The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

April 4, 2015


solo clarinet with adaptive noise reduction

We're increasingly isolated in Providence. I feel we're pariahs.
It's slowing me up; depression invades intention. I'm beginning
to feel everyone's furious with me or us for reasons unknown.
Anyway, a new clarinet improvisation.

Notes - My jinashi shakuhachi received a new hanko from Perry
Yung today; I didn't realize he has an illustrious stage/
acting career!

I unsubscribed finally from nettime; my own posts tend not to
go through and the discussion seems to have increasingly
narrowed. This makes me all the more thankful for DIWO and the
generosity of the Netbehaviour list which manages to be open,
productive, and amazingly creative.

Have given up on antique Albert system clarinets; I've had to
return two of them because of cracks, misfitting barrels, and a
general sense of being out of tune. The instrument here is a
Boehm wooden Pruefer with amazing response and tone, from the
1960s or 70.

We're getting ready to drive across country to bring the rarer
instruments to the National Music Museum in South Dakota;
they're too delicate to keep, beautiful art works in themselves,
and they'll get decent humidity and care at the Museum. We're
giving them gratis; they'll pay for the drive out.

Stephen Dydo and I will do a guqin duet for the new cd; I'm
really happy about this - we play well together.

Reading the Dionysiaca of Nonnus/Nonnos, an Elmore Leonard,
novel, a book on the Anthropocene, Husan Hua's A General
Explanation of the Vajra Prana Paramita Sutra, Jacqueline
Waters' poetry, Badiou's Ethics, the Rigveda Brahmanas.

Recent sleep excessively disrupted, two new murders in
Providence, guest taught in Leslie Thornton's classes and saw
wonderful film/video work, and have been really sick with a
constant sore throat, wheezing, and pain. The pension problem
seems solved here, there was a savage beating down the street
from us, snow is still around but mostly gone.

Nobody died.

(This is written as a final documentation for the piece,
interesting I think from a collaborative and mixed-reality

Cave Residency During IRQ3

Untitled ongoing performance (Alan Sondheim, Description)

During IRQ3, I had a residency in the Brown University Cave for
the duration of the conference. Kathleen Ottinger, Azure Carter,
and I worked together; we had also worked on a number of pieces
for at least half a year before that. There were three pieces in
the Cave itself, collaborations between Kathleen and myself.
Kathleen did the programming and visuals, and she and I "wrote
into" and through each other's texts beforehand, producing
scripts that became independent work. These pieces are her own,
with my textual collaboration. (I figure Cave setup and
rehearsal for the performance as a whole was about 40 hours
in-Cave and maybe 100 in-studio.)

The Cave has both visuals and sound; during the conference, the
sound originated from one of two laptops I set up in the room.
This laptop was projected with into the room; the image was on
the right-hand wall. The Cave was physically only a small part
of the room - perhaps a sixth - so there was plenty of room for
other elements.

In other words, the first laptop split sound and image; the
image was projected across the room, and the sound came from the
speakers surrounding the Cave.

The second laptop was projected into the room, through the room
projector, onto a screen, and the sound was sent through the
large room speakers.

Both laptops had capabilities to run virtual worlds, and I used
three virtual worlds during the conference:

1. My residency area in Second Life, the most popular online
virtual world. The area is in the Odyssey sim, and was capable
of video texturing, mesh modeling, and complex physics / avatar

2. My three sims in MacGrid, an experimental/research world,
with completely modifiable physics and highly malleable
landforms. I have an in-world theater set up in the grid, and
can project into it.

3. A local Opensim virtual world on both laptops, with different
architectures on each; the fundamental configuration or .iar
file was downloaded from the MacGrid.

There were, most often, two world projected simultaneously into
the room.

One of the laptops also housed a configuration for Bambuser, an
online application which creates personal online video channels.
This laptop had a small usb light attached; at times the camera
would pick up the room, but most often Azure's face. The channel
would then be sent into onto objects in Second Life; the
textures were modified to image her face alone, without any
background. The image was usually inverted, but through
feedback, there were also smaller 'guide' images with her face

The face/image was embedded in the Second Life objects, with
objects intersecting it, surrounding it. The appearance was
ghostly, real-time, and uncanny.

In this situation, Azure would sing a number of songs, many of
which have appeared on our cds or lps. These songs were fed into
one or more SuperCollider programs, designed according to
specifications, by Luke Damrosch. The suite of programs is
called "revrev" and allows a musician to work with live reverse
reverberation - what I call an anticipatory music - the
reverberation building up to the enunciation of the sound, a
head instead of a tail. Combining programs allows for a thick,
more complex way of working with this. The programs also
involved multiple coherent streams or chords stemming from the
original sound-source, for example parallel streams a fifth
above and below the original tones. The programs all ran from a
prompt, and the parameters could be changed in process.

At times, I would also use alto clarinet, either to accompany
Azure, or to create independent sounds which worked with the
Cave room resonances; these often used a small instrument
amplifier. One of my goals was to keep everything acoustically
balanced; live revrev created an environment which could quickly
go out of control. (I also used a standard clarinet to play into
revrev directly at times.)

The video feeds included other elements - the two main sources
included pre-recorded materials, and texts.

The pre-recorded materials were produced at NYU's motion capture
studio, with the help of Mark Skwarek. I worked with two
performers who did one of two things:

1. The performers moved at the edge of the recording space,
producing deliberate glitches or anomalies that distorted the

2. The mocap markers were remapped among the two performers -
representing a single avatar; as the performers moved in
topologically complex ways, the projected avatar in the mocap
room broke up in various ways. The result was an avatar that
appeared more as an emanation from the performers, than as an
embodiment of them.

These are techniques I've used close to a decade, in order to
create avatar distortions that represent avant-dance, wounding,
death throes, hysteria, desire, pain, and political issues. The
videos that were made at NYU (just a few weeks earlier) were
linked together in a half-hour piece that was played at times,
as a marker or punctum of what was occurring in the virtual

The second main source of the video feeds was a series of texts
I would write into the virtual worlds themselves; these appeared
as chats on the side of the image. The texts were improvised and
related to the ongoing mise en scene in-world.

The virtual world imagery was always, always complex and
difficult to navigate in-world; for the spectator, it was also
difficult to disentangle. This was deliberate; the result, and
one of the main contents of the imagery, was the representation
of extreme states of mind, which related to the ongoing crises
of violence in the U.S., Africa, the Mid-East, and so on. The
primary source for me, for all of this, was the special topic
Johannes Birringer and I co-moderated for the empyre email list
in November, 2014, "ISIS, Absolute Terror, Performance" - a
topic which considered issues of torture, beheading, violence,
anguish, and fear, for the month. The distorted avatars I work
with - distorted because of the distorted movement - go all the
way back to 2011, a 2nd topic for the same, this time with Sandy
Baldwin, on "Pain, Desire, and Death," in the real and virtual
(I'm not sure of the exact title). Both of these and my mocap
lab work resulted in over 100 bvh files - these are files that
represent real-life performer movement - that could then be fed
into a virtual world, to animate an avatar or avatars. The
process is difficult but the result are these distortions.

So the most recent distortions, from NYU, would be projected;
other in-world projections were live and in-world, and could be
viewed in-world by another avatar; this is an important element
of interactivity I work with. The in-world projections, then,
resulted in the avatars moving wildly on the screen, creating
particle emanations in the form of nude human warriors and
charred bodies, and "dancing" with symbols made to represent
ISIS and other forms of terror. All of this is at fairly

The revrev was heard from three sources - Avatar's voice itself;
the revrev fed through either the projector speakers or the Cave
speakers; and the revrev fed through the virtual worlds, as if
it were emanating within them.

All of this created a mobile and fluid sonic architecture, one
that, for me, defined or modified the fixity of the Cave itself;
room resonances and speaker interactions, beat frequencies,
etc., all came into play. The sound was a hollowed organic body
tied to, yet not tied to, the Cave pieces and the ongoing
transformations visible in the projected images. I imaged a
sonic bubble, almost a galactic bubble, in which there were
occurrences both alien and domestic; texts would appear and
disappear in the space, always grounded by the Cave pieces which
were purely textual. Most of my time in the Cave was used for
either working within the virtual worlds, or "tuning" the space
itself - and the latter began to fascinate me. The sounds and
images resonated with each other; the four sound streams had
their own internal resonances; the darkness or brightness in the
room affected the texture mapping and readability of the
in-world texts, and so forth. Conditions were constantly
changing. The room itself was always on the edge of feedback; I
had to keep the revrev sounding full, but not overloading the
in-world sounds, and not screeching. We used a lavalier mic to
correct this in parts.

The tuning of the room relates to the tuning of the body itself;
much of my work deals with the labor involved in production,
especially dance or music production (and the performers for the
original mocap were almost all dancers); in this residency,
labor was represented by voice and instrument, but also by the
sheer weight of the production, which involved constantly
adjusting the equipment and its position in the room. So even
though the body was close to invisible (except for the video
textures from Bambuser) on the screen, it was present in the
sense of sonic architecture, the body of the piece, the galactic
bubble, and so forth.


Kathleen Ottinger
Azure Carter
Alan Sondheim
Luke Damrosch

Thanks to John Cayley for the opportunity.

Thanks also to:

Mark Skwarek, Johannes Birringer, Foofwa d'Imobilite, Sandy
Baldwin, Kira Sedlock, Frances van Scoy, Patrick Lichty,
Columbia College, West Virginia University, NYU, Brown

Audio-Visuals: (Kathleen Ottinger, Cave)


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