Instrument builders and performers

During Club Transmediale’s lecture program Robert Henke and Takuro Mizuta Lippit talked about making hardware and software musical instruments. The concepts they discussed were explored further during a set of performances, the core of these beeing the “extended eclectics” night at WMF curated by STEIM.

Robert Henke, aka Monolake, long standing herald of Berlin’s club culture and now professor at the sound studies department of the UdK, offered a clear description of the relation between man and machine in the context of music production and performance,  extending from the field of dance music to a broader range of situations. In his analysis, the change in roles and skills that has come into beeing with the massive takeover of computers, places today’s laptop based musician in a challenging position, as the previously separated figures of composer, conductor, performer, engineer and instrument builder have collapsed on a single person. Henke has his point, but it could be a little discuraging for the next Garage Band user to take on the challenge he offers. He then recounted the development of his Monolake live set, starting from the mid nineties and moving on to the contruction of his Monodek controllers I & II and revealing his strong engineering backround.

Takuro Mizuta Lippit, artistic director of Amsterdam’s STEIM and also known as Dj Sniff, took on the topic from the side of experimental music. STEIM has been expanding the field of electronic music for four decades and is devoted to keeping it performed live, as opposed to adopting acousmatic formats. This issue was crucial in the early days, when the only option was playing back a tape for the audience, but it has turned up again in current popular culture since space-bar players reached to the stage. For Dj Sniff the activity of instrument building is an integral part of his musical practice. From the position of an artist non-engineer, he often struggles with the technicalities involved in the process of programming software and building hardware. He advises to take advantage of these shortcomings and enfasizes the importance of bugs in programming as opportunities for inspiration. Finally he reminds us that building an instrument doesen’t automatically entail knowledge to play it, and that one must balance his time between developing it and practicing on it.

On the Extended Eclectics night at Club Transmediale we heared Alex Nowitz manipulate his vocal virtuosity wielding two Wii-Remote controllers. Nowitz has a real stage persona and his setup works quite well , but the feeling that behind the audience a Wii-Sports game was being projected never leaved completely.  Dj Sniff played an exeptionally intense set, layering loops sampled from vinils. One after the other the records went from the pile on the console to the turntable and ended up in another pile on the floor. For what seemed like more than half of the performance a great mass of sound was built up and sculpted, then a few melodical elements started to emerge, breaking into a wild drumming session and ending with saxophone riffs diving in. Freejazz from a turntable is a good thing.

Coming right after, Justin Bennet took his minimal gear off the stage, placed himself in the midst of the audience and played his raw materials. He let the computer semi-randomly access his archive of field recordings, which he gathered in different parts of the world during the past decade. While the recordings played back he typed his thoughts on a screen suspended above the stage,  guiding us through his memories and creating a mixed narrative of  voiced sounds and silent words. Finally Toktek, artist and musician from The Netherlands, played a very entertaining set with educational tapes, balloons and other novelties. Breaking beats à la Aphex Twin using of a pair of joysticks, he seemed to mix toghether the style of R.D. James with the frenetic performativity of Matmos.