The computer entered music composition basically as a micro-managed sound generator and stochastic parser for prefabricated pieces. More recently, it has also been made to serve improvisatory noisemaking. Both its Apollonian and Dionysian aspects were apparent at the Electronic Music Festival presented by the Center for Experiments in Art, Information and Technology at CalArts in Valencia over the weekend.
Bear in mind that the crucial word here is experiment. If there was a moral to the Friday evening concert installment in Roy O. Disney Music Hall, it would be: Technology happens, art doesn't. All of the great mechanical labors took place before the event, confronting us only with the struggle to communicate with sound.
In the case of the improvisers, the struggle was a rather uneven one, the materials being more interesting than what was done with them, although even the gee-whiz factor was not particularly high. John Wiese whipped up a noise storm with something like a fractured techno dance beat, all sound and fury. Matt Ingalls' "Invalid Sync" was shapeless sonic tinkering, and although scratching sounds from a violin while jabbing at the computer keyboard with his toes would seem to be an important performance element, he did so crouched on the floor where few could see him.
The Simple Sample duo of Kristin Miltner and Cenk Ergun worked with more conventional sounds and loops. Yuan Liu performed Jeremy Zukerman's "Currents," triggering liquid burblings with a mouse. All of these efforts, except for Wiese's more boldly punctuated assault, began with tentative noodling, grew in density if not complexity, and then dissipated inconclusively.
The structuralists had a better time of it. Noah Sasso's ebullient prerecorded "Original Instrument" was a highly kinetic manipulation of voice samples, almost traditional in computer-aided music. Yong-Jin Jong's "Incense Ceremony" merged digitized Korean percussion with a monochrome video of smoky flickers to moody effect in the incense-filled, darkened room.
And then there was Christina Agamanolis' "Noiseless," a three-movement suite of subsonic and ultrasonic sounds, beyond the range of human hearing. Some high hums and low rumbles could be heard, but its perception-pushing (or defying) paths were mostly tracked by watching exposed speaker cones jitter. This may be the emperor's really new groove: inaudible music.