Sound ideas Tech and the West on com­put­ers and mu­sic

TECH AND THE WEST ON COM­PUT­ERS AND MU­SIC

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - Michael Abatemarco I The New Mex­i­can

The term “in­no­va­tion” gets bandied about so of­ten in the cre­ative fields that it seems in dan­ger of los­ing all mean­ing. But true in­no­va­tion is de­fined by its last­ing im­pact on art forms, whether in vis­ual or per­form­ing arts. Through­out the 20th cen­tury, but par­tic­u­larly in the lat­ter half, ana­log pro­cesses found un­ex­pected ap­pli­ca­tions among com­posers and per­form­ing artists who con­ceived of us­ing tech­nol­ogy in un­in­tended ways. Artist Steina Va­sulka’s 1970-1978 Vi­o­lin Power, for in­stance, used scan lines of a tele­vi­sion set’s cath­ode ray tube to ren­der the sounds of a vi­o­lin vis­i­ble to the eye. The kind of in­ge­nu­ity she ap­plied to Vi­o­lin Power is among the rea­sons she’s re­garded as a pi­o­neer­ing video artist to­day.

“A lot of the tech­nol­ogy people used in their mu­sic wasn’t orig­i­nally cre­ated specif­i­cally for people to do artis­tic projects but was looked at as a generic tool. Once a body of work is cre­ated, it can feed back into the tech­nol­ogy,” said com­poser Nathaniel Bartlett, one of sev­eral pre­sen­ters at Tech and the West, a two­day sym­po­sium hosted by the New Mex­ico His­tory Mu­seum that is meant to co­in­cide with the Satur­day, July 22, pre­miere of com­poser Ma­son Bates and li­bret­tist Mark Camp­bell’s work The (R)evo­lu­tion of Steve Jobs at Santa Fe Opera. The sym­po­sium is pre­sented by SFO, Los Alamos His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety, the Santa Fe In­sti­tute, and the Thoma Foun­da­tion in part­ner­ship with the mu­seum, and is a two-year ini­tia­tive in con­junc­tion with both (R)evo­lu­tion and the opera’s 2018 pro­duc­tion of John Adams’ Doc­tor Atomic, about Robert Op­pen­heimer. Bartlett, who per­forms a reper­toire of com­po­si­tions for marimba and marimba plus elec­tron­ics, ad­dresses the topic “Con­cert Mu­sic and the Per­sonal Com­puter Rev­o­lu­tion” on Fri­day, July 21. “There will be much more lis­ten­ing to mu­sic than there will be talk­ing,” he said. “It’s re­ally more of a con­cert than a dis­cus­sion.”

Bartlett’s per­for­mance is at 3 p.m., fol­low­ing tele­vi­sion pro­ducer Ste­wart Cheifet’s 2 p.m. open­ing ad­dress. The sym­po­sium in­cludes dis­cus­sions by com­posers John Corigliano and Mark Adamo (4:15 p.m. July 21); and art his­to­rian John Han­hardt in con­ver­sa­tion with Steina and video artist Beryl Korot (11:15 a.m. July 22), both of whom have new me­dia work in the Thoma’s col­lec­tion of con­tem­po­rary dig­i­tal and elec­tronic art, cur­rently on view at the foun­da­tion’s lo­cal gallery Art House (231 Del­gado St.). Bartlett re­turns on Satur­day at 2 p.m. as part of a panel on cre­ative ex­pres­sion that in­cludes psy­chol­o­gist Dorella Bond and de­signer Leah Buech­ley, and is mod­er­ated by the New Mex­ico His­tory Mu­seum’s di­rec­tor An­drew Wulf.

Bartlett, who is from Madi­son, Wis­con­sin, built his first stu­dio, called Sound-Space Au­dio Lab, there in 2010. Af­ter record­ing four al­bums in Madi­son, he and his wife moved to Plac­itas, re­lo­cat­ing the stu­dio which was de­signed to ac­com­mo­date his evolv­ing modular mu­si­cal ap­pa­ra­tus: a mo­bile con­coc­tion of dig­i­tal and ana­log equip­ment. “I had been liv­ing in Plac­itas for the last three years, but I just moved back to Wis­con­sin in May,” he said. “My wife also grew up here, so we have a lot of fam­ily here.”

Bartlett’s per­for­mances are immersive ex­pe­ri­ences. Us­ing sur­round sound, which he refers to more of­ten as “spa­tial­ized sound,” he aims to pro­vide au­di­ences with a richer, fuller lis­ten­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. A typ­i­cal per­for­mance places the lis­tener in the cen­ter of a per­cus­sive set-up. For his pre­sen­ta­tion, he per­forms a reper­toire of com­po­si­tions that in­cludes ana­log pro­cesses, writ­ten be­fore dig­i­tal ap­pli­ca­tions and com­puter hard­ware for com­posers were widely avail­able, in ad­di­tion to more re­cent dig­i­tal works. “It was re­ally kind of a novel thing,” Bartlett said. “Now it’s ubiq­ui­tous, and it’s easy to for­get how big of a deal it was for com­posers to have ac­cess to these elec­tronic re­sources. I’m link­ing that to the work of Steve Jobs. In the late ’80s, when he got ousted from Ap­ple, he went on to form NeXT, which was an­other com­puter com­pany. With­out get­ting bogged down in the de­tails, they cre­ated some com­put­ers that were widely used by aca­demic com­posers.”

The use of NeXT com­put­ers im­pacted the world of con­cert mu­sic, the realm that Bartlett chose to fo­cus on in his pre­sen­ta­tion. He leads with an ex­cerpt from Ge­sang der Jünglinge by Karl­heinz Stock­hausen, trac­ing the evo­lu­tion from ana­log elec­tronic mu­sic to dig­i­tal through the sub­se­quent pieces he per­forms. Af­ter Stock­hausen, he presents a short ex­cerpt

It’s easy to for­get how big of a deal it was for com­posers to have ac­cess to these elec­tronic re­sources. I’m link­ing that to the work of Steve Jobs. — com­poser Nathaniel Bartlett

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