Bit By Bit, Putting It Together

Bit By Bit, Putting It Together

How much equipment failure, manual-reading, and general hassle are you willing to endure to realize your electroacoustic masterpiece?

Having accrued some (albeit not much) experience in both live and fixed-media electronics, this is a question I’ve asked myself on more than one occasion. My gig as “Operations Assistant” in the history-laden University of Illinois Experimental Music Studios affords me plenty of time to squint at troubleshooting guides and scour the Internet for elusive drivers. I certainly don’t feel that I need to devote “off-the-clock” time to this kind of labor. The live electronics arena is more perilous yet—it’s one thing to waste a solitary half-hour in the studio coaxing your K2000R into functionality, quite another to stand before an increasingly impatient (and probably dwindling) audience while your entire rig reboots after a Pd crash.

But the possibilities are so exciting! Even among composers who don’t work with cutting-edge technology, it’s generally agreed that live electronics is a field with tremendous potential for creative advancement. Not to be left out, fixed-media electronics offer a kind of “concreteness” (no pun intended) that’s somehow seductive—the strength of performed music is that its performance practice and interpretation are fluid, but there’s something comforting about music encased in amber, so to speak; it appeals to my soft spot for nostalgia. Plus you can make all kinds of weird sounds.

How much pain will I put myself through to turn my sonic dream into reality? That depends on how good the dream is. If it’s artistically worthwhile, even the worst technical headaches won’t dissuade me. Taking such a position brings the spotlight back to what should be the real problem: Making valuable music. After all, there are thousands of musicians who work exclusively with electronics. The only way to realize all that potential is to plug in, crack the instruction manual, check your externals folder, and take the lumps as they come.

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2 thoughts on “Bit By Bit, Putting It Together

  1. davidcoll

    in my opinion the best strength of composing with electronics has to do with sidestepping the prospect of trying to write valuable music, because thats not up to the composer anyway, its up to the listener.

    When dealing w/electronics, you’re highlighting the aspect of physicality, either by taking it away in the case of tape music, or by trying to augment it which seems to alienate it.

    Either way you spend so much time with sound on a microscopic level that it informs the other type of composing: for instrumentalists, which brings so many other intangibles- like interpretation for one, and physicality (even if the player is hiding)…

    so you get this back and forth between the two worlds that, at least for me, helps me maintain my delusion of “improving”

    i know this sidesteps the question, but i mean, we all have our own particular reasons for doing particular projects that usually are more telling when it comes to enduring “pain”!

    by the way, i know pD is free and all, but its time to be using max..

  2. jbunch

    Since I’ve been learning Max/MSP I think i’ve uttered the phrase “I don’t see why this isn’t working right now” at least once a day this semester. Perhaps we can take solace that the pain is communal (and I’m not just talking about audience members here).

    What i’ve really appreciated with studying Max and taking e-music classes at UIUC is that, as Dave remarked, my acoustic music has taken on new dimensions and moved inches more towards a really multi-dimensional sound/concept. For those of us who really dig physicality, timbre and gesture – working in electro-acoustic media can be somewhat of a revelation.


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