MUTEK.Mag
Opinion

Exploring New Avenues for Creativity

The Gulf Stream's Jérôme Guilleaume delves into the rapidly expanding realm of new interfaces for creation and distribution

Jérôme Guilleaume - April 02, 2012
Exploring New Avenues for Creativity

Democratizing access to new technologies has brought about a complete overhaul in the way we think about sound, and raising the subject only further flings the doors open. This access allows for increasingly personalized tools, going as far as to make music in and of itself a medium for creativity. From classic vinyl deejaying to the new approaches to live sets – via performer-generated controllers –, electronic music’s potential is endless. Ever since musique concrète transformed the studio into a bona fide musical instrument, the way we look at music composition has been profoundly altered.

When the interface stopped being the main outlet for sound – i.e. when the manipulated object stopped being the direct source of broadcast sound (at a time when manipulating an instrument was the sole way to produce music) – it was finally made possible to manipulate sound via other interfaces, which in turn became the manipulated object itself. This set them apart from more “static”, traditional music instruments, with all their possibilities and limitations. Being able to read and work with sound by analyzing a waveform – at times, without ever having to listen to it – is in and of itself an extraordinary breakthrough.

With this increased access to the means of music production and distribution, we saw the dawn of a new kind of artistry, care of newly portable production tools such as drum machines, MPC and other sequencers, or distribution tools such as the sl-1200. These new instruments are part of the daily fabric of a younger generation of producers and musicians, and it is not uncommon to find these pieces of equipment serve as a complement to, or substitution for, traditional instruments at showcases. What’s more, the trend clearly shows no signs of stopping, as expressed in this recent article about SXSW 2012.

Talking with Nicolas Bugayev, who’s currently penning his thesis “Techno, Repetition and Live performances”, confirms that discussions on the matter have become more sophisticated. He points out that personal computers and, subsequently, laptops have experienced the same democratization. Given their ability to produce, reproduce and broadcast sound, the use of tools that were once confined to the studio in a live setting has now become commonplace. This has encouraged the blossoming of new practices (via communication tools such as midi, osc, etc) and generated a new kind of virtuosity – one that is personalized and gives rise to unique performances. The Monome quickly comes to mind – an minimalist programming framework that facilitates the creation of a custom-made instrument – as do the performances of Daedelus, its ambassador.

Easily programmed objects such as Arduino microcontrollers point to the likelihood of even greater flexibility in crafting personalized, easy-to-manipulate objects. Tools with a versatile interface but that sometimes require many hands (think of classic synthesizers) have now been replaced by tools perfectly suited for very specific applications and performances. Objects are now utilized to their full potential, making them all the more useful by developing them for very precise tasks at a given time. Touch pads such as Lemur and its more affordable version, the iPad, allow modules to be practically unlimited and leave open the possibility for interfaces such as this one to see the light of day.

We can foresee a short-term future in which tactile surfaces allow artists to build their controllers and hence, their own relation to music. These touch surfaces would be less linear and more malleable; as for the interface, it could be part of the performer’s immediate environment, as opposed to a physical object. Of course, these breakthroughs can be applied to all new media spheres, and we’ve already begun seeing the barriers between different disciplines come down, along with its resulting innovations.

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The Gulf Stream and VJ MA' are working on Trajectoires, an audio-visual project that will be presented in Montreal during the Chromatic and MUTEK festivals. Their second EP will be released in May on the Archipel label. They will perform at the Piknic Électronik in Montréal and Gatineau, as well as during the Montreal Fringe.

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