Tools of the Trade: Sam Pluta's Cinematic Compositions

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Video: Sam Pluta, American Tokyo Daydream I (Calypso Sunrise)-Full Version, 2008


For this installment of Tools of the Trade, Melody Chamlee reports from last week's Dorkbot meeting in New York. - Ceci Moss

Composer Sam Pluta demoed his new performance piece at Location One in SoHo as one of the featured presenters for September's New York Dorkbot meeting. He creates original music scores and visual experiments that contain mathematically arranged sequences to make his compositions using his own software scripts.


Pluta says he began experimenting with software-generated music by exploring data structures, which he defines in his software using specially selected algorithms. His compositions use non-traditional, un-syncopated beats to create rhythm in common sounds, which can play like robotic malfunctions one moment and complicated tribal drum sets the next.


He began by using algorithms to chop up set blocks of sound samples, which were programmed to mix up and repeat to make it difficult for human hearing to sense repetition in the sounds. Pluta then says he found he was able to generate unique compositional percussion scores with even the tiniest of sounds, such as the shearing of a pair of scissors and the slurping of drinks.


Not content with the single mathematical re-arrangement of the same sound samples, Pluta began exploring MIDI sample distortion until he was able to arrange samples not just by sequence, but also pitch and length, creating true musical melodies that could be played in different scales.


He says his biggest challenge to date has been attempting to use his software in live performances. "Using algorithms is great for track mixing, but for live performances, it's hard to collaborate with."


As Pluta experimented with software audio application design he also began exploring visual notes to show as well as play intense sounds ...

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20/20 Report on Music Video (1980)

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Over the Long Haul

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There never seems to be an ideal time to write about Longplayer. The thousand-year long musical composition, conceived by Jem Finer, has been playing for the past eight years and two-hundred and thirty-one days in the lighthouse at Trinity Buoy Wharf, London (as well as via Internet stream and at various listening posts throughout the world) and at the conclusion of its first iteration, on December 31st 2999, is scheduled to begin again. While the project continues Finer's concern with "representing and understanding the fluidity and expansiveness of time," it also, on another level, serves as a vehicle to speculate about the trajectories of society and technology in the coming millennium, given that the continuing performance of Longplayer is entirely reliant upon these forces. A computer currently performs the composition, which comprises five transpositions of a piece of source music, played simultaneously and then at various advancements on Tibetan singing bowls, but Finer and The Longplayer Trust (established to oversee the upkeep of the composition) worry about its ongoing reliability, given "how few technologies have remained viable over the last millennium." Possible future alternatives range from a dedicated global radio frequency to "non-electrical, mechanical and organic implementations" of the composition and, most far-fetched, a small, computational device like ones "used in deep space missions," designed to play Longplayer and disseminated in the thousands, thereby preserving the piece by "adopting the biological strategy of survival by excessive multiplication and reproduction." Thankfully, humans have not been entirely ruled out of the equation, and in September 2009, a handful will perform a 1,000-minute section of the composition on six concentric circles of singing bowls. What form Longplayer will take in the centuries thereafter remains to be seen. - Tyler Coburn


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Giving Props

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Since the first time I saw Planningtorock (alias Janine Rostron) perform her arch, musical exhumation of vaudeville and glam, I've craved an opportunity to get a closer look at the singer's collection of masks, helmets, futuro-medieval costuming and props -- like the fake bone she periodically nibbles during "I Wanna Bite Ya." Such performance ephemera rarely enters the realm of public exhibition, though can be as aesthetically significant as anything specifically conceived for the white cube. All of which makes "Sonic Voices, Rocking Hard," opening August 30th at Netherlands Media Art Institute, a particularly welcome affair. Co-curated by multidisciplinary artist Nathalie Bruys, the show comprises works by a group of practitioners, including Jonas Ohlsson and Heidi Happy, who also straddle the boundary of music and image-making. Beyond Planningtorock's contribution -- a prop and video installation -- Guy Bar Amotz will display sculptural mash-ups of speakers and keyboards, Annika Ström will show The Missed Concert (2005), a series of interviews with "fans" explaining their absence from a recent performance, and Norweigian artist Kim Hiorthøy will exhibit some of his exquisite, graphite drawings, building upon past works that found DJs, break-dancers and downright fanciful figures mingling in quintessentially Scandinavian settings. On the musical end of the spectrum, "Sonic Voices, Rocking Hard" boasts listening posts throughout the gallery space; Björk, CocoRosie and The Knife will contribute music videos; and a handful of the participants will perform during the Uitmarkt cultural weekend (including the bewitching Ms. Rostron). - Tyler Coburn


Image: Heidi Happy, du da, ich da (Music Video), 2007

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Whartscape 2008

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By Gene McHugh

 

Scratch the surface of Baltimore, an American city best known for high homicide rates and crab cakes, and you might get a whiff of the schizo, silly perversion that camp auteur John Waters famously captured in celluloid. A case in point is the music festival Whartscape, the Wham City art collective's freak-power counterpoint to the city of Baltimore's annual crafts 'n corndogs festival, Artscape.

 

In this, the festival's third year of operation, Whartscape has adopted a wider angle lens, expanding the lineup to 77 bands, playing over 4 days and nights, in legally secured venues. This expansion of the festival can most likely be seen as a result of the "Baltimore's got a cool scene" meme that has spread as far into the mainstream as Rolling Stone Magazine who declared that, indeed, Baltimore does the have the "Best Scene" (of 2008, anyway). Given the hype, it might seem tempting to enter into this "scene" with a skeptical eye, however, this year's Whartscape still felt like a somewhat unexploited, cozy family affair.

 

 

Videohippos

 

To give an example of how things basically go down: Baltimore singer and performer Lizz King impromptu danced while donning a shabby tiger mask during the Creepers set; the Creepers are a Baltimore band featuring Adam Endres from the Baltimore band Blood Baby and Blood Baby also features Kevin O'Meara from the Baltimore band Videohippos; the other member of the Creepers is Connor Kizer who is in the Baltimore band Santa Dads with Joshua Kelberman who's the brother of Baltimore comic artist Dina Kelberman, who worked at a Baltimore movie theatre with Victoria from the Baltimore band Beach House and went to college with, respectively, Dan Deacon and the visual artist Jimmy Joe Roche.

 

 

Joshua Kelberman from Santa ...

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Fun Is Back

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Those three words are the declaration of Manuel Buerger, a young German artist whose practice encompasses graphic design, fine art, theory, and music. Buerger did his graduate studies in Media Art under the direction of pioneering internet artist Olia Lialina and this reveals itself best in the humor Buerger directs at his projects that are often just as goofy as they are subtly, intelligently deconstructive of media culture and its conventions. His Master's thesis was an artist book-cum-manifesto on the cultural and economic imperative towards newness, with the figure of a UFO used to navigate the philosophy of novelty. Buerger followed this project with an A5 fanzine that was, in fact, a critical examination of the role of individuality in the Microsoft software platform. Designed in MS Word, I doc. you will! both celebrates and critiques the rigidity and dominance of this environment, pointing to the strict adherence to publishing protocols written into Word, despite the seeming emphasis on personalization within tools and templates. Predicated on a reading of Deleuze's theories on societies of control, Buerger argues, "The last 25 years have rapidly changed the means of computer aided self-portrayal. 'Individualization' is the product of this development--consumption stresses our uniqueness." That said, a number of Buerger's projects end up focusing on consumer culture, or the fine line between that culture and its production. While net-based experiments like his Nostril Karaoke leave us a bit speechless, his Designerz is a clever, gif-based trope-popping of the archetypal designer-holding-poster portrait, reflected in the style of a permanent zoom into a hall of mirrors. The artist is currently at work on a MIDI-album called "10/10," in which "the idea is to take ten ultra-cool midi-instruments (10 of 128) and dedicate a song to each instrument," and he's an active ...

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Going Public

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"Private fears and shared desires" take the public stage for "Tarantula," a month-long film and video program projected on Europe's biggest LED wall, in Piazza del Duomo, Milan. In collaboration with MIA (Milano In Alto) and Fondazione Nicola Trussardi, which is dedicated to finding "new channels and strategies to distribute contemporary art in the city of Milan," curator Massimiliano Gioni has invited fifteen contemporary artists to screen works twice a day on a screen normally reserved for commercial advertising. Certain works build upon this strategy of intervention, like Pipilotti Rist's series of sixteen one-minute video segments, Open My Glade, originally commissioned by the Public Art Fund, in 2000, to air on the NBC Astrovision by Panasonic video screen in Times Square, New York. Other notables include the film component of Johanna Billing's You Don't Love Me Yet project, documenting the studio recording of Roky Erickson's eponymous 80s pop hit by more than twenty singers; Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore (1999), Mark Leckey's nostalgic chronicle of cross-sections of British dance culture from the 70s and 80s; and Dictio pii(2001), a parade of high-fashion outfits repurposed, by artist Marcus Schinwald, as disturbing fetish-objects. Like the Bob Dylan novel from which it takes its title, "Tarantula" presents rituals public and private, compulsive and fanciful, to show the ways "new rules and behaviors can transform life into a joyful carnival of exceptions." - Tyler Coburn


Image: Mark Leckey, Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore, 1999

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Bidding and the Beat

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Sex and teletext, e-commerce and elektronische tanzmusik collide in The Sound of eBay, the latest internet intervention (and a 2008 Rhizome Commission) from Ubermorgen.com, which generates unique low-fi electro tunes from individual users' eBay data. Visit the project's site, generously decorated with 8-bit teletext porn, and enter your (or anyone's) eBay moniker and an email; a specially-tailored mp3 arrives in your inbox in a matter of hours. According to Ubermorgen.com's own account, an invisible army of bots scours the World's Largest Online Marketplace (tm) to scrape data and bring it back to be transformed into music. How a given user's actual data corresponds to the structure and content of each tune is not evident to the listener, but relates to the eBay-Generator application's own idiosyncratic system of producing and processing hashsums from user-to-user transactions: more frequent eBay bidders may receive denser compositions, and two different songs created from the same username can differ. In the future, the creators of eBay-Generator plan to release the application under a GNU Public License. The Sound of eBay concludes a trilogy of works by Ubermorgen.com--otherwise known as the artists Lizvix and Hans Bernhard--including GWEI (Google Will Eat Itself), an economic ourouboros that generates money off Google text ads then uses the income to buy Google stock, and Amazon Noir, which exploited Amazon's "search inside" function to create pirated versions of full books. Unlike these latter acts of digital ju-jitsu, the parasitic Sound of eBay has a relatively benign relationship to its host organism. Celebrating with only partial irony the auction giant's peer-to-peer distributed capitalism, the Sound of eBay offers a way to shake one's booty to the hidden rhythms of electronic commerce. - Ed Halter


Ubermorgen.com, the Sound of Ebay "Visuals" (Screengrab ...

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Pixel Pop

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One-to-Many

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Composer, musician, and creative hacker Tristan Perich is a New York City phenom. Unsurprisingly descended from Warhol-era conceptual artist Anton Perich, the younger Perich has become a fixture in the local avant garde scene, bringing his own brand of circuit-bent instruments to the contemporary music sphere. His band, The Loud Objects, have made a very well-received international magic-show of their singular work, which involves soldering musical chips together atop an overhead projector--clad in futuristic sunglasses, no less! He released an album of music composed entirely of 1-bit tunes, "the lowest possible digital representation of audio," in which the cd itself contains a circuit completed by the insertion of headphones into a jack on the side of the jewel case, at which point forty minutes of lo-fi music is played for the listener. Part sculpture, part sound-art, the project is a novel (and nice-sounding) interjection into a recording era dominated by ephemeral, low-quality MP3s. This Wednesday, Perich will premiere a new composition at Brooklyn's Issue Project Room, called Untitled (Bernadette Mayer). The work revolves around a poem written in 1969 by the eponymous poet and is arranged for five voices and fifteen channels of 1-bit music, providing evidence that working in a supposedly low-level system can still yield high levels of creativity and aural complexity. Perich's piece will be played together with his older three-violin work, Rotary. Both compositions will be performed by a diverse and extraordinarily talented group of Perich's contemporaries, including Abby Fischer, Lesley Flanigan, Sarah Moulton, Daisy Press, Pamela Stein, Monica Davis, Yuri Namkung, and Jessica Pavone. Incidentally, it is also worth noting that Perich has pulled-in some serious girl power here, which bodes well for what can tend to be a male-dominated community. If you're in the area, you won't want to ...

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