.On Saturday, March 18, People Inside Electronics present the computer music collective Bitpanic at Boston Court, as well as pieces by Isaac Schankler and Caroline Louise Miller. While prepping for the concert, Bitpanic member Scott Cazan had a minute to answer a few questions.
I’ve seen Bitpanic’s name floating around for a while now and unfortunately haven’t had the chance to catch a show yet. Could you describe a bit about what you do?
Sure! Bitpanic is a computer music collective based in Los Angeles that explores networked compositional systems, experimental sound practices, and improvisation. The group follows the computer music lineage pioneered by groups like The Hub (who have been doing this sort of things since the 70’s). In fact, the current members are all former students and colleagues of one of the co-founders of The Hub, the late Mark Trayle and includes Casey Anderson, me, Clay Chaplin, David Paha, and Stephanie Smith. We perform new works for networked electronics as well as repertoire and improvised music.
As a networked computer ensemble, I’m sure you have some thoughts on the challenges of live performance in electronic music. How do you ensure your performances are engaging?
Well certainly there has been a lot of talk in the past about electronic performers and their stage presence but I think, luckily, we are moving past the idea that someone on stage with a laptop is not engaging (in any case there are five of us on laptops!). It has become pretty common to do so and I would only say that perhaps laptop performance has a really nice focusing effect for the ears (although we do have many more LEDs than your typical instrumental player). Certainly I hope that we can create a space for listening and that the music, itself, is central to do what we do and engaging on its own terms. Particularly in a network piece like the Trayle piece we’ll play this Saturday, “Pins and Splits,” where there is a palpable sense of urgency as we find ourselves reacting in real-time to prompts thrown out by other members of the ensemble in real-time.
As to improvisation, or even the simpler “playing together on multiple computers,” I have two questions I’d love your thoughts on. The first is how you think the traditional materials of music making figure in what you do, if they do at all. The second is more technical – are you using a live coding environment? Just syncing your clocks and on your own setups beyond that?
Well, it depends on which tradition one might be speaking of. We draw from a number of musical traditions. Electronic music has had a particularly fascinating tradition (roughly since the 40s) of highlighting timbre and gesture as a prime musical parameter and I think we, as individuals, each approach our own sounds with a careful attention to timbral detail.
Our predecessors, The Hub, certainly found a lot of inspiration in David Tudor and Cage and their ways of working with emergence (there is a really wonderful article by Tim Perkis on this subject called “Complexity and Emergence in the Experimental Music Tradition” that you can find on his website). In a lot of ways what Tudor experimented with was to move the compositional idea from a fixed score into a system/circuit. In other words, the circuit itself becomes the score and network music takes that to an ensemble setting. Of course, you see a lot of that type of thinking present in earlier and later works of Pauline Oliveros, Christian Wolff, John Cage, and many others as well. Bitpanic certainly carries on from that tradition of creating systems in which people are able to interact in very specific ways over a network. It is actually a pretty rich musical tradition of experimental music, from Tudor, The Hub, the cybernetics of Bebe and Louis Barron, and even all the way back to early electronic telemusic experiments such as Thadeus Cahill’s Telharmonium (1895) among others. And that is not even touching on the long history of improvised music that is worth an entirely separate discussion of its own.
How does the concert this weekend stand out, to you, from other performances you’ve done?
Every concert is different given the nature of pieces. Its really wonderful that we can be assured of that as the scores themselves, while specific in their interactions, allow new things to always emerge in the course of performing it. Every concert we do is preceded by reworking our own setups and finding new ways to explore the works so I’m really looking forward to see how this will evolve come Saturday. The last performance of “Pins and Splits” occurred at REDCAT so I also think it will be interesting to hear it in the more intimate setting of Boston Court.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Big thanks to People Inside Electronics for including us on the program. I’m also very much looking forward to hearing a new Isaac Schankler/Scott Worthington piece and a Caroline Louise Miller piece performed by Aron Kallay and Yuri Inoo. It should be a pretty diverse concert!
Tickets are available at https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pe.c/10123260.
The wulf in downtown Los Angeles was the site for a concert of the experimental music of composer Casey Anderson. A nice Sunday night crowd turned out on April 19, 2015 to hear an evening of new music at the leading edge of the performance vanguard.
The first piece was TALK RADIO (an opera), 2011 and for this eight performers were equipped with portable radios and headphones. Their instructions were to continuously tune through the dial – independently and without coordination – and repeat what was heard when a radio station came into hearing. Random phrases, sports scores, jingles and snatches of music were heard by the audience as spoken or sung by the performers. Static was also heard on occasion, as represented by a spoken rushing sound. Phrases such as “Line of credit…”, “Quite heavy still on the northbound 5…” or “Right out of the blocks, you get healthy…” were spoken. These came randomly as they were heard in the headphones and the phrases were sometimes repeated. Sometimes a tone heard on the radio – perhaps as part of a song – was sung and held by a performer as it was encountered on the radio dial. Here is a short video of a part of this piece that was made during rehearsal:
At times all were silent, and at other times two or more performers stepped forward as ‘soloists’. There were tutti sections when everyone was singing or repeating snatches of advertisements, editorials or traffic reports, and these were quite lively. Sometimes the fragments were quite poignant as when “Oh I’m in pain” was heard, along with pieces of a radio preacher’s sermon. TALK RADIO is perfectly named because what the audience hears are chunks of radio prose and music, but drained of all the production values and hype. It is as if someone you know is telling you about the latest news without the breathless, hyperbolic style we are accustomed to hearing when we listen to the radio. TALK RADIO is an engaging experiment in perception and translation and one that is both a random and unique experience.
false positives (2015) followed and this involved four drums fitted with microphones and amplification. Tuning forks of various frequencies were struck simultaneously, and the base of each applied to a drum head. The amplification immediately picked up the pitches and projected a strong, pure tone. This was quite startling at first; the striking of the forks had a small, distant sound – like silverware dropped on the floor in another room. But once applied to the drum heads the sound took on a boldness as the various frequencies mixed together, and then slowly died away. The process was repeated, with different sets of tuning forks, and this consistently produced a clean, but somewhat alien feel. The sounds produced were impressive nonetheless, and one could sense that the energy was being concentrated in a set of single frequencies. false positives was an interesting experiment in the perception of a small pure sound that is suddenly amplified.
After the intermission SLIPS (2015) began by six performers who recite “…a text distorted via loosely synchronized extensions to vowels or sibilants.” This took the form of speaking in unison the word taken from an image-filled story while every few seconds a tone was sung and held for a few moments by a single reader. The pace of the speaking was fairly rapid and this often carried the suggestion of a rhythm or cadence. As the story progressed a picture begins to form in your mind and when a pitch was sung by one of the performers your brain quickly associates an emotional color to that text, separate and apart from the image created by the words. It was as if the tone was shorthand for the longer effort of constructing a word image from the story and connecting it with a distinct feeling. The text seemed to veer off at odd times, restarting the process of assembling a mental image – and then a tone would be heard that produced an immediate emotional reaction. This contrast in the timing of the contending feelings provoked by two compartments of the brain are a fascinating study in personal perception and SLIPS would seem to have much to teach us about the relationship between lyrics and music.
The final piece of the evening was KARAOKE (2015) and for this five performers with headphones listened to the same album and individually created a sort of “quasi-private accompaniment.“ The audience heard only what was produced by the performers and this took the form of some humming, singing and whistling along with various kinds of drumming, tapping and rhythm-making, as well as the occasional piano run or saxophone riff. None of this was intentionally coordinated, each performer being fairly well isolated by headphones from the sounds produced by the others. Even so, the combined sounds heard by the audience often achieved a noticeable groove. This had an authentically primal sound, like something that might be heard around a camp fire fifty thousand years ago. As the album played through its various tracks you could sense a regrouping by the performers and it took a few minutes for the aggregate sound to come back into focus, much like a street-corner quartet feeling for tune. KARAOKE is an engaging piece that produces music almost as if by telepathy and makes an interesting point about the necessity of an organizational performance structure.
The performers in this concert were Casey Anderson, Jon Armstrong, Rick Bahto, Brendan Carn, Josh Gerowitz, Morgan Gerstmar, Todd Lerew, Liam Mooney, Stephanie Smith, Christine Tavolacci, Colin Wambsgans, Joe Westerlund, Michael Winter, and Andrew Young.
The next concert at the wulf will be May 5, 2015 at 8:00 PM featuring the music of Michael Pisaro and Graham Lambkin.