Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Another useless instrument...

Well, I'm sorry to say that it seems that I'll be presenting as much trash here as I will be presenting interesting items....

The latest is the Barong Analog.



This instrument has a delibarate trash aesthetic and seeks to take electronic music from synth boxes to a more performative level.

When will these people learn? It is really all about seeing someone on stage making bad music?

8 Comments:

Blogger Mike Boyd said...

What's really odd about this is that it is only as portable as the chords attaching it to the amplifier are long! It's not that different (other than the sci-fi interface) than an electronic keyboard strapped onto someone via a guitar strap. Sure you can walk around a stage with this one, but, particularly due to the poncho aspect, I was at least hoping you could travel through a building or city!

1/18/2006 9:10 AM  
Anonymous josh said...

well if you jsut use a portable amp
then you can take it wherever you go. i saw some people do it.

it's not useless, it's your imagination that's lacking.

1/21/2006 9:05 AM  
Blogger Kristian Twombly said...

Josh, the problem is the bigger issue of musical instrument interface. Far far too often the extent of the imagination put in to a new (and overhyped) "instrument" is simply rearranging triggers - maybe it is on a glove, maybe it is on a pair of pants, maybe it is on a poncho.

The musical result is, again, far too often overlooked. The music becomes an ancillary aspect of the overall performance, and this is a problem for me. I don't experience "live" music to see a person improvising. I go to hear an outstanding artwork.

I'm not totally against new interfaces - much to the contrary, if used appropriately, they can be very interesting. But what musically artistic interest is there in attending a performance of a work featuring this poncho instrument?

Rather than "freeing the performer", these toys serve only to limit the performer (and seriously limits the music and experimentation).

I hate to sound like an ass - but I'm pretty sure that any lack of imagination is probably being suffered by that person wearing the poncho.

1/21/2006 9:18 AM  
Anonymous stephen f lilly said...

The problem here is that the interface has nothing to do with the instrument. Someone has simply attached analog devices to a poncho. I don't see how this helps "free electronic music from the confines of synth boxes and sterile laptops."

It's like saying "placing a stove in the bathroom frees cooking from the confines of the kitchen."
Does this change the taste of the food? No.
Does this change the way one cooks? No.

I see a guy tweaking nobs on his chest instead of a modular synth. Performance is much more than simply changing where the nobs are.

I believe all instrument design should address two fundamental questions:
1) How does the interface influence the sound?
2) How does the interface change the interaction between sound and performer?

1/22/2006 11:09 AM  
Anonymous Steve Wanna said...

I completely agree with Stephen. I would add (more like clarify) one more thing that all instrument design should address:

Does the interface (interaction between instrument and performer) SHAPE the sound in any way? (more urgent, I suppose than influencing sound... not arguing semantics, but I feel much of the nonsense we’re bombarded with is a direct result of people’s ignoring and/or misunderstanding how their actions actually SHAPE the results... a lack of attention and sense of responsibility!)

This's very important, so that we don't confuse and mix something that is seemingly new (a poncho on stage) with a something that already exists and is a very familiar idea (turning nobs). The poncho masks this but does not fundamentally change it.

What I'm saying here echos some of what Michael Hamman talks about in some of his writings (which in turn echos what others have said). It's crucial that we thoroughly understand the interface between man and machine and its impact on how we think (and what we produce). If this's lacking, we succumb to being excited by novelties that don't really address anything new or different.

This next thought might be a slight tangent, but I feel that it relates to the topic at hand. I mentioned this before in email. I strongly believe that some of Di Scipio's recent music represents a truly (and fundamentally) new approach to the role of performers and their relationship to the music, space and their instrument. Granted that he arrived at this not by inventing a new instrument but redefining the role of a performer and their behavior towards a performance. I think there's much to be learned from that, from a well-thought out approach that has a keen understanding of what it's trying to address and what it need to change (not mask, but TRULY change).

Like I said, might be a slight tangent, but a good example to follow.

1/22/2006 2:53 PM  
Blogger Mike Boyd said...

I have one additional comment that specifically addresses the use of a poncho. The yellow poncho is perhaps one of the most flamboyant articles of clothing that this device could have been mounted to - it is large, bright yellow, and not commonly worn (except on amusement park water rides). Therefore, the choice of the poncho was a (conscious or unconscoius) decision to focus attention to the fact that the performer is wearing something unusual. This sort of spectacle-creation really seems to either lend itself to a traditional performance venue (recital hall, theater, club, etc.) or is perhaps counterproductive when taking the instrument into non-traditional performance situations; the "audience" and "performer" roles (concepts usually problematized through art made in public spaces) instantly become codified in very traditional ways (I am the performer because I am wearing a poncho, you are the audience wearing regular clothes). I would certainly advocate a more subtle visual appearance to allow for a more spontaneous, less dialectical relationship between individuals creating/experiencing the work.

As a quick aside, I've seen performers use portable tape recorders and boom boxes in very creative ways, though what was interesting was not that one could carry around a battery-powered tape recorder (something we all take for granted), but the fact that they rethought how such an object might be used in a non-traditional performance setting.

1/22/2006 6:28 PM  
Anonymous Bartek said...

I agree that quality of sound is what matters - not the performance element itself. However, different interface of the same instrument may give different, sometimes better musical effect. Turning knobs may be more limiting than moving your whole body. It only depends on the details of translating body movements to instrument output. To judge this whole experiment, one would have to try this "wearable instrument" himself. There are probably many ways to approach such a problem (controlling sound with your whole body), and this is only one attempt at it.

So - this is not useless - this is a step in the right direction - this is not a final innovation, this is only one example of future possibilities.

2/09/2006 8:37 AM  
Blogger Kristian Twombly said...

Bartek-

I think that you are right in that this instrument is by no means a final step. What I hope I suggest in my discussions about this is not that I am looking for a final solution - art is evolving and should never settle or rest!

In fact, I've heard this instrument and the sounds aren't bad at all. The interface itself - a mixture of knob twisting and other voltage control devices (like the one on our lower right as we look at the picture) - doesn't need to be on a parka.

If you read the original manifesto, however, you'll see nothing about sound. All of the writing is about interface. We can only assume from that that the creator isn't particularly interested in the sonic output of the device, at least in terms of marketing it. The video I mentioned, while containing some interesting sounds, is what I might very graciously call a improvisation, and doesn't address "music." (please note the difference between "sound" and "music")

So in the end, this is a useless instrument - not because of the sound of it, but because of the intent. I disagree that the instrument frees the performer, and in interface terms - the EXACT same result could be achieved if the electronics were placed on a table. There is nothing about it that depends on the poncho or on the placement of the electronics.

2/09/2006 8:50 AM  

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