EndWar Audio Demystified

I finally got around to adding an EndWar audio page to my website, which collects some of the more salient information regarding my work on this game for the better part of the past four years.  Check it out, if you care.

I also added some of the more insightful press blurbs pertaining to EndWar audio that I could find (omitting the mean ones) on my press page.  Generally, folks seem to be pleased with the audio (if they notice it at all).

Also, Ubisoft has launched a contest, inviting everyone to create user videos for the “EndWar” song I wrote and performed in collaboration with 99 Men (obligatory 3 Heart-Shaped Cookies plug), which means now anyone can download and enjoy this lusty refrain. Hurry, you have until February 17 to submit your entry!

And let me add a preemptive disclaimer about the following video, now making the rounds on YouTube in conjunction with the aforementioned contest. This performance was absolutely not intended for public consumption. It was a last minute stab at cheap entertainment for a team party.  I came straight from working at my desk, and I didn’t rehearse a lick, which explains the ill-timed invitations to clap or sing along, as well as the ill-advised air guitar.  Also, Mike (of 99 Men) transposed the song down from e minor to d minor, which rendered the bridge too low for falsetto and too high for full voice (Mike sings the bridge on the recording).  That said, the Shanghai skyline backdrop is kinda cool.

Nominations for the Post of Retroactive Inaugural Composer

More or less off the top of my head, here’s a list of composers from whom I would have rather heard a new composition at the Presidential Inauguration than from John Williams.


Top 3: Joseph Schwantner (see in particular New Morning for the World), Ned Rorem, and William Bolcolm.  Venerable American composers you’ve probably never heard of, Pulitzer Prize winners all, living in the present while linked to history, undisputed masters of their art.


Extended free association list: Bernard Rands, John Adams, Chen Yi, Libby Larsen, Stephen Paulus, Steve Mackey, Bright Sheng, Steven Hartke, Aaron Jay Kernis, Michael Torke, Wynton Marsalis, David Del Tredici, Tod Machover, Dan Trueman, John Harbison, Augusta Reed Thomas, Dominick Argento…


You might consider even pulling in some of the more minimalist or experimental folks like Ingram Marshall, maybe even Steve Reich (though his more recent stuff is kind of stuffy, dull, and dogmatic, so maybe not).  Or even some of the more prickly modernists, folks like George Perle (who died last Friday, perhaps the most romantic of the American modernists), Elliott Carter, Charles Wuorinen, Leon Kirchner, or Ellen Taaffe Zwillich.  I think any of these composers would have the perspective and sensibility in their work to provide something suitably celebratory.


Basically, anyone other than John Williams.  If inclusion of a classical piece on the inaugural program was meant to signify an advocacy of the fine arts,  well, I can’t think of a composer less in need of advocacy than John Williams.  The NY Times reported that classical musicians were pleased that their field was represented at the inauguration, but it really wasn’t.  Not that John Williams can’t write a classical piece if he wants to, and not to denigrate his formidable mastery of the orchestral medium in any way, but he represents, is in fact virtually synonymous with, a very different practice, one that is more geared towards providing a rollicking good time than probing the depths and extremities of human experience, which is basically what classical music is for (not by some divine mandate or whatever, but just because this is how the tradition has evolved, or rather this is the name given to the musical tradition that does this…erm, I’m putting too fine a point on it…anyway…).


John Williams has written some great stuff, but that piece was an embarrassment.  I can’t imagine why any composer would attempt to appropriate the same Shaker tune that Aaron Copland had already treated so masterfully and definitively in “Appalachian Spring.”  This felt like a tossed off, Cliff’s Notes summary of Copland’s piece, especially silly when there are so many other good Shaker tunes on which to draw, if a composer feels so compelled.  (Actually, upon further reflection, I will also nominate a pal of mine for the Retroactive Inaugural Composer post: Kevin Siegfried.  If you need a Shaker tune manipulated, he is your go-to man, much more so than John Williams.)


A good friend of mine suggested that the event surely had to be toned down for the masses, leading to this most populist choice of composer.  But I would counter that a presidential inauguration is the ideal forum for a rigorous, sensitive, celebratory work, something that embodies the ideals of a nation, rather than the feel-good, escapist bonbon we heard on the broadcast.  A piece that doesn’t ignore contemporary woes with a nostalgic throwback to simpler times, but that stands strong in the present moment on the firm foundation of history, resolute without being pompous or jingoistic.  Art that actually earns the right to feel good.  If such a historic presidential inauguration isn’t the occasion for such serious classical music, I don’t know what is.


BTW, the same list above, more or less, also holds for my Retroactive Commission for the NY Philharmonic’s first concert in North Korea last year.  Dvorak’s New World Symphony was an obvious choice, having been commissioned by the NY Philharmonic, but what an embarassment to show up with no living composers on the program, to suggest that Gershwin’s American in Paris was the best our country had to offer, and honor Bernstein with nothing but the Candide overture as an encore.


eArts wrap-up

I just posted a long overdue overview of the various eArts performances I was able to attend over on GNO. I’ve been honing my blogging skills on that site for over a year, under the strict tutelage of Yao Dajuin and Lawrence Li, though I plan to focus my blogging activities here from here on out.

In particular, I may draw your attention to my arduous, year-long translation of Li Jianhong’s 李剑鸿 account of his December 2006 Japan tour (the last time I plug this link, I almost promise). I’ve also blabbed about Stockhausen and Cardew and videogames and the 2PI Festival, and who knows what all else. I’m sure you will find hours of entertainment.

Or, if you want an alternative account of what went down at eArts, check out Carl Stone’s two part review over at New Music Box!

Music is Medicine

My pals 10 are performing at Logo tomorrow night, and you should totally come. They’ve just wrapped up a fairly disastrous China tour, so it would be nice if we can all send them back to Japan on a happier note. Reggie from STD was gracious enough to let them open for Jeans Team on short notice (and thanks to Abe for the suggestion).

10pm, November 15, 2008
13 Xingfu Lu (near Fahuazhen Lu)
30 RMB entry

You can hear a short sampler of some of 10’s music here. Also check out their MySpace page.

I’ve been a fan of 10 for a long time. I first met Marqido (the Japanese half) at the 2pi Festival in Hangzhou in 2005, and I think I met itta (the Korean half) the following year. They’ve played around China a bunch, including a set at the mini MIDI festival in 2007. To get the gist of what they’re up to, read my review of their show at last year’s 2pi festival here.

10 are in the middle of a bit of a controversy at the moment. (I was planning to dig a bit deeper and post an insightful analysis, but it seems more useful to get this sketch of a post up before they take the stage tomorrow.) This tour was intended as a triumphal lap in support of a new CD they just put together, entitled Nomad (which aptly describes their itinerant musician existence), released on the Beijing-based Wangba 王八 Records. Wangba is the project of a Frenchman named Yoan Gandin, the roster of which also includes Papier Tigre and Thee, Stranded Horse, and they’ve been involved with shows by folks like Xiao He 小河 and Li Tieqiao 李铁桥.

The relationship between 10 and Wangba began to sour on the night of their CD release party at Mao Livehouse in Beijing. I happened to be in town, so I was able to catch this set and meet Yoan, who was quite personable and enthusiastic about underground music. The show opened with Opra Hashimo (another Frenchman) performing a hip, live remix of the Nomad album, and then 10 took the stage with a rotation of special guests, including Xiao He, Li Jianhong 李剑鸿, Vavabond, and Li Tieqiao. (Sulumi was hanging out backstage, but he didn’t perform.) It was a good show, though when everyone took the stage for a monster free jam at the end of the night, I couldn’t help but feel that the mass of sound pretty much obliterated the playful balance 10 usually maintains.

After the show is where the stories begin to diverge. Both parties acknowledge that there were only eighty-odd folks in attendance, and that for fewer than 120 people an extra charge was to be levied against Wangba by Mao. But Yoan asserts that 10 wanted to keep all the money instead of dividing it up among all of the musicians, and that he lost money overall, whereas 10 claim that he kept a disproportionate amount for himself, and lied about still being in the hole to Mao.

Points of contention accumulated from there. 10 complain that Yoan put them on the longest and slowest trains for their tour, with hard seats for overnight trips. He canceled their gig in Nanchang, which they considered a kind of broken promise. They say he tried to manipulate payments from the venues along the tour to get more than his share of the proceeds.

While some of the gigs seemed to go well, others didn’t make money at all. Their stop at Live Bar in Shanghai on Oct. 18 may have been the most disastrous, landing on the opening night of the eArts Festival and several other shows, resulting in a dismally small turnout. Afterwards they were told they actually had to pay the bar, since the bar had bought their train ticket for the next day. On top of that, itta twisted her ankle after the set. They arrived in Guangzhou the next day sick and dispirited.

To 10, the issue is trust; they feel that Yoan was dishonest with them on the night of the CD release party, and from this point on, they have anticipated deception in every communication. Mistrust a poisonous weed in the small world of independent music, where so much is based on informal agreements, mutual goodwill, and camraderie. In fact, 10 still haven’t signed a contract with Wangba for the release of Nomad, which shows a great deal of trust on Yoan’s part as well, and makes the future of the album very uncertain. I heard talk of lawyers, but I can’t imagine the stakes are that high. As Milton Babbitt said (of academic avant-garde music, but it’s just as apt here), “It’s a mad scramble for crumbs.”

Ultimately, my sympathies are on the side of itta and Marqido, who have been friends for a long time and are currently staying at my house; their feeling of betrayal is very real. But my feeling is that this dispute arose more from miscommunication than ill will. Having seen an excerpt of the communication between the two parties, it’s quite apparent that English is the native tongue of neither. And if someone wants to make money ripping off musicians, the Chinese underground experimental music scene is an unlikely jackpot.

But one thing I appreciate about 10 is that their commitment never wavers, and I know they’re going to do their best at Logo tomorrow night. As itta is fond of saying, “Music is medicine!” Hopefully when they get back to Japan everyone will have some time to heal.

Diary of a Madman

Last weekend I attended Lu Xun 2008 鲁迅二零零八 at the new, still under construction home of DDM Warehouse. They have moved from Dong Da Ming Lu, now nestling in at that sculpture park complex on the west end of Huai Hai Lu, whatever it’s called. This traveling theatrical performance commemorates the 90 year anniversary of the publication of Lu Xun’s short story A Madman’s Diary 狂人日记, in which the narrator becomes convinced that he is surrounded by cannibals. The production was a joint venture between Shanghai’s Grass Stage Theater Group 草台班, led by Zhao Chuan 赵川, and companies from Hong Kong, Taipei, and Tokyo.

At first I was irritated at arriving about half an hour late, but as the performance continued, I started not to mind so much, as the piece was very loose and very long. For something that moved so slowly, I would have expected a higher degree of polish, perhaps nudging the action in the direction of ritual or choreography. In the absence of this, the piece would have benefited from greater density; nothing seemed to need to take as long as it did, and the transitions weren’t very tight. There were some recurring elements (laughter, a single character walking back and forth along one wall), and some fun ways of playing with the space (banging metal on concrete in the dark behind the audience, actors wandering about and speaking different languages), but the overall structure didn’t seem to hold these ideas together very successfully. The full dorsal male nudity and fire breathing felt completely gratuitous. But as I’m unfamiliar with the original Lu Xun work, it’s possible that some of the subtleties of the performance were lost on me.

I also caught Torturing Nurse’s gig the week prior, quite an usual set for them. At this, their 20th NOIShanghai concert, sound artist Yan Jun 颜峻 (who was down from Beijing to play with me and Bruce Gremo in a performance of Christian Marclay’s Screen Play, part of the Shanghai eArts Festival 2008 in Xujiahui Park) decided he was going to turn the tables by torturing Torturing Nurse (in his pajamas). Xu Cheng 徐程 was tied up in a bag with a microphone, Junky was tied to a table in a raincoat with a contact mic taped to his throat, and Jia Die 蛱蝶 was taped up to a microphone and chair. (And that’s all she was wearing; as an unintended encore, we got to hear her improvised offstage vocalizations as the tape was removed from her more sensitive regions.)

It was a fun set and a departure from their usual routine, but since Yan Jun led each member onstage to get gamely tied up in full view of the audience, any illusion that we were hearing the sounds of an actual struggle was punctured, robbing the piece of some potential punch, and the sound generated didn’t really live up to the spectacle’s promise.

Also on the bill were Justice Yeldham, the Australian whose instrument is a contact miced shard of glass, Japanese artist Noiseconcrete, and the live debut of Lao Yang 老羊, proprietor of Beijing’s venerable Sugar Jar shop, the best place in China to pick up underground or experimental music. Check out Gregory Perez’s pics (he’s also got some great ones from the Halloween show at Yu Yin Tang)!

After taking in these shows, I had a lengthy discussion with a friend about “experimental” art. I’m all for experimental art; in fact, I tend to think it’s the most interesting kind. But I always keep in mind something Richard Karpen said when I was studying with him, which is that you must consider the scope of the experiment you’re undertaking. Is it an experiment whose results might impact a broader section of the populace, or is it more of a junior high science experiment, which is done primarily for your own education and development? (He could be harsh.) Labeling a work “experimental” in no way absolves it of the need for logic and cohesion of some kind. Personally, I know I tend to sometimes be more lenient in evaluating experimental work, just because I’m happy to see this kind of inquiry going on, but ultimately experimental work requires the thoughtful criticism of artists and audiences to develop and grow, to help gauge the success of these experiments.

This leads to another issue. A lesson I learned from my pal Korby Sears back in Seattle, to which I return again and again, is the idea of sympathy; from an artist’s perspective, you’ve got to give people a reason to want to take the time to engage your artwork. Of course audiences should ideally be open-minded and receptive enough to meet you halfway, but you’ve also got to convince them it’s going to be worth their while and help them fill in the gaps to understand the context of your work. The people behind both of these performances, Junky of NOIShanghai and Zhao Chuan of Grass Stage, are doing exactly that, working to foster a scene in which new pieces and new ideas can be tried out, providing a regular forum in which people can experience new works, and that’s great to see. Putting these two ideas together, experimental exploration with sympathetic attention and criticism, would seem to be a template for a healthy scene.

BTW, Yan Jun and Torturting Nurse were just profiled in Time Magazine, along with Sulumi, B6 (whose new album comes out on the 15th, looking forward to it!), and Shenggy. Check it out!

Interactive Opera: The Met Steals My Idea

The New York Metropolitan Opera is mounting a “fully interactive” staging of Berlioz’s “Damnation de Faust,” which tests technology that they plan to deploy in a production of Wagner’s Ring cycle in the 2010-2011 season. This is one of the finest fruits yet of Peter Gelb’s new tenure as general manager of the Met. The director is Robert Lepage, who in addition to having directed Lorin Maazel’s opera “1984,” Stravinsky’s “The Rake’s Progress” (at the Royal Opera at Covent Garden), Bartok’s “Bluebeard’s Castle,” and Schoenberg’s “Erwartung,” also directed Cirque du Soleil’s Las Vegas production “Kà.” The tech team is the German software artist Holger Förterer and video artist Boris Firquet.

While the opera is being performed, laser sensors and microphones track the movement on the stage and the swell of the music to control images of birds and flames on screens behind the performers, all rendered in real-time.

This is so my idea. I have witnesses. But since no one’s lining up to ask me to direct an opera, I’m going to give away the rest of my idea for free. Ever since I saw the Lord of the Rings trilogy (which I despised for its cloying sentimentality), I’ve been thinking, why not merge the motion capture technology that allowed Andy Serkis to don sensors and virtually act the part of Gollum, wearing his 3D model like a rubber suit, with the technology we use everyday to render fantastic real-time realms in videogames?

Having experienced Seattle Opera’s Der Ring des Nibelungen cycle back in 2001, I specifically had Wagner in mind. One of the challenges in mounting the Ring is deciding how to present the dragon Fafner in Siegfried (the third opera in the cycle). What if, instead of a big, floppy puppet, the audience could behold a singing creature from the alien menagerie of Gears of War 2?

You could have the singers performing somewhere out of sight, with cameras capturing their facial expressions as they sing, to be mapped onto the face of the virtual characters projected on the screen. Meanwhile, another actor (also off-stage) performs the physical action that’s mapped onto the rest of the character’s body, Gollum-style, but in real-time. It’s like multiple people manipulating a huge dragon puppet, but with no physical constraints or cost for the materials.

Not only does this allow for some fantastic operatic creatures (from Fafner the Dragon to Seth Brundle in Howard Shore’s recent opera The Fly), but it might also have saved Deborah Voigt from having to have gastric-bypass surgery. Set designers could benefit from a vastly increased palette of new possibilities, from anime to totally abstract. And of course the virtual sets would be completely dynamic, from the birds and fire of this Faust production, to characters leaving footsteps on terrain and swirls in volumetric fog, particle systems, weather, dynamic lighting, the whole arsenal of what’s already used to create compelling environments in videogames.

This is absolutely the evolution of the operatic medium. Even if the technology’s not quite ready to render Jurassic Park in realtime, it won’t be long. In an article about videogame music a few years ago in the Seattle Weekly, Gavin Borchert even called videogames “The New Opera.” If Wagner were alive today, seeking to pursue his vision of an all-encompassing gesamtkunstwerk, he would surely be casting his gaze towards games.

By the way, I’ve also always thought that Die Zauberflöte would make a great game. That’s not necessarily the evolution of any medium, but wouldn’t that be a fun project?

3 Heart-Shaped Cookies

I just uploaded my new EP (I guess it’s my first real album) to a bunch of sites for digital distribution. It will take a few weeks, I guess, to percolate through the system, but theoretically you should soon be able to download it on iTunes, Napster, Rhapsody, eMusic, and Amazon. Drop me a line if you wish to be notified when this happens. I hope to follow it up with a physical release in the coming weeks.

3 Heart-Shaped Cookies


I just spent a long time setting up this special webpage for the album, so I won’t duplicate all the info here. It’s actually a collection of 3 older tunes I did with my pal Mike Caviezel (mastermind behind the band 99 Men) back in Seattle. I teamed up again with Mike to produce a song that plays over the end credits in EndWar, so it seemed a good time to get these prior collaborations out in the open.

And though it certainly wasn’t the most important thing going on in the world yesterday, Tom Clancy’s EndWar, my life for the past 3.5 years, was finally released (release date chosen by the French). Go buy it!

The Power of Music

I just got back from giving a presentation on sound art at Raffles Design Institute on the campus of Donghua University, about a block from Yu Yin Tang. The hallways are emblazoned with photographs of people like Jean-Paul Gaultier and Stella McCartney, and the glass door to each room is inscribed with maxims such as “Globalization is possible when a brand is built into a cultural stereotype,” “Brands are relationships; there’s nothing else,” “Success financially is a measure of creative success; it is the same in all art” (that one was Stella’s), and my favorite, “The power of music is branding.” It was even creepier than the thought of classrooms full of students being serious about fashion marketing.

But my personal interactions were all quite agreeable. I was there at the behest of the effervescent multimedia instructor and aspiring DJ Raquel Assis, to speak to her “New Media and Environments” class. My presentation seemed to be quite well-received, although I always feel a bit like I’m cheating, since all I have to do is say, “I’ve been making videogames for the past 12 years,” and everyone snaps to attention.

Most of the questions afterwards came from other professors sitting in. One asked how living in China has influenced my work, which was an interesting question, because the piece I had just played was “Radiospace,” which on the surface (in this particular rendering) has lots of snippets of Chinese speech and pop songs, but is actually not about content at all. It’s a real-time program that uses radio broadcasts as source material for audio manipulation, and was actually completed back in Seattle, where the program mangles Britney Spears instead of the Jay Chou. A lot of my work is kind of ambivalent about content, focusing instead on structure, and that’s particularly true of this piece.

But back to the question, while I am an enthusiastic student of Chinese culture, I don’t hear a specific Chinese influence on my work in any overt sense, like using pentatonic scales or whatever (I wouldn’t have to come to China to pick that up, anyway). When I hear something in Chinese music that is relevant to the issues that concern me, I do, of course, take note (I cited a recording of a Buddhist ritual in a Shanghai temple on the French Ocora label, “Chine Fanbai: Chant liturgique bouddhique” [I guess that’s 梵呗], as an example of a static musical behavior). But I’m probably more influenced by the rush of modernity, trying to parse and correlate multiple streams of information, the hum and buzz of a huge, constantly evolving city like Shanghai.

Another question was about the limits of randomness in a closed computer system, and I replied that art made from random numbers is just like art made from pipe cleaners. There’s nothing particularly interesting about pipe cleaners, but I’m sure somebody can make some really neat things out of them; the art emerges from form and relationships. There’s plenty of randomness in a computer. You can progress from sample transforms to synthesis, continuing to insert random choices at every stage of your audio-generating function until you’re sending a stream of random numbers directly to your sound card, the very definition of white noise. If you’re not content with the randomness within your computer, then you can introduce the outside world into the system by hooking up a camera or microphone, which yields information that is potentially more random yet also more consistent than a random number generator.

In all these cases, what’s more important than generating noise (random numbers) is deciding how that noise is used, what the random numbers are hooked up to, how they’re constrained, and what happens in between random choices. If you’re getting random information from a camera, you have to decide where you’re pointing your camera. All works, no matter how aleatory, are framed in some way; they come with some context or expectation as to the circumstances in which they will be experienced. That’s where you see the hand of the artist, and this is why even performances of John Cage’s 4’33” tend to sound pretty similar, despite the fact that ostensibly any sound in the world is admissible.

I’m not sure that I answered either question very clearly, especially considering how long it took me to summarize my responses for posting here.

Two very shy girls came up afterwards and said they had done a sound art piece called “Uneasy” that is designed to make you feel uncomfortable. They’re going to send me an MP3. I can’t wait to hear it!

Below are my annotated notes (yes, that’s notes on notes, or, if you will, the derivative of notes; I think this is what Mike Min meant when he was babbling about calculus in art), and I’m sorry, I’m not going to take the time to clean them up into essay form for you.


Hi, I’m Ben Houge

Example of my work, provide some context

[play Breaking New Ground]
Set it up: SICIW, 100% Design, arctic concept
Imagine 12 speakers

Take a vote: is it music? [Response: no]

Done in Max/MSP
6 wind generators
3 chime generators
1 insect-flute generator

All the parameters of music are still there
Strong harmonic basis

So you could consider it a piece of music
Unlike most traditional music, no beginning and end; runs all day, and start/stop is determined by viewers individually entering/leaving, like sitting on a park bench
No loops, just algorithmic behaviors, many elements up to chance
Site-specific spatial element; can’t listen to it in your home on a CD player; have to go there

Background, how I got here

Piano lessons
Got a synthesizer in high school
St. Olaf College, major in Music Theory and Composition
Focused on electronic music, csound

UW, MM Composition
Sound synthesis, algorithmic processes, aleatory music, Max/MSP

Got into videogames
In Seattle for 8 years
Sierra Entertainment
Such games as LSL7, KQ8, Arcanum, Half-Life: Op4

[play Arcanum main theme]
It’s a nice enough little theme, but I was not happy with the implementation of my music in the final game; everything looped
It’s probably around this time that I really became convinced that the future of game audio was in finding unique deployment methods appropriate to the medium

In Shanghai for 4 years
Tom Clancy’s EndWar, out today!

Parallel artistic trajectory

Early on in my career I was a content provider: music composition, sound design, dialog editing, lip syncing, etc.
Eventually became an audio director, where my job was simply to make the game sound good
Producing very little original content, rather directing other content providers, e.g., working with pals from Seattle on EndWar music (though I still got my song in there for the end credits).

First thought of games as a stepping stone into film, but soon discovered what a fascinating world it was.
Whereas film is codified and calcified and super competitive, grammar of games is still being defined; more fun challenges

[Play sci-fi ambience, built entirely from random and statistical deployment of synthesized sounds]

First heard of John Cage in college, several years later, while working in games, read Silence.
Recommend to all aspiring videogame audio designers
Started making the connections, also reading Feldman
Sound Currents, Seattle school

Began finding a focus for my art, and my extracurricular work, which had previous been mostly sacred choral music, began to focus more and more around the issues I was facing in the evolving medium of games.
Sierra paid for my Master’s, continuing education program; since I had already been working in games for a while, I knew where I wanted to focus
During my Master’s I realized my mission wasn’t to write a symphony or smart little chamber piece, but to connect these dots.

[Play A Reading from _____/Variations on _____, live radio performance on KEXP’s Sonarchy]

Is this music? At the time, I would have said yes, but BMI didn’t think so.

Why “sound art”?

Most open term, least expectations.

Throughout music history, there’s an increasing tendency to incorporate new sounds into music
Mozart’s Turkish cymbals, hunting horns, etc.
Technological advancements: saxophone, sirens, electronic instruments (Theremin, ondes Martenot)
Recording technology, musique concrete, tape music, computer-generated sound, sampling, DJ’s
Now experience almost all music in recorded format anyway

Now just about any sound can be considered of musical use (pop music ahead of classical music in that sense)
So what’s the important distinction?

Not bound by medium; more likely to experiment with cite-specific sound producing configurations.
Not necessarily electronic, speakers, Trimpin, acousmatic
Sound art is not necessarily even sound producing, Christian Marclay’s instrument sculptures and manipulated album covers
Also mention his video work and our recent Screen Play performance

An aspect I find particularly intriguing is the idea that sound art is in some way an “object,” rather than a “piece.”
Music has almost exclusively been about an organization of sound with a beginning and end, unfolds as an event.
But from my game experience, I’ve become concerned with organized sound that is indefinite, that continues until a user decides when to leave.
In this regard it’s more like an ambience, like sitting on a park bench and listening for a while, then leaving when you’ve had enough.
And similarly, it’s like looking at a painting in a museum; so “sound art” seems apt.

Because of all this, my work is just one possibility of what sound art might be
Most of my work has been sound producing, but I’m expanding
Working on giraffes [algorithmically generated digital prints], expressing the same ideas of organization in different media
I kind of still consider this music, too, but most people reasonably wouldn’t, so sticking with “sound art” for now.
Also coming soon: video works.

My issues

Dynamic behaviors
No loops!
“Just loop it” is the dumbest answer to a very interesting question, first thing people think of, cocktail party response
A more interesting answer involves algorithmic behaviors (do not fear algorithms; it’s just a method of doing something, like a fugue)
Also, do not fear randomness; very fertile artistic medium, lots to do with it.
Randomness as an artistic medium; more than just a random number generator
Levels of linearity; usually a continuum, not on-off; find the right granularity for your project

Shuffling, additive systems
Combinatoriality [I’ve stolen this word from 12-tone theory; I like my definition better]: exponential increase in possible outcome when you mix several layers of indeterminate behavior
Responsive; deprived of pre-rendered dramatic trajectory, allows you to switch on a dime

This ability to switch allows you to closely follow another stream of information; this is what happens in a videogame
Mapping from one stream to another; multimedia works, real-time
Coordination between different streams

[Play Mobile 3]

Explain that this is a live performance at the 2pi festival 2006 [and not one of my greatest works, but gets the idea across]
Also served as a prototype for EndWar music system

Granular synthesis
Also interested in what happens when you have lots of similar objects doing slightly different things
Small variations, lend interest, thwarting computer’s ability to be too perfect, the warmth of an acoustic performance
Heterophony, flocking behavior, Zhang Yimou, Curse of the Golden Flower

[Play Radiospace]

Having a big visual art show soon, visit my web site for the latest.
Also, I just started a blog. Visit!


[Bonus: Play “EndWar” main menu music for big finish]

Wound Up and Worn Out

The Subs show last night was p-double-a-acked! I haven’t seen Yu Yin Tang so crammed since, well, since the Rogue Transmission CD release party a week ago, another awesome show.

Opening was Yellow Riot, a Clash tribute band that bore an uncanny resemblance to Rogue Transmission for some reason I just can’t put my finger on.

Every time I see Boys Climbing Ropes, it brings to mind this half-remembered quotation, something Elvis Costello said about the early eighties Attractions, something about how they could sound pent up and strung out at the same time. Or laid back and wound up. Or worn out and hung up. (I’m thinking of songs like “Strict Time.”) For a while, I had a sense that Boys Climbing Ropes were kind of two bands fighting for the same stage, but now it seems they’ve managed to balance their yin and their yang in a most satisfying way. Great show, and we sweaty masses summoned them back for an encore, a triumphant reading of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.”

The Subs were awesome, as you may have anticipated. Monstrous peals of arena-ready guitar riffs rent the fetid air, while lead singer Kang Mao 抗猫 magnetized the crowd with her wild-eyed thrusting and jabbing, convulsing as she squalled. She was doing a really weird thing with her voice, a kind of tremolo that sounded more like two sine waves beating; I have no idea how she did that. It was great, but like I said it, the place was super packed, and having made rather merry the night before, I left halfway through the set. I realized I still had their CD at home that I still hadn’t listened to, with better sight lines and less smoke and no mosh pit to spill beer on me. I know, I’m sorry, I’m lame.

It was fun to see BCR and Subs on the same bill. While BCR’s tunes are bit more foursquare, with steady chord changes, the spice provided by the lean interplay between guitar and base that sidesteps standard voicings, The Subs are more likely to stay put for a while, bluesing around a chosen key area for longer stretches. Whereas BCR were more about edgy riffs, The Subs favored extended solos. Nice contrast.

Oh, and it was Halloween, so people were dressed up funny, but I wasn’t. Since Halloween’s the day after my birthday, I still nurture a childhood grudge against it for stealing my birthday thunder.

Speaking of birthdays, maybe it’s because I’m getting old, or maybe I was just worn out and hung up from the previous evening’s festivities, but I sure wouldn’t mind if these things started a little earlier. With the headliner taking the stage after midnight, I almost always konk out before the DJ afterparty fun starts, much as I would like to stick around. Now get off my lawn.

Update: just saw Andy Best’s review is up, and it’s more thorough than mine, so go read his blog instead! Great finally meeting him in person last night.

A Stash of Mustache Ashes

My pal Gregory Perez wrote me this poem on his iPhone for my birthday yesterday.  Thanks, man!

A stash of mustache ashes
Flees into Shanghai breeze and traffic

Algorithmic angles
Connecting noise to signal

Every sine surges in wavelengths
Captured alive in self-made Cages

The truth of where this sound begins
Is likely found where Ben has been