Network Music

 "The fast paced development of broadband internet infrastructure makes high quality real time networked music performances possible. In recent years, the implementation of over-provisioned network backbones has led to the development of several initiatives that allow real-time or time-shifted interactions of geographically displaced musicians." - Renaud, Carôt, Rebelo.

The following are examples of those initiatives carried out in my graduate research at the University of Calgary. Each piece utilized the digital presence workstation Artsmesh as the means for connecting audio between locations along with a custom software tool built in Max/MSP for calibrating network latency. More information on any of these pieces, methods of composition, and the software used can be found in the document below.

Masters Thesis - Rhythmic Topologies and the Manifold Nature of Network Music Performance


Topologies

In instrumentation (human hands) and form (rhythmic phaseshifting), Topologies pays homage to Steve Reich’s Clapping Music, however the process does not function in exactly the same way. The piece was made out of a desire to plainly demonstrate the rhythmic interactions that naturally reveal themselves in a piece of toporhythmic network music.


Network Gyre

Network Gyre was my first attempt at composing a toporhythmic network music performance. It was performed once between the University of Calgary and the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing and once between the University of Calgary and Montana State University. The recording is from a performance between two locations on the University of Calgary campus. 

The term “gyre” refers to any spiral or vortex, in this piece it specifically refers to a system of ocean currents called the North Pacific Gyre. Each section of the piece corresponds to one of the four currents that travel back and forth between North America and Asia. The tempo is derived from the audio signal’s round trip time between Calgary and Beijing over a high speed research network (as of 2014). This latency creates the possibility for bi-located rhythms wherein different patterns are heard in each performance site.

Publication about the piece in the proceedings from the International Computer Music Conference: Network Gyre - Exercising the Network's Rhythmic Potential

Montana State University <-> University of Calgary performance images:


BeijCalgIndi

BeijCalgIndi is a structured improvisation performed for the IUPUI Telematic Collective concert on April 25th in Indianapolis and Calgary, and the morning of April 26th in Beijing. The piece used the digital presence workstation Artsmesh for connecting the locations.

Recorded from Beijing performance space

BeijCalgIndi images:


Blind Men and the Elephant

Blind Men and the Elephant was composed and performed as part of my master's thesis. The score consists of a series of repeating modules, each one measure in length, and read on a computer screen in front of the performer. The instrumentation is variable but requires two polyphonic instruments and one monophonic instrument in a low register. In some modules, performers are given a set of pitches and a rhythmic phrase, and the pitches can be played in any order. In others, pitches are given in a certain order but the rhythm can be improvised. While in others, the modules are through-composed.

The piece utilizes network music’s unique affordances by involving audience participation via Twitter. For each module, there is a legato version, a staccato version, a version with an accent pattern, and a version that changes dynamic. Audience members are encouraged to post tweets during the performance that include one of the terms, “legato”, “staccato”, “accent”, or “dynamic”, and tags the username “@telephantmusic”. At numerous random points in time, the piece’s software scrapes Twitter for these tweets and changes the performers’ score to reflect the audience members’ suggestions.

Images from the three performance nodes:

Program Notes:

Blind Men and the Elephant takes its title and inspiration from an ancient story originating in southern Asia. Having suffused many religious traditions over hundreds of years, the story has come to be a valuable analogy for the manifold nature of truth.

In the story, a group of blind men (or men in the dark) set out to understand the form of an elephant. One man touches the leg and determines an elephant is like a pillar, one touches the trunk and determines an elephant is like a rope, and one touches the ear and determines an elephant is like a fan. The conclusion of the story is different among the many versions told over time. In some, the men argue violently over who is right or wrong. In others, a sighted (omnipotent) person reveals that they are all partially right. And in other versions the men come together to communicate and arrive at an agreement. Thus, the story itself is understood from differing viewpoints, making it a clear example of self-reference.

The notional interactions of perspectivism, pluralism, and self-reference are not only compositional inspiration for the piece, they are also physically manifested in the process of its performance. At each performance space (or "node") sonic events unfold in different orders due to latency in the speed of data transmission. The piece itself, like all performed music, is a single action - a sequence of sonic events spanning a length of time. However, each listener (and performer), depending on their location, hears these events unfolding in a different order. The act of performance is singular, but the experience of the performance is manifold.

The beauty in this, for me, lies in the fact that a reconciliation of all perspectives (omnipresence or agreement) is physically impossible. There is no ultimate listening location, no one “true” form of the performance. A deeper reading of the story of the blind men and the elephant also yields this conclusion - while we may conceive of a “true” elephant form, we do so individually and we require others’ perspectives to inform that conception.

As both listener and performer, the piece is shaped by your momentary decisions (musical improvisation and tweeting), and by your body’s physical location (in one of the three performance locations). Therefore, reconciliation among the audiences’ and performers’ perspectives is found by embracing disparity and focusing on the process of a harmonious realization of the piece.

Instructions:
Any time during the course of this performance feel free to send a tweet that uses one of the following terms: legato, staccato, accent, or dynamic. Use only one term at a time, but tweet as many times as you'd like. Include the username @TelephantMusic and your input will be used in the realization of the piece. (example: Staccato @TelephantMusic)

Artwork by Gregory Swain (swizzleboards.com)