josephine bosma on 3 Oct 2000 15:47:42 -0000

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[Nettime-bold] musaic: the merging of all soundspaces

[The following text was written for Sandbox #8: Bang!, the sound issue.
It has been rewritten slightly, so spelling mistakes are likely to
occur. JB]

musaic:  the merging of all soundspaces

The soundtracks of life are merging. Emerging technologies allow
for the appropration, on a large scale, of a soundspace which is
mass medial, musical and habitat at the same time. We enter the world of
musaic. Musaic is like a tapestry, a mosaic, or an ocean of soundbites
and samples ranked and ordered according to individual taste. Musaic is
the direct, involuntary product of the extensions of the world of music
and sound through the internet. 

Sampling technologies and digital storage have radically changed
the world of music about two decades ago. The internet however now
adds a dimension which is not merely producing a larger sum of
possibilities through especially the use of the internet as realtime
long distance collaboration tool and through the net's huge archival
function, but which amplifies older, especially avantgarde musical
techniques as well.
In other words, the outcome is more then the sum total. In fact, the
world of sound is sort of stretched out. The novelty of sound on the net
lies in the additional array of possibilities inside every individual
step of sound production and of sound 'consumption', plus it lies in the
way these then get entwined. Digitized sound can now be assembled from
various locations, realtime or from archives, and there are various
pieces of software and editors to process it both online and at home.
Live performances and existing soundworks or stored sound can be blended
over large distances and the difference between realtime and recording
is further from any audience's grasp then ever. One interesting
soundsource that is sensitive to tricks with time and reality is the
aural version of the webcam: the webmike. Also environmental sound can
travel large distances 'realtime', without being connected to the
focussed or specific listening that is the aim of radio or television
broadcasts. There are not many examples of webmikes. Tetsuo Kogawa, the
mikro FM pioneer from Tokyo, has used this technique, and is a promoter
of it. The 'bangbang' project proposed by the Bureau of Inverse
Technologies, in which camera's triggered by loud sound 'explosions' are
to be connected to the net, is a nice variety of this type of sound
technology in the arts.

Experiments in music like the soundwalks by the originally German artist
Hildegard Westerkamp (a wonderful sound artist about whom you can find
texts and information quite extensively on the web), can serve as a
metaphor for the experience of being a listener to sound on the
internet. Strolling through the web,
sometimes with a particular goal, many times surfing at random, the
listeners' focus is the key to the final composition. The digital sound
realm consists of a crumbled music experience. Sound can be scattered so
fine that the original source, its historical reference and its
emotional memory, can become impossible to trace. "An Ocean of Sound",
as David Toop described ambient music in his famous
book by the same title, is now very near our daily environment. Our
ship, our submarine, our tool and our peddling will in the end define
the soundstream that reaches our ear. We define our music, we define our
radio, and they become one. The limits an artist sets, the limits of the
tools we choose, the limits the creator of the software we use and of
the web events we visit constructs within the work, are the most
important way by which individual style or atmosphere (of artists, of
radiostations, of companies etcetera) can still be forced upon us. They
are the most powerful way musicians and also radiostations can still
shape their identity in the soundrealm of musaic, an identity which then
is built into the interface. Well known, common examples of such a
restricted use of the digital arena are commercial radio sites, like or Yahoo's, that
offer links and search possibilities within a specific, limited range
only, instead of allowing its audience to use its interface for the
entire net. There the limitations are supposed to create something that
looks and feels as close to an ordinary radiostation as possible. The
interactive possibilities in these cases serve as cheap content
producers under the guise of audience participation. Artists in general
can be just as dominant in their molding of an audience. Their work
however is less easy to define or place within the everyday cultural
setting, and it is of course in this appearant disfunctionality where
both its usefullness and strength lie.

The popular sound environments as we know them are not disappearing.
They are simply going to be signs of an even clearer mass
consumerism. Logging onto a commercial radiosite for instance might in
the near future be an unfashionable choice for relaxation on slow,
lulling waves of tradition. Designers of sample machines and software,
datajockeys and musical performers will set the musical trends, which
we, the former audience and listeners, not only imitate, but which each
of us can also expand individually. Listeners become musicians when the
combination of the tools they use and the playfulness they exhibit
allows for distinguished, surprising or new compositions in sound,
whether the final product is good or bad, interesting or kitschy.
Additionally, in musaic an overgrowth of sampling rises to a level where
older aspects of music (memory, repetition and basic experience of
beauty and originality) can get lost completely in a dense sound
experience. Small bits of known musical scores, repeated and/or rhythmic
sound'lines' and universally appealling sound qualities can become
unrecognizable in the world of musaic. Everything, all sound and all
sound properties, is of equal importance and equally superfluous. The
personal touch of the musicianer (listener and musician in one), and the
input and manipulation of given sound material by the user start to
represent the subjective sound experience. A pleasant or otherwise full
immersion into the digital networked sound experience depends on the
amount of involvement in its creation or, at the opposite of it: a
conscious absence of involvement. Can we still make a clear distinction
between listener and musician? If yes, how? Like with all art on the
net, the matter of the identity of both the sound artist and the musical
composition is fundamentally obscure until clearly affirmed. 

   controlled performance:
   keeping the distinction between artist and audience

The identity of everything online needs to be a conscious creation.
Neglectance of image and general reception equals death in the public
eye, it causes disappearance and 'evaporation' of presence. To be an
artist in the digital sphere means excercising control over data outcome
in some way. There are basically two ways to do this. Firstly, through
constructing limitations in either the tools or sources available. And
secondly, by boosting the personal mark of an artist to the heights of
style or trend. Most artists or musicians will use a mixture of the two.

It is said that even John Cage's broadening of the sound field by
including his version of silence, or rather, by changing our perception
of silence and its role in our worlds entire sound environment, was a
smart excercise in control instead of liberation. In this way, Cage
shows himself as a brilliant manipulator, and as an artist disguised as
theorist or liberator, who puts the world of sound to his hand.
Let me quote from the book Noise Water Meat by Douglas Kahn:
"As the mass media introduced more and more sounds, individuals became
generationally capable of apprehending sounds in their social complexity
and at an accelerated pace. It was a period of media expansion that
began to forcibly usher in the lightning-quick delivery of the din
today. It was no coincidence that Cage's progressive expansion into -all
sound- and -always sound- occurred at the same time, that his emblematic
silence was founded on a silencing of communications technologies, that
he diminished and eradicated the sociality of sounds of the auditive
mass media throughout the 1950's and 1960's (..)"
The example of Cage's amplification of personal preference or style into
musical practice and even musical theory shows the importance of
selective listening. Selective listening can be taught, or forced on an
audience. Different worlds of sound are created by manipulation,
creation and differentiation of audiences, these not necesarely meant
negatively of course. When art on the internet is a specific form of
communication or exchange between artist and audience, in which the
audience gets a larger role in defining the artpiece, yet where the
artist defines the stage and the props, music on the net is a further
detoriation of the horizontal, democratic model the internet
implies. The digitized world, especially the world of sound, is one of
endless possibilities and non hierarchical structures. The freedom this
appearantly creates by default, a freedom that allows for all known
truths and traditions to be reconstructed, re-invented and rebuilt as if
from scratch, is a much debated and defended one amongst net artists,
activists and hackers. There is a rather strong movement which puts
forward strong suspicion towards constructed limitations in choice,
influence and navigation. It is questionable however whether these are
always problematic: to an artwork they are often essential. A musician
online, from the need for distinction, has to play a manipulative role,
which ranges in power from totalitarian to subtle, or from steering to
stimulating. In this way a perseverence in making music, or creating a
musical profile online, is like offering the audience the opportunity to
be the orchestra to perform the musical score defined by the artist.
Following the stylistic, technological or conceptual structure of the
artist leads the audience away from its
subjective interpretation of its own sound environment, and leads it
into the sound realm of the artist.

A rather clear form of audience control is the game model. I have had a
lot of discussion about this term, so I want to emphasize it is meant in
the broadest sense. A computergame is a designed digital environment, in
which visitors may or may not be able to create new things, and in which
the amount of freedom and the activities of the user depend on the
structure of the environment. Using the
sort of interface to music that follows the structure of games, the
artist is able to create limits to choices in sound sampling and sound
structuring which in the end lead to the specific style that is the
individual artists' mark. In this sense, the soundwalks of Westerkamp
have been created quite literally yet inadvertently inside computergames
like Quake, in which the sound is one signifier of the route and place
of the player. Sounds of computergames are sources for techno music
today, yet these same soundscores could very well be intended as musical
pieces tomorrow. Some creations of sound artists, like for instance
Jerome Joy's project Interludes, and in my opinion even the software
<earshot>, are related to the computergame structure, whereby position
and activity of the player influence the soundscore. The outcome is
strongly defined by the artists though. Not always can the user record
his or her own samples inside the given musical game or tool. The
freedom or prominence of personal mark within this type of work informs
the artists style,
whereby visuals or the absence of visuals further enhance it. Here we
see also the fusion of the VJ and the DJ.

Music is not only a mediated experience though. Live, physical
performance of music is the most direct and clear manifestation of
distinguished artistry in a networked society. We see the physical
representation of musical manipulation of sound. It can give insight
into the creative manipulation of sound samples and sound structures,
or insight into method might intentionally be blurred to provoke a
comfortable cloak of myth around the artist and the artwork.
Whichever the artist prefers: s/he stays at the visible centre of
the action. Performance has won new interest in the evolving new media
environment, its popularity keeping pace with the general re-examination
and evaluation of the body in cyberspace. Whether the musical
performance consists of a person sitting behind a mixing panel, or of a
group of dancers, actors or musicians on a stage (whereby dancers and
actors are somehow producing a sound piece/environment) does not matter.
The difference with musical performance before the use of the internet
is that within the merged soundspace of musaic, in which audience and
musician are one and network connections could be anywhere, the role of
the performer as master of the musical score is not evident upfront
anymore. The stage has become the extension of the musaical environment,
on which the performer has to proof his or her mastery. 


Lifting the musical performance out of the network or enscribing it
into the network both create what might be called meta-music: music
which is in some way distracted, condensed from the musaical
environment. Musical practice, like art practice, has to face its
innate, positive restrictedness and the meaning of its alledged
limitations or boundaries. 


Tetsuo Kogawa:

Bureau of Inverse Technologies:

Jerome Joy:


special thanks to Sylvie Meyerson of Sandbox, Justin Bennet, Mercedes
Bunz, Alexandra Hettergot, Jerome Joy and the members of the forumhub
mailinglist for music in computer networks.


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