Saturday, March 30, 2013

Future Music Lab!

Since last year, I have hinted about a summer program.  Now it is officially announced: starting this year, I am directing Future Music Lab at Atlantic Music Festival (AMF) in Maine.  We are also an official collaborator of IRCAM in Paris, and the participants are invited to join IRCAM Forum for free as well as have access to using IRCAM's newest motion sensor system "MO" (Modular Musical Objects), which I use for the Augmented Violin System.   "MO" can be used for other instruments, dance or theater.   AMF is hosted by Colby College, situated in a beautiful part of the state (directions).

In this blog, I have been writing occasionally about rehearsing interactive compositions and working with computers and performers.   More importantly, I have also written my thoughts about creating tools vs. creating art, relating to electronic and computer music and who are active in these fields.   I thought that I would write about the background and my thoughts why I wanted to start the Future Music Lab.

Computer music mainly originated from science and research labs in places like the Bell Labs, universities such as Princeton/Columbia studios.   Main tools for the most advanced software for interactive computer music today, such as MaxMSP was originally created by mathematicians and scientists.  Some of these pioneers are musicians or composers themselves (whether they are making their living as artists or not.)   However, there are very few musicians whose vocation is mainly classical performance, who involved themselves in the early stages of the development of computer music.  And that trend has not changed much.

My first encounter with computer music was at the first summer workshop I attended that wasn't for chamber music or orchestra, held at CCRMA at Stanford University.  Until then, I did the usual; I went to summer music camps like Tanglewood.   At CCRMA, I was probably one of very few with an instrument, let alone from Juilliard; other students were composers, acousticians and other science majors (and this is off topic but I don't remember any woman in the course; this was early 1990s.)   I felt like a 'foreigner' listening to lectures I had no idea what the language was spoken in, trying to understand numbers and programming in computers.  The concept of using numbers for music felt so foreign to me since 'music' was about sound and physicality that plays the instrument.  'Music' done in numbers was strange to me.

However, at the same time, computer music intrigued me as I immediately started to try translating musical flow into numbers.   Since the early 1990s when I started to work with computers in music, my focus doesn't seem to have changed.  It maybe intrinsically a performer's approach, since those trained as composers might approach computer music more from structural or theoretical point of view.  My approach to computer music has always been the 'flow'.   Such attempts continues to this day; more recently I made an alternative to 'score following' (a tradition in computer music for the computers to follow the score to either accompany or interact with live performers) and tried creating a 'flow following'.  I would create a kind of musical common-sense agreements between a performer and computer, avoiding 'master and slave' or 'trigger and obey' mechanisms between human and the machine.  I wanted to play WITH computers.

Since 1998, I have been teaching a small class at Juilliard, a class of interactive computer music performance.  I have encountered many excellent musicians who were new to the concept of interactive performance.  With their mature musical sensibility and already-professional level of performance skills, some created their first interactive composition using their own instruments within a semester starting from zero.   At Juilliard, many students are already performing professionally outside of school, and it is very difficult for them to manage their time.   I also think that one of the reasons for the relative lack of professional performers working in interactive computer music is simply the time management problem.  It takes a lot to maintain your instrumental skills, learning and building interactive systems, advancing your career, making a living, and maybe have a personal life all at the same time.

Over the years, I learned so much from working with performers at Juilliard.  We share the similar approach to computer music, and I wanted to promote this performance-oriented computer music more.   I thought that performers can dive into computer music in more concentrated time-frame, and I could at least help jump-start them.   I also thought that performers could expand their own creativity.   Some of us can move 'back to the future', gaining back the traditional performer/composer role, rather than being only interpreters, using the technology available in our lifetime.  My ultimate hope is that these classical/jazz professional performers would help nurture the field of computer music as well (and myself :)

Future Music Lab is therefore, designed mainly for performers, as there are many workshops for composers already in existence.  We plan on more musical approach, focusing more on performance aspect of computer music and how to build an interactive performance than simply going over programming tutorials.  (although Jazz pianist friend Vijay Iyer warned me that I would be a 'walking MSP Tutorial' by the end of the summer! :)  

Please visit the Future Music Lab site, and if you are interested in applying, the deadline is April 20th. 

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