What do you do at Cycling ‘74?
My business card currently includes the lines “Education R&D” and “Content Creation,” although I would personally favor “Utility Outfielder,” provided that the term is something that would be understood outside of the world of baseball fans. Some people who’ve known me for many years will remember when I guarded our documentation, and others may have attended one of the Max workshops I did over the years. Most recently, a conversation with Darwin Grosse in a motel room in the Silverlake area of Los Angeles a couple of years ago was one of those moments where, in the midst of a conversation, the heavens cracked open and even I could hear the music of the spheres - the result of my epiphany (with um... no small amount of careful advice and guidance from Darwin along the way from its humble Max 6 beginnings) was Vizzie.
I guess the easiest way to see some of what I do for Cycling ‘74 would be to look for things I’ve contributed to the Cycling ‘74 website, perhaps.
Do you use Max? If so, how do you use it?
After all this time, Max remains squarely in the middle of my artistic practice for both live performance and when recording; I don’t think that there’s a single thing I’ve ever released since the early 1990s that doesn’t have Max in it, in some form. Precisely where Max lives is a little hard to tease out - it’s usually my first little “go to” toolbox for doing some kind of humble task, and often those tasks will knit themselves together to make something a bit larger and more general. As an example, my performance rig for the last decade and something consists of a a Max patch that emerged from that little sack of tools, a couple of controllers I can fit in a knapsack [a nice change from the days of humping Mellotrons and Minimoogs and a Suitcase Rhodes up or down flights of stairs], and an Apogee Duet.
The patch itself bears a little more resemblance to a stealth bomber control panel than I would have expected, but it pretty much does everything from live sampling to playback to treatment to diffusion. The rig itself changes over time, but incredibly slowly as I work with it (for example, I’ve taken Chris Vik’s recent testing on pattrforward vs. send/receive pairs to heart and re-implemented everything using the humble send and receive objects to save me some cycles). It’s still a work in progress, but one That I've been able to use as a solo artist, and also in several pretty different group improvisational settings with - PGT, The Desert Fathers, and "the quartet.".
The visual aspect of the program is sort of a redundancy by now - the layout of my controllers has changed so very little that the rig is really more “under my fingers” than on the screen. In general, there are people in the world for whom a Max patch is a piece. Somewhat to my surprise, I guess I've more or less made an instrument. Or fog machine. Or something.
What other things do you do in the world of media art?
Hmmm… my formal training has been as a visual artist, but I’ve tended to avoid that (apart from hacking Hue lights in conjunction with the MaxURL object to do cast interesting shadows on my office wall). I came of age as a visual artist during the age of Minimalism and in the shadow of proceduralism and the whole Fluxus movement, so what visual things I might be making would probably be simple and long and evolve very slowly. Besides, I get to work with visualists like Mark Henrickson, whose work is simultaneously inspiring and daunting and forces me to wonder what I could possibly do - my mother calls that dilemma “Good Trouble.” I guess that I’ve not found myself in a situation where I’m being actively encouraged to diverge from the patient um… “pursuit of my craft” in that regard - I’m not exactly into regular and shameless self-promotion. Since I don't think that the pair of wide-ranging conversations on the Art + Music + Technology podcast here and here are particularly promotional, maybe there's some useful conversation that throws a little light on things there....
Alongside my performance and recording practice. I’ve hosted a radio program of electronic/classical/experimental/ambient music since the mid-late 1980s called RTQE. It’s a wildly different program than the one I started with - by now, I can really do anything I want and my audience will follow right along. In fact, the only music I don’t play is my own.
I suppose old school radio (and its webcasting descendant) like RTQE might not exactly count as “New Media,” but I think of it that way - simultaneously inviting new people into a space to hear new things, and providing a once-a-week task or finding and organizing a little under two hours’ worth of things I’d probably like to spend time with as a listener myself - a kind of an “instructive dilemma” that’s sufficiently compelling that I still do it, one week at a time.
What software or hardware do you depend on for your musical work?
That’s really changed over the years - I might have once said that I couldn’t live without… well, let’s see: The Jam Factory (and M). My trusty MS-20/SQ-10 pair. Opcode Vision. The DX7II. Cmix and its descendants. Ensoniq samplers. FORTH. radiaL. At each of those steps along the way, something changed, I panicked and worried that I was a phony whose work reduced to his tools, and then I moved on and what I did changed (subtly or otherwise). I suppose that I’d be likely to talk these days about gen~ and a short list of softsynths like Absynth and Aalto that support non-western tunings, or my return to analog synthesis along with half the male population of the United States.
Max has remained at the center of so much of my artistic practice precisely because I can use it to create “replacements” or something analogous to what I think I am missing. Of course, any time you do that, it’s bound to be the case that your own creation starts to diverge from what you wanted to pay homage to, and that’s where the really interesting things happen.
What’s the most influential book or movie you’ve encountered?
Well, I tend to read a lot, so that list changes greatly over time. Since I’m going to be doing some book reviews and pointers for the Cycling ‘74 newsletter in the coming days, I expect you’ll see a few of them there. So how about I venture outside of what I’m likely to talk about there?
Two books come immediately to mind for me: Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language is one of those books that really changed the way in which I see and think about things that people make and inhabit. You don’t need to be someone who eats and sleeps the ideas of inheritance that Object Oriented programmers are always on about to enjoy the book: you can just take pleasure in opening the book at random and chasing some pattern back and forth through the volume. It’s one of those books that you finish spending some time with and then notice that you’re seeing what you’ve read about as you walk through a shopping mall or reach for a door knocker or admire the trace of sunshine across the floor of a room. You see differently after you read it. Alexander’s later 4-volume opus The Nature of Order is also an interesting read, but A Pattern Language is more fun. And shorter.
I’d say that the other book whose influence looms large in how I’ve journeyed from the physical to the virtual world is de Methode - a book by my old teacher Dick Raaijmakers. There is an English Translation out there, too (although some of what the book does isn’t exactly translatable - more on this in a minute). The text is one weird beast. Think of a deconstructive hybrid cross: a text that lives somewhere between the Tao te Ching and Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus in the form of a prose poem about observation, conceptualization, and the creation of machines. There’s nothing quite like it. If there’s a problem with the book for English translation, it’s that Raaijmakers’ use of language is extremely playful in a way that relies on how Germanic languages aggregate words to describe concepts - de Methode tends to pop multisyllable words apart and play with the pieces in ways that you can’t really do as well in English (since nearly all of our high-register or conceptual language is Latinate in origin, and we don’t generally recognize Latin suffixes and prefixes in that way). It seriously rearranged my mental furniture [and probably connects to why I found Max so compelling - that cascading sequence of messages moving back and forth, colliding with objects, passing through others, and making something as a result is something that fills the pages of de Methode].
Links to Gregory's work: