Note: This version is compressed for web streaming. For a full quality DVD please contact robertalexandermusic at gmail
Before you press play, grab a nice pair of headphones or speakers, and turn off the lights. This live performance explores the outer edges of the mind through paradox and circularity, embracing primal beauty in the depths of chaos. The experience unfolds through dance, projection, live music, and real time audio-visual processing. Do not watch If you are prone to seizures.
The projected visual elements were created in collaboration with visual artist Belal Hibri.
This performance employs a style of music composition in which rate of change takes center stage, and subtle psycho-acoustic phenomena are used to create the sensation of endless rise and fall, endless acceleration and deceleration. When we first confront the idea of musical parameters such as pitch and tempo as existing in a toroidal space, the initial response is generally one of confusion, as we attempt to integrate this new experience within our pre-existing construct for what music is, and can be. In these moments, the simplest of these compositional ideas can be intensely tantalizing, as they seem to break from the realm of possibility. There is a similar breaking, as in the practice of Zen, that occurs in logical thought processes. We have knowledge of highness and lowness, of fastness and slowness. Intuition tells us that in order to reach a slower tempo, for example, there must be a decisive break from the current tempo, or an audible slowing. This understanding is false within The Calculus of Music, as slowness can be reached through acceleration, and lowness can be reached through ascension.
This performance explores, among other things, how one reacts to the presence of unfamiliar ideas embedded within an artistic work. These ideas are presented in an emotional context. Subsequently, the attention of the viewer oscillates between an attempt at an understanding and an appreciation for the artistic elements (as the viewer most likely has no pre-existing framework within which to place these new concepts). Attention is devoted to the way in which each idea is introduced, and how it is then explored across the visual and aural modalities.
The entire performance flows seamlessly from one piece to another, with only a few brief pauses. This smooth flow of attention is rooted in the same underlying mechanics that give rise to circularity within the underlying musical composition system. Just as a Shepard tones use gradual shifts in amplitude to smoothly guide the attention of the listener, I utilize music, dance, projection, and lighting, to create a smooth arc between pieces. Transitions of this type are commonplace within DJ culture in electronic dance music, where the goal is to create as seamless a transition as possible. Advances in video technology in the past 30 years have fueled the rise of VJ culture, and live projection is a staple in dance clubs around the world. The music video has become so pervasive that the modern pop song has become a visual spectacle. In deciding to include visual art, I ask myself an important question: would I utilize projected visuals if I believed the music alone would be enough to fully engage the audience? I feel it is important to work across media to explore the universality of the ideas at the core of the thesis.
The paradoxical circularity of the endlessly rising Shepard tone gives rise to a feeling that I closely relate to an endless zoom into a section of the Mandelbrot set. I draw from a deep appreciation of fractal imagery, having spent a great amount of time exploring the endless depths of Mandelbrot and Julia sets. These mathematical systems exist on the complex plane, and can be colorfully rendered with the use of specialized computer software. In my research, these complex systems have functioned as tools for approaching such concepts as infinite space and self-similarity. The exploration of these patterns have spurred me to ponder the use of dynamic scope within my own work, and to consider how the overall form of a production is mirrored within individual parts.
I encountered many critical decision points regarding the content of the performance, and I seem to have chosen aesthetics over didacticism at each turn. However, the same processes that give rise to the new compositional approach are thoroughly integrated into every element of the performance. In working with my collaborators, I took strides to ensure that the fundamental ideas were understood. Once this understanding was in place, inspiration for the creation of new works was staggering. While some pieces did not directly translate the central ideas of the compositional system, every part fit together into what I felt was ultimately successful in crafting an emotional journey through a rich idea space.
Jean-Claude Risset was the first to achieve a Shepard effect (paradoxically endless ascent or descent in pitch) with a smooth glissando. Two of his earliest electroacoustic works, Computer Suite from Little Boy (1968) and Mutations (1969), included Shepard effects. Contemporary composers have continued to explore the possibilities of the Shepard effect. Tenney utilized Shepard figures in his electroacoustic piece For Ann (rising). This work features rising tones, the intervallic relationship of which corresponds to the mathematical golden ratio 1:1.618. Acoustic precedents include Arvo Part’s Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten, and György Ligeti's "The Devil’s Staircase."
A technique known as Datamoshing is employed to create visual textures that Colors swirl and mix in a way reminiscent of abstract expressionism. Datamoshing takes advantage of the way video codecs employ algorithms to compress video. This technique was first employed in 2005; pioneering artists include Takeshi Murata, Sven Koning and Paul Davis. In order to store less data when only part of a frame is moving, an initial “i” frame is used to store the color information followed by several “p” frames which track where the color information has moved. Datamoshing is a technique in which “i” frames are intentionally removed such that color information from one video is mapped onto the movement information from another. As this technique is relatively new, I devoted a large amount of time to running tests with my visual artist collaborator Belal Hibri. My assumption, which proved to be correct, was that several zooming shots could be seamlessly spliced together to give the impression of a perpetual zoom. This effect is used heavily throughout the performance, as it closely mirrors the musical motion. In order to give rise to paradoxically circular effects in music, the attention of the listener must be shifted subtly from one musical element to another. Rather than taking the heavy-handed approach of cutting between separate elements, datamoshing allows fragments of color information from each new element to carry over into the next. For source video we chose the chaotic intertwining of tree branches, which are an example of naturally occurring fractal imagery. The perpetual zoom, when used in conjunction with this footage, creates an experience quite similar to that of an endless zoom into a subset of the Mandelbrot set.
The strobe light is triggered by hand. The visual element for the closing section of the performance is generated in real time, and the visual matrix is read directly as audio. The motion of the dancer is captured by small a wireless ring worn on the hand, and mapped to the cutoff frequency of a bandpass filter.
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