Saturday, December 18, 2010

"Hopping" onto the next

Well, not exactly because today is my birthday, but I just had kind of a visual thought of "hopping on to the next"  :)

Yesterday at Juilliard I video-taped my students trying IRCAM's improvisation system called Omax, on a special stand-alone version created for me this summer.  That is to say, Omax is usually operated by an off-stage operator, or "computer performer" (see this online presentation on IRCAM page).  However, I wanted everything to be operated from my violin without assistance, using my various data alone without the 3rd person; I want a compete autonomy on stage.  So Benjamin Lévy of the Musical Representation team at IRCAM created this special stand-alone version for me this summer.

Omax is not "listening" to the behavior of the performer, but rather it analyzes incoming sounds,  then chooses and segments your sound on its own and plays back.  So, in a way, it is "listening" but the musical decisions are not truly made based on the continuous input; that is the role of the "computer performer".  The computer operator is the "ear", who can control many parameters in realtime and can "perform" with the player.   In my "stand-alone" version I used, to create my new piece called Viomax this summer which I premiered in NYC this October, I control some parameters on my own via pitch, loudness and bowing detections.

Even with this limitations, i.e., there isn't anyone "home" so to speak, a performer could create quite an interesting performance.   To attest to this, both my students and myself, can go on for quite a while without losing musical interest, ending up playing with Omax and create interesting results.  It could create quite an engaging musical performance scenarios on the spot, provided that the "live" person is quite accommodating to the Omax's behavior.   Since Omax plays back what you played, but perhaps not in the strict order you did and keeping the history of your improvisation in the memory, the "playback" could be compositionally interesting.  But by chance.    That means that it still could be NOT interesting.  The reason why us performers can go on despite of this, is that when Omax does something that is rather 'out of context' or musically not expected, a skilled performer/improvisor could adjust the trajectory of the music, correct and carve the path of past-present-future, or just to "Hop On" to the next on the fly, ending up making sense of the music at hand.  It still boils down to the human performer's musical will.   I look forward to continuing working with IRCAM on this, and to develop this paradigm in the future.

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