For the past few days, I’ve enjoyed meeting other members of the “cult of Kyma” at the 2013 Kyma International Sound Symposium (KISS2013) in Brussels, Belgium.
The theme of the conference is interfaces (more precisely: “INTER faces”), and KISS2013 used for its symbol Belgium surrealist painter Rene Magritte’s “Les Amants” (“The Lovers”), an image of two people kissing with cloth covering their faces:
This painting illustrates a the role of interfaces as borders, emphasizing the separation between the two lovers (a separation which exists between all people) even in this most intimate moment.
In the realm of electronic music, we most often use the term “interface” to talk about the point of human interaction with a machine, whether through typing on a keyboard, using a mouse, or even the Graphical User Interface (GUI) of a piece of software. The KISS conference’s choice of Magritte’s painting for its symbol, though, re-examines the interface as a border, a concept that Kyma creator Carla Scaletti was also quick to point out in her keynote speech (poorly paraphrased here): without these borders, we would just all be one mass of cells flowing everywhere.
Dr. Scaletti’s image here immediately reminded me of Katsuhiro Otomo’s cyberpunk manga and animated film Akira, specifically the scene where the character Tetsuo merges with the mechanical devices around him, and becomes and uncontrollable expanding mass of organic and inorganic matter.
While Akira’s level of human-machine bordlessness is, hopefully, metaphorical (at least for the time being), it seems that we are moving toward more and more transparent interfaces in our human-computer interactions.
Several workshops and pieces involved the Microsoft Kinect (including performances by fellow UO alums Jon Bellona and Chi Wang), an interfaces that understands an impressive amount of data about a person’s body position without requiring any physical contact.
A step further, though, were two piece presented where the performers did not interface with the computer physically, but instead through EEG neural headsets. The performers took the stage, then thought in front of an audience in order to create music. The EEGs then gathered data about the performers neural impulses, which was sonified by the computer.
Of course I couldn’t help but wonder exactly what they were thinking about…
(I think all of my EEG pieces might sound the same.)
Rather than seeking to erase the human-machine border, though, it seems that these new devices are designed to allow us to interact with machines on more human terms. Typing or using a joystick, for example, are actions we have learned for the sake of interacting with computers, whereas the Kinect offers a way of interfacing with a computer using actions that might hold referential meaning beyond human-machine interaction, as evidenced in Bellona’s “spell-casting” actions in Casting, and Wang’s conducting motions in SoundMotion.
Of course, in musical performance, we should remember that performers for centuries have practiced and learned how to physically interface with these instruments in a way that is not necessarily referential to motions outside music, so the transparency of an interface doesn’t not necessarily reflect on its effectiveness (or all musicians would just play the timpani, where one can see from across the room how the performer is playing the instrument).
An interesting question might be, though: does a novel interface, one that has never been seen before and whose performance we have not yet been acculturated to, benefit from a degree of clarity between the performers actions and the sonic results?
an image from Stock Photos of Violinists
Clearly this young woman is not acculturated to violin performance
Finally, here is one more image from Magritte, this time, the artist transgresses rather than emphasizes the interface. The title of the piece seemed rather serendipitous, “Sixteen September.”