other avenues”, Shelly says. “We are always trying to create interesting music”, says fellow member Chris. “We're not about technical fetishes or using technology for the sake of it, we are just using technology as a way of enabling us to do interesting and new things. The technology is much more of an enabling factor, rather than a necessity. “It's more about new ways of expression, rather than genre based roots,” he says. “The difference is that we aren't coming




from a fine art background”, concludes Iain. The sound of BiLE is very unique and unusual to most listeners, as they continuously adapt layers to their pieces with occasional improvisational qualities. “We generally rehearse quite a lot, so there's always an amount of structure”, says Julien. “We know what the aim is we want to create in a piece.” Les continues, “and when we start improvising, we have a stopwatch going. So people always have an idea of how long we are going for. “It's kind of thinking about musical forms always happening.” “When we're nearing the climax, we'll say go on! Go crazy! Do something! Push the volume up!”, adds Julien. “We always have a score”, says Shelly. “And during the performance, we've got a chat open. We can always type at each other if someone's doing something totally crazy”, says Les. “And we have hand signs for things like 'Help! My computer has crashed!'.” Live sampling is also a huge part of the BiLE collective, feeding electroacoustic elements into their sound. Iain explains further, “we are all designing our own instruments, and that can vary from piece to piece depending on the demands of the scores. “If you need to sample something live and apply some kind of process to it, then generally we'll write a patch that meets that brief. “Then there's flexibility; What you do to the sound is up to you. “Whether you want to make it more extreme or pitched based.” And it seems that other samples used by the group are much more obscure than you could ever imagine. “I had porn sounds once”, says Les.

“You had some good vocal samples as well, people being racist or homophobic?”, adds Shelly. “Oh yeah”, Les continues. “They were all my offensive samples. “I had one from the BNP which I didn't end up using because it was just too much. And then some representative in the states talking about how gay people are like a cancer upon society, which is a one way speech. “And then George Bush talking about terrorism”, he says. “But the classic is Chris's cheese grater!”, adds Julien. “I still haven't got my cheese grater back!, I can't grate cheese!”, jokes Chris. “And generally, some of the pieces that we play, define the material that we use”, says Iain. “So for the Partially Percussive one, we use metallic, percussive instruments like kitchen utensils.” “But I think all this comes from us being composers”, says Shelly. “When I go out, I have my microphone with me.” “When we were in Venice, everybody had their recorders. They're always doing it it seems!”, explains Antonio. And what future projects are BiLE looking to pursue? “It would be quite fun to do a Chinese whispers piece,” says Les. “By modifying the sounds that everybody else was making.” “So that's basically to chain the Laptops together”, explains Shelly. “Whatever Les makes gets sent to Iain, then whatever Iain does to it gets sent to me, then whatever I do gets sent to Julien, and then there will be one person at the end who will be playing the eventual sounds!” “I'm personally trying to work out ways of having more control [with Laptops]”, says Iain. “For me, it's about finding ways of making it

more performative. That's the thing with the Ensemble, it allows you to develop these ways of playing. “And it's also easier to do that as a group rather than on your own, because there are limitations”, he says. “Laptop performance is relatively a new area”, says Shelly. “People are still working out ways to make it an interesting performance as well as an interesting sound. “The thing I find interesting about BiLE is writing a piece that is specifically for a group of laptops, all connected via a Network. And thinking about the possibilities that you can have from that specifically. “We are all mixed ability coding types, the

participation is about what you can bring musically to the group.” says Shelly. “That's what appealed to me”, says Iain. “There was no demand from the group saying you need to be excellent at coding, just as long as you can make sounds and you can control it. “I think that's what's great about the way we work.” concludes Iain.

By Ross Cotton Glitches by Antonio Roberts





Taking their name from Polish-French-

American Mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot (who sadly passed away in 2010), German experimentalists Benoit and the Mandelbrots are a live coding laptop phenomenon.

Formed at the University of Music Karlsruhe, the four piece collective harness the process of writing software in real-time, expressing sonic structures as live source code. “We had Alberto de Campo and Julian Rohrhuber as visiting professors [at the University of Music Karlsruhe], who were the first live coders”, says Mandelbrot member Patrick Borgeat. “They designed JITLib, the live coding extension for the SuperCollider programming language. Me and Juan played in a laptop ensemble called Grainface at that time, which used a lot of controllers like WiiMotes”, says Patrick. “We thought it was kind corny and we wanted a simpler set-up”. Fellow member Juan A. Romero adds, “after the experience with Grainface, preparing pieces, programming controllers and re-

hearsing, we thought it would be better to be more flexible and improvise more than compose. “We aren't composers and we were somehow taking this role, which I personally don't like. “Thanks to Julian and Alberto, we saw the possibility of using our code in a live performance, so we just needed to practice instead of trying to compose”, says Juan. “We concentrated on improvising, which gave us more freedom”. As well as gaining inspiration from Julian and Alberto, the Mandelbrot four piece extend their musical creativity from a variety of other experiences. Matthias Schneiderbanger explains, “For me, the biggest influence is always the place where we will perform. Not only because of the fact that we mostly improvise on stage, but also because we really like to play in more inconvenient places”, he says. “This year, we've already performed in a bank, a library, a cinema and even a church. And these places always lead to new musi-

“A GIG IN SPACE WOULD BE COOL!.” cal approaches and different styles of music.”

Improvisation and tests are clearly something that make the Mandelbrots tick during rehearsal, as they build and expand their landscapes through agreeable, complimentary sounds. “Improvisational possibilities are huge in theory”, says Patrick. “In live coding practices, there's always time as a very limiting factor.” Juan agrees, “the possibilities are limited by knowledge, the typing speed and the performance time. But I would say mostly, it would be knowledge. “How well can you imagine sounds and write them into code, how well can you know your instrument. “I've had experiences where errors and glitches took me to a different goal as the one I intended, but I liked that more than my original idea, and kept using that mistake in my favour!”, he says. However, surely there's a possibility that experimentation with laptops could lead to the risk of computer rebellion? After constantly being told what to do! Matthias explains, “In summer 2010, I faced this subject with a piece where the interpreters of live coded music were human again. “They had headphones on with live coded music, and had to reproduce the heard sounds with their voice for the audience.

“I hope the machines will include us in their curriculum on Human Music History!”, adds Patrick. With little over a month to go until Network Music Festival, Juan expects that the Mandelbrot set will bring a “broad audience.” He continues, “ We expect the people to get interested in programming music, or to see the programming also as a musical/performative activity and not something you do in your room in the dark.” Patrick adds, “Internet makes it possible that you never feel isolated with your work, as there is so much exchange. But you can never underestimate physical presence and seeing all these people performing live at one festival is a really big thing.” And what are Benoit and the Mandelbrots plans for the future? “I would like to make a world tour”, says Matthias. “And a gig in space would be cool too!”. Fourth member Holger Ballweg agrees, “Yes, space would be sweet. “Sirius or this new found ExoPlanet comes to mind....”

By Ross Cotton Glitch Art by Antonio Roberts


Patrick continues, “I also think a lot of non-musical inspires us a lot. Like Internet culture, generative animation, graphics and movies in general.” “Every one of us has a different musical background and taste, which plays a role in finding a sound.” “Some of us hear 'beauty' kind of electronic music, others like it more 'noisy' or 'glitchy', others like more soft and ambient music, and all of it has an impact in our music”, adds Juan. “We also try to be as versatile as possible and try different genres.”

But generally, it is not a real problem for me to use the computer as an interpreter. “I am more concerned about the role of the loudspeakers”, he says. “We force them all the time to do even self-damaging sounds. I could even make a piece where the loudspeaker is insulting itself. It's not okay”, says Matthias.



GLITCH LICH Glitch Lich are an innovative collective of experimental musicians, who perform and collaborate with members spread over three different times zones. Developing new ways to create music and expanding on the idea of what it means to perform as a group, the four piece study further in composition across their different bases on the globe.

Made up of researchers Cole Ingraham, Benjamin O'Brien and brothers Chad McKinney and Curtis McKinney, Glitch Lich craft realtime network music like no other group on the planet. “My brother and I have been performing music together our entire lives”, says Glitch Lich member Curtis. “In California, Chad and I formed a band with two fellow students at Mills College. This ensemble was informed by the work of The League of Automatic Music Composers, and The Hub, two members of which where professors at Mills. These ensembles focused on creating music through a unique process of collaboration, using computers via data networks as a medium to share music information. “Once we graduated, we all went our own ways, which is often the case. Myself moving to England, Cole to Colorado, Ben to Florida and Chad stayed in California, though he now joins me in England. Of course the band still wanted to perform together”, says Curtis. “Since we were already using networks as a medium for musical collaboration, it was only logical that we could extend the performance space by using custom programmed applications. Allowing us to use the same collaborative methods on a global scale. “Thus, Glitch Lich became an international Ensemble!” The group's goal is never to cultivate a sound, but instead to focus on the principle of experimental music. Researching new techniques for performance and sound production, the collective discover new ways of where music can lead to. Curtis explains further, “Sometimes you fail miserably, sometimes it works more successfully than you could ever imagine.” Although, it seems that the press may not al-

ways see Glitch Lich as innovative in their approach. “We recently received a rather humorous review from an individual unfamiliar with experimental music”, says Curtis. “They compared us to [American abstract expressionist painter] Jackson Pollock and horror movie scores. I believe they meant it derisively, but we all found it rather complimentary!” The sound of Glitch Lich is always one that treads on dangerous territory, something that Curtis is very much keen on doing, as it's all part of the thrill to him. “Every performance is a treacherous and exciting journey”, he says. “A

And what are Curtis's and Glitch Lich's plans for the future? “We want to be the first organisation to design human eradicating AI, in hope that perhaps they will be more forgiving to us”, he says. “We are also currently researching how to more intimately involve beer in our performance practice. And I personally plan on creating more installation pieces that are illegal in at least one country.”

By Ross Cotton Glitch Art by Antonio Roberts


Glitch Lich welcome anybody with an open mind to come and see their performance at Network Music Festival. “As long as people listen actively and critically, I am happy”, says Curtis. “If they react by buying the band a round and having a friendly chat about what the heck just happened, that would be optimal, though not required”, he jokes.


Network Music Festival will also feature an installation piece called Leech, which is one of Curtis's own creations. Harnessing BitTorrent downloads as data, the piece reveals the look and sound of piracy, using the actual music

being pirated itself as a new musical composition. Curtis says, “I began thinking about alternative methods of using networks in music. Almost everyone I know pirates music, including myself and many other musicians. I often hear about how we should support musicians by buying their albums from the same people who pirate music themselves! It's a strange dichotomy that no one wants to talk about”, he says. “I decided that it would be interesting to tackle the issue the one way I know how, through music and sound itself.” Curtis continues, “to accomplish this, I set out to sonify the BitTorrent traffic of an actual act of music piracy. Gathering the data involves using Packet Sniffing [a piece of computer hardware that intercepts and logs traffic passing over a digital network] in combination with Geo IP location, and data mining a BitTorrent client. “By using this information, I am able to plot all the individuals involved in a particular torrent onto a global map, to both visualise and sonify the pirated data that is being uploaded and downloaded. “Simultaneously, I use the pirated songs themselves as a musical resource for effects processing as they download onto my computer.”


large part of our work has researched the possibility of a group collaboratively influencing chaotic structures, often through the usage of recursion and feedback. These pieces can be extremely surprising, and often feel more like herding wild beasts than performing. “At their best, the pieces produce results I'm not sure we could have ever derived in any other fashion”, he says. “When this occurs in performance, it's like a gift from Azathoth [a supreme being in the Cthulhu Mythos and Dream Cycle stories of H.P. Lovecraft]. “On the other hand, sometimes the system just won't comply, and just produces boring or painful results. Worst case scenario is a fatal technical glitch that brings the performance to a halt. “However, I consider this to be a boon”, he says.




Glitch Art by Antonio Roberts



Articles & layout by Ross Cotton


Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.