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Performance Space Meets Cyberspace: Seeking the Creative Idiom and Technical Model for Live Music on Broadband
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Performance Space Meets Cyberspace:
Seeking the Creativeidiom and Technical Model for Live Music on Broadband

Initiatives throughout the post-industrial world support the proliferation of advanced networks connecting governments with constituents, research facilities with one another, and consumers with new content portals. While such networks are currently the domain of the engineer, there is an acknowledgment through public policy and targeted investment that wider deployment is on the horizon. Such deployment not only will support a self-sustaining business model, but also is dependent on the creative insights of media artists to devise new forms of content. The author documents initial tests involving the creation and presentation of musical content within a distributed environment on Canada's CA*net3/4 national optical Internet research and education network.

The ongoing project discussed in this article investigates the creation and presentation of experimental multimedia over high-speed networks, with particular emphasis on live, interactive performance forms (Fig. 1). It seeks to provoke new social dynamics within a distributed performance environment and to investigate technical prototypes and the creative possibilities of embedding a cyberspace portal into a performance venue. The project considers the lack of models for the public deployment of broadband-enabled performing arts, and aims to provide low-cost solutions for producers with limited budgets and access to broadband connectivity. Findings will provide ethical scientific assessment of the human dynamics and collaborative behaviors of creative videoconferencing.

The project's researchers began from the premise that musical communication is spatial in nature and therefore offers an appropriate content source for the exploration of near-instantaneous distributed expression. Mid-20th-century research into new, experimental music was tapped for test content seemingly


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Fig. 1.

Michael Bussière directing a distributed performance (with Erin Driedger on flute and David Wilkinson on guitar) of Terry Riley's In C, National Research Council, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, 12 May 2003. Not visible in this photograph are performers from Holy Heart High School, St. John's, Newfoundland.

(Photo © Louise Lalande)

[End Page 73]

designed for latency. Cage's intention, for example, to avoid the perception of sounds as finite temporal objects was linked to a solution that involved the deliberate evasion of sounds as spatial objects. The spatialization of sounds (conceptually traceable to Ives) was, for Cage, a means of further fracturing a supposedly natural desire for temporal organization and logic. Add to this Cage's mandate for the superimposition and simultaneous performance of different works for the intensification of the feeling of space (again, rooted in Ives), and a prototype emerges for a broadband-based repertoire that embraces the paradox of dwelling in separate spaces while sharing a common virtual space in near real time. Finally, Cage's proposal that indeterminacy transforms roles (the performer becoming the composer, the audience becoming the performance, and the composer becoming a member of the audience) handily anticipated a performance scenario where network-based spatially distributed performance requires new means of audience engagement.

The limitations of network latency may one day be reduced to the point of inconsequence with respect to musical performance. However, current capabilities provoke questions that the project aims to address: Can music incorporate latency as a fundamental design challenge? Is there a historical repertoire that was written almost in precognition of latency as a context? Does this repertoire anticipate a new network-based musical idiom? [End Page 74]

Michael Bussière
Sonic Design Interactive Inc., 12 Clarey Avenue, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. E-mail: <michael@sonicdesign.fm>. Web site: <www.sonicdesign.fm>.
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