the ICMC and other things

Dear Diary,

I think I’ve recovered enough from the ICMC (and the subsequent bout with an ear infection, replacing a wrecked car, and a few of the other shocks to which the mortal life is heir to say a few things about my trip to Miami….

For those of you who are acquainted with the ICMC, it’s an annual international conference, held in a different place each year, that lets you hear the latest technical papers, hang out and exchange recipes for sugar cookies, and generally sit through a whole lot of concerts of all kinds of music made using computers. As has been the case since the ICMC in Berlin several years ago, there’s also an off-ICMC (a kind of Salon des Refusées) just in case you need something to do during your evenings.

While I’d like to have just gone and watched and listened to everything, I was flying the Cycling ’74 flag. So this will, of necessity be fragmentary in nature; my apologies to anyone whose name I’ve butchered or omitted.

Practically speaking, I didn’t make it to all the concerts; someone with a question or suggestion would appear as I was preparing to pack up and go in, and politeness suggested that it’d be best to stay. I sure got to hear some interesting music, nonetheless.

The amount of music at these events is a bit daunting: three concerts per day. But my own impression is that this was a great ICMC in terms of the stylistic breadth of presented work, and that the concerts themselves were both well-ordered and varied in terms of content. As always, one did hear a bit of grousing here and there about “quality” (can’t you hear the quote marks there?), and in the midst of an election marked so strongly by “code language,” I confess that I may have heard that to mean “not enough wire whisk and breadboard music.” I could be wrong.

This time out, I heard pieces that were not afraid to sit still for an instant, pieces that were perfectly happy to straddle genre boundaries or to start their audible lives as one thing and joyously morph into something else (Jenny Bernard’s “Hallucination” and Jon Gibson’s “Detour” come to mind right away here). For the first few days, it seemed like this it was Flute Week at the ICMC-not that I minded the chance to hear some absolutely amazing performances of stunning pieces in a bewilderingly wide range of styles by wonderful performers (Margaret, Lancaster and Elizabeth McNutt? Yikes.) for a single instant either, either. It didn’t occur to me until later that I really wasn’t listening to pieces to spot Our Software in action at all, so my own set of surprises were more about individual listening experiences. Jesse Allison’s simple and well-conceived piece for harmonica and live processing, a really modest and stunning piece for bass clarinet by Jeff Herriot, some new video work from Christopher Penrose (who turned me onto a whole website chock full of cockamamie commercials done by big western movie stars for Japanese television-including the commercial that had Arnold Schwarzenegger pimping for some kind of nicotine-based energy drink that was used to generate his piece, “My First Electric Dragon.” Check out Japander.com. Really.), Timothy Polashek’s one-minute bit of candied ginger for the ear, and David Kim-Boyle’s piece for piano, resonant glasses (the piece involved having the miked glasses hover right at the edge of feedback all the way through the piece. Paul the sound guy gets oak-leaf clusters for that one), and video projection that seemed waay too short for me.

Looking at that quick listing from memory, it occurs to me that I really wasn’t listening to pieces to spot Our Software in action at all. But there was plenty of it-there’s not much I can really say about the ubiquity of Max/MSP/Jitter at festivals such as these. It cuts both ways-some part of you is always worried whenever you see those GUI objects on the glowing screen to the right of the mixing board, and then elated when it works well. I guess that beyond some statistical increase in Max use live, it’s hard not to notice the number of pieces that now include visual information this time out (I was particularly particularly taken by Michael Theodore’s “Sivel”).

Outside of the conferences, a sort of funny thing that happened with regard to Max/MSP/Jitter visibility-due, in part, to my own indolence. I decided that I didn’t want to drag two laptops to the festival every day, so I started alternating machines. No one noticed, which I thought was a little odd. My own personal experience is that I run Jitter on my Windows box, and stick to my old trusty Powerbook for noises, but it’s clearly not the case. And the relative ubuiquity at this point of third-party objects for both platforms has really contributed to the idea that, for some people, it’s not really a question of what machine you’re running on. It’s Max/MSP/Jitter either way.

I encountered something at the ICMC that I also ran into at the AES, but probably didn’t mention in my blog entry-it seems to puzzle some people out there when I pass up the opportunity to dis other people’s software, and to puzzle some people even more by praising the stuff I didn’t dis. It’s puzzling to contemplate that one would face a world in which there are now numerous alternatives to people who want to make music with software (some of which are created or produced by people who are friends and acquaintances) with anything other than pleasure and relief. In the modern world, you’re free to choose the tool that best fits your circumstances (emotional, political, technological), and-as a personal matter-I guess that I think that steering people to the right alternative (given their situation) makes everyone happier. It was sort of interesting to chat with folks who began their lives using Pd and have since migrated to Max/MSP (they’re overwhelmingly Windows users, based on my admittedly unscientific sample and anecdotal experience), and to find out what their specific challenges are (or aren’t). They seem to have having a pretty easy time of it, and they are really crazy about being able to use Java and Javascript for object development.

There was more interest in pluggo for Windows at the ICMC than I might have expected, although it took a rather muted form; In the same way that some electroacoustic composers seemed to be sheepish about acknowledging their use of Metasynth several years ago, I think I detected a similar interest in using pluggo plug-ins; the question usually only appeared when I was alone with one other person. In one sort of funny situation, two people who were all in the same crowd came back separately and alone to inquire about pluggo for Windows. I dunno… maybe I’m hallucinating.

The off-ICMCs have really had a personality all their own over the last few years. This year’s off-ICMC was no exception, with a blistering election night Convolution Brothers fracas that featured Miller Puckette sitting in for the absent Zack Settle in Elvis wig and shades while Cort Lippe (in a fetching black balaklava that whispered “sonic terrorist”) streamed the election night returns with some ah… modification (metalflake, hydroflouric acid, and sprinkles). The next evening was my chance to catch Phonaecia live (they were wonderful), and sample the local Miami laptop scene. Friday evening was off-ICMC gig time for me, and an interesting and instructive experience. I completely sucked, rather than turning in either something that was good or even kind of pedestrian. On the good side, I went second and the evening concert ran a little late, which meant that not a lot of people were there. And Doug Geers (who preceded me) and Meg, Allison, and Charlie (who followed) were sufficiently interesting that everyone was distracted from my self-basting holiday Butterball turkey of a performance, I’m hoping. It’s an oddly liberating experience, I guess-if somewhat disappointing. I didn’t stay to the bitter end, but Eric Lyon reportedly tore the roof off the sucker rather late in the evening. Our hosts at the Titanic microbrewery were delightful. Great cheeseburgers, and my first introduction to the awesome Conch fritter (yummy), due to the encouragements of our hosts, Kristine Burns and Colby Leider. A superior bitter on tap, too. I hope we all drank enough to keep ‘em happy.

The ICMC banquet was positively stunning, complete with some kind of DEA black helicopter and interdiction boat chase thrown in. You can see some pictures of the excitement here (Choose Day 7 and head for photos 15-18). We all quickly recovered from looking out the big picture windows or from the deck and seeing the opening footage for many episodes of CSI: Miami. Man, whatta view! What an evening! At the banquet, we found out that Ajay Kapur’s paper on digitizing North Indian performance had won the “best paper” award. I was glad to get this news, since I might have missed the paper (as I did the paper on Audiosculpt 2). It didn’t disappoint, although I was in and out of the session much quicker than I would have liked (prior appointment). My own personal interest had something more to do with looking at the kinds of sensing and control they’d worked with in order to gather data without strait-jacketing performers. It was a pretty extraordinary presentation, in part because I’ve gone to ICMCs for years and wondered at what I thought was a dearth of interest in non-western musics and performance practice. This one more than made up for those years in the desert.

I’d first met Jason Freeman during our last Cycling ’74 booth time in Frankfurt; he’d taken the train up (or down) from his then working gig, and mentioned that he was working on something with Max Neuhaus. At the AES the week before, I’d run into Phil Burk, who’d also been on the project (and who was, apparently, surprised that anyone remembered that he’d done any recording at all). His presentation on the implementation of the Auracle project (particularly the kind of data capture it does, and how the data is analyzed and used over long spans of time) was fascinating. NOW I get it. Taken alongside another session paper looking at the use of spectral morphing in the film “Blackhawk Down” by Paul Rudy (it made me want to scamper off immediately, rent the film, and listen to it in the dark with the sound turned waaaaay up) it was time well spent.

But it wasn’t all sitting in the dark taking notes, nosirree. This time out, there was gear to fool around with! One of the interesting things about this particular ICMC for me was the chance to see a couple of new sensor interface products up close-Eric Singer’s Miditron, and the Electrotap Teabox. I’d spent a little time during the previous week at the AES with both the Kroonde Gamma wireless sensor interface and the Eobody, and the week gave me a chance to hear presentations by both Eric Singer (Mr. Miditron) and Tim Place and Jesse Allison (Tea importers to the Royal Family). The availability of all of these different products at different prices is great news-you’ve got a wide choice of possible solutions that work in different ways and all interface quite nicely with Max/MSP/Jitter. I even sweet-talked Tim and Jesse into spiriting a demo Teabox back to my hotel room on Tuesday evening. My pre-Cycling ’74 life is partially in the teledatacomm industry, so I tend to take things apart for amusement. The Teabox is beautifully engineered, I am happy to report. Works a treat, too.

Hmm. What might I have forgotten? Comments on the use of high-powered air conditioning units as the semiotic for success in Miami? Trying to explain the minutiae of the American political system through my tears to my European colleagues? Discovering that the Mochito does not in any way, shape, or form taste like the pondwater it resembles? Naaah. This is long enough already.

the ICMC and other things

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