WRECKIN' BALL: THE HUB
ART 1008 Live Computer Network Music
with guest artists Alvin Curran and the Rova Saxophone Quartet
THE HUB is a computer music band whose members are all designers and builders of their own hardware and software instruments. This, their second CD, consists of new pieces and collaborations, all recorded live in concert.
THE HUB IS: JOHN BISCHOFF, TIM PERKIS, CHRIS BROWN, SCOT GRESHAM-LANCASTER, MARK TRAYLE, PHIL STONE
* Crybaby (4'23") Mark Trayle BMI recorded in Seattle 5/29/92
* Waxlips (4'37") Tim Perkis BMI recorded at VUB, Brussels 3/12/92
* The Glass Hand (6'44") John Bischoff BMI recorded in Seattle 5/29/92
* Wheelies (10'07") Chris Brown BMI recorded in Berlin 5/27/93
* Hub Renga (6'58") composers: The Hub, Ramon Sender Barayon and poets from The Well. Live broadcast on KPFA-FM, Berkeley 9/7/89 Readers: Kenneth Atchley, Ramon Sender Barayon, Barbara Golden. Commissioned by New Langton Arts, through the NEA Inter-Arts program.
* Waxlips II (Das Lied von der Nerd) (3'25") Tim Perkis BMI recorded in Berlin 5/27/93
* Electric Rags III (7'53") composed and performed by Alvin Curran & The Hub recorded in Berlin 5/27/93
* Vex (7'19") composed by Scot Gresham-Lancaster performed by The Hub, Alvin Curran (piano) and Rova Saxophone Quartet (Larry Ochs, Jon Raskin, Bruce Ackley, Steve Adams) recorded in Oakland, CA 6/5/93 and Berlin 5/27/93
The Hub is a computer network band. Six individual composer/performers connect separate computer-controlled music synthesizers into a network. Individual composers design pieces for the network, in most cases just specifying the nature of the data which is to be exchanged between players in the piece, but leaving implementation details to the individual players, and leaving the actual sequence of music to the emergent behavior of the network. Each player writes a computer program which make musical decisions in keeping with the character of the piece, in response to messages from the other computers in the network and control actions of the player himself.
The result is a kind of enhanced improvisation, where in players and computers share the responsibility for the music's evolution, with no one able to determine the exact outcome, but everyone having influence in setting the direction. The Javanese think of their gamelan orchestras as being one musical instrument with many parts; this is probably also a good way to think of The Hub ensemble, with all its many computers and synthesizers interconnected to form one complex musical instrument. In essence, each piece is a reconfiguration of this network into a new instrument.
Originally, we all interconnected through a special computer (also called "the hub") which we designed and built, and which formed a sort of electronic mailbox for players to send messages to each other. (Hear our first CD, The Hub, Artifact 1002.) Since that time, commercial electronic music has exploded, and MIDI, an industry standard for the exchange of musical control information between computer-controlled synthesis equipment, has matured. On this disk, we use a piece of commercial MIDI equipment (the Opcode Studio V) for our hub, and the note-oriented nature of MIDI communication has led to new pieces that somewhat reflect this bias.
But in certain ways MIDI is inappropriate for our uses, and we use it in a way it was never intended to be used: as a medium of communication between players. MIDI was designed to allow one master _ typically a keyboard player or computer serving as a sequence player _ to control a complex orchestra of synthesizers, without any interaction with anyone else. This is in keeping with a major trend in computer based music today, which is to eliminate the "imperfect" human performer, and to try to build protean instruments with no definite limiting character of their own. This practice of attempting to escape all physical limitation reflects a philosophy at odds with our own, and leads to a music that is really nowhere. We're interested instead in music that is situated somewhere: in a real, messy, and admittedly limited social (and technical) situation. We build a quirky complex instrument, which, like any good instrument, has a strong nature of its own; our work is to play it, and bring out its nature.
From the beginning of our line of work, in the experiments of the League of Automatic Music Composers and other avant-gardists working at Mills College in the mid-70's, the emphasis has been on connections between musicians, the excitement of using computers to define a new social context for music making, as well as exploring the possibilities of systems too complex for direct control. Indeed the roots of this work go back even further: to the vital experimental music scene of the San Francisco Bay Area, which since the 1930's has had a strong tradition of instrument building, live performance and multimedia collaboration.
It used to be common to discuss the computer as an extension of the human nervous system; today, it makes more sense to think of the computer network as an extension of society. These networks have a degree of complexity which prevents us from "controlling" them any longer: we have to participate in a conversation with them. In a conversation, one says things, not knowing what the next person will say, and therefore, not knowing what oneself will say next either. We want to surprise and be surprised by each other, and, in playing together, to also be surprised by our own odd computer network instrument. --Tim Perkis
Notes for individual pieces
Crybaby (Mark Trayle, 1991-92) was inspired by the low-tech signal processing of the wah-wah pedal. One of the players generates sonic material _ samples of heavy-metal guitar solos and the unholy racket of "monster truck" engines _ while the others process it. The audio cascades "bucket-brigade" style through the group's signal processing gear, while separate control data flows through the band in a ring. Players use the data from their predecessors in the ring to determine the sweep speed and amplitude of the continuous waveforms that control their audio processors. The player generating the sound uses the same data to control the pitch and length of the samples. The artifacts resulting from the accumulated noise and distortion of the processors and the tweaking of sample lengths without regard to zero-crossing points are intentionally left in. _MT
Waxlips (Tim Perkis, 1991) was an attempt to find the simplest Hub piece possible, to minimize the amount of musical structure planned in advance, in order to allow any emergent structure arising out of the group interaction to be revealed clearly. The rule is simple: each player sends and receives requests to play one note. Upon receiving the request, each should play the note requested, and then transform the note message in some fixed way to a different message, and send it out to someone else. The transformation can follow any rule the player wants, with the one limitation that within any one section of the piece, the same rule must be followed (so that any particular message in will always cause the same new message out). One lead player sends signals indicating new sections in the piece (where players change their transformation rules) and jump-starts the process by spraying the network with a burst of requests. The network action had an unexpected living and liquid behavior: the number of possible interactions is astronomical in scale, and the evolution of the network is always different, sometimes terminating in complex (chaotic) states including near repetitions, sometimes ending in simple loops, repeated notes, or just dying out altogether. In initially trying to get the piece going, the main problem was one of plugging leaks: if one player missed some note requests and didn't send anything when he should, the notes would all trickle out. Different rule sets seem to have different degrees of"leakiness", due to imperfect behavior of the network, and as lead player I would occasionally double up_ sending out two requests for every one received_ to revitalize a tired net. _TP
In the specification for The Glass Hand (John Bischoff, 1991) each player was asked to compose a number of sonic textures. While each texture might have internal motion, its overall quality was defined as stationary. Each player then constructed methods for calling forth textures in some order and executing transitions between textures that were as smooth as possible. The transition rates were specified as variable from 1 to 10 seconds. The network patch for the piece is in the form of a ring. There are two types of network data: triggers and speeds. Triggers tell a player to begin a transition to a new texture; speeds tell a player his current transition rate. Triggers are sent by each player to the next player in line in the ring, speeds to the player after that. Therefore, each player receives control information concerning how often and how fast to move between textures from two independent sources. As the music unfolds, players actively mix their individual outputs as they listen carefully. Their mixing actions are monitored by their own systems and used to influence outgoing triggers and speeds. The musical result is a multi-layered chorus of electronic sound that is continually moving and changing shape unexpectedly. Each player hears his part unfold differently in each performance. As parts converge and drift apart within a performance, players respond by shaping their mixing actions appropriately. These actions in turn affect the flow of network data, thus completing a system of circular influence. _JB
Wheelies (Chris Brown, 1992) uses MIDI system-real-time messages that one player generates to play with the variability of rhythmic synchronizations of the group. It also sets up a system of interaction in which members of the group change the rhythmic performance of each other's systems during the piece. Each player has programmed their system to count Timing Clocks, and respond appropriately to Start, Stop, and Continue messages. They are prepared to play repeating cycles of samples, or percussive voices, as controlled by three parameters called Ictus, Meter, and Density. Ictus sets the number of timing clocks in a beat, Meter sets the number of beats in a cycle, and Density controls a percentage of the beats that will be silent. When a Start message is received (and all players receive them at the same time) every player sends out a package of values for these three parameters to any other player(s) in the network. That player MUST implement this parameter data in playing the new section.The result is that the group plays a synchronized pulse-oriented music that is often in many meters, and subdivisions of the group pulse, at once. And each player can strategically affect the music of any other player, while giving up control of the same part of their own music to the group. My intention here has been both musical _ to accomplish rational rhythmic complexities otherwise unperformable by humans _ and social: to invent a new form of group music that at once allows individuality and subordinates the individual to the primacy of the group. _ CB
In 1989 we organized a collaborative piece, "Hub Renga", involving The Hub, writer Ramon Sender Barayon, The Well (an electronic conferencing system), KPFA radio in Berkeley and New Langton Arts in San Francisco. "Renga" is a traditional Japanese poetic form, in which different poets contribute lines, continuing from the previous poets' work. In this piece, the Hub composers programmed their systems to respond to certain pre-defined "power words" in a text stream coming from participating writers in the poetry conference of the Well. In a live performance on KPFA, the Well poets could, from their homes, type in their poetic line and hear it immediately read aloud over the air, while it simultaneously and automatically influenced the evolution of the Hub's music. It's hard to describe the peculiar quality of community feeling that arose in this project: there was something authentically new about people being able to interact socially, while at the same time doing the traditionally more private work of writing and composing music. This selection is an excerpt from the ninety minute live radio event. _TP
Waxlips II, or Das Lied von der Nerd (Tim Perkis, 1993) is based on the same system used in Waxlips (see note above) with an additional restriction on the transformation rules used by the players. In this version, when signalling the beginning of a new section, the lead player also sends a specification to all players of the set of pitches which may be used in the section. The lead player starts sections at his own discretion, also freely selecting the next pitch set from a group of ten pre-composed possibilities. _TP
Electric Rags III (Alvin Curran , 1993), for and with The Hub: I sit and play their stories. She sits and hubs it. We sit and talk; codes and pianos are barely mentioned - all on the verge of innuendo until she drops the bag of groceries. That triggers events parallel to those in Sarajevo but not unlike those in Fanny Mendelssohn's Sunday salons a century ago. The forte pianoforte - sonic citadel of the WEST leads the way into the electric bush, where aboriginal cries are translated into Sea-Sound. Doe a deer, Re a rat. "B" a was. Fis an african fruit. Imitate, ignore, dominate, tacit, and be free - this is how we play and how we hub._AC
VEX (Scot Gresham-Lancaster, 1993) is short for Vexations and refers to the short chorale written by Eric Satie in 1893 and popularized by John Cage in the early sixties. The enigmatic instructions include the phrase: "if one were to play this 840 times"_- not that one should, but still the popular interpretation has been to mount a marathon performance that takes a team of pianists approximately 26 hours to realize. In the age of internet and the fax this is entirely too long, so I embarked on the strategy of using the HUB to meet these vague requirements and still not waste the listeners' precious time. The instructions that the HUBsters had were quite simple: when you receive a note transpose it up or down a major or minor third, play its full duration and then pass the new note to two other members of the ensemble. In practice we added some governors to this process to be able to control the exponential growth of notes and to keep the music somewhat in character with Satie's original. The result was an electronic filigree which wafts above and below the original chorale. In this recording two performances are represented. In concert in Berlin we played a more extended version of the piece at the end of "Electric Rags III" that was edited down to accommodate a cross fade to the version we performed with the ROVA saxophone quartet at the Pro Arts gallery in Oakland in June of 1993. I was pleased to be able to maintain the ethereal quality of this beautiful piece while contributing something more to its dream life. "With great immobility" in Rosicrucian induced hallucination, I see Mr. Satie taking a lobster for a sunday stroll in the park near his home in the outskirts of Paris... _SGL
The last two selections are overlapped and run continuously.
total running time: 52'15"
Recording Engineers: Chris Brown (track 2) Doug Haire for Jack Straw Productions, Seattle (1,3) Georg Katzer for Akademie der Knste, Berlin (4,6,7) Scot Gresham-Lancaster( 5,8)
Special Thanks to: Herb Levy of Soundworks Northwest (Seattle), Carter Scholz, Richard Povall, The Well, Mills College Center for Contemporary Music, Peter Beyls (VUB Brussels).
Design: Michael Sumner