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A comparison of the Disparate Bodies network performance (29th Nov 2007) and FAINT (11th Oct 2007), both in the Sonic Lab at SARC.

by Daniel Gillen

I find the Sonic Lab a bit disorienting at the best of times, due to a fairly debilitating fear of heights and fascination with shiny things which light up.  Combine this with a facet of music which to me was at that point entirely unexplored and attempting to review a gig for the first time made the FAINT performance a fairly daunting event to attend.  This was a stark contrast to my attitude when attending the Disparate Bodies performance which I attended almost entirely on a spur of the moment decision in order to see what the differences between it and FAINT would be, having originally intended to use another performance entirely to write about here.

This difference in attitude naturally resulted in experiences which were at odds with each other.  I was more readily able to accept the surreal aspects of Disparate Bodies than I had been at FAINT.  Surreal aspects such as secondlife.com’s alternate reality and the real-time interaction between musicians across a continent.  Whereas with FAINT, for an hour they improvised a simply staggering range of timbres and dynamics, creating such unusual sounds that at times it was hard to know who was making which sound and how they achieved it.  Bizarre techniques, such as Davis using a violin bow on the drum rims and Schroeder playing both a kazoo and a sax at the same time were used to great effect, generating a myriad of what ought to be dissonant sounds and yet somehow worked together brilliantly.  This same manic energy was present in the Disparate Bodies performance, but I was ready for it this time.

I think the same thought process can be applied to the thought process we as Performance Workshop students operate with when presented with the task of improvising music.  I know I all too often suffer from indecisiveness and ‘sheep’ syndrome and make few attempts to try to play something completely different or challenging.  By making affirmed decisions about what and how to play, much more is conveyed to the audience and the performance is made far more interesting.

The very nature of a distributed performance will likely mean the performers involved will have fewer opportunities to play together due to geographical separation.  Whilst a new slant on improvisation might make for some interesting and fresh sounds, there is always the possibility the performance will suffer as a result of the musicians’ inability to ‘read’ each other.

The location of the performers had a few other surprising consequences, chief among which was the predisposition present in the audience of Disparate Bodies to listen primarily to the artists present in the room.  At FAINT, the three performers had fairly equal prominence and dynamic shifts by an individual were much more noticeable to me then those of the performers in Hamburg and Graz in Disparate Bodies. 

Perhaps this concentration on the sound made by what we can see with our own eyes instead of on a TV screen is a side effect of TV itself? The audio of characters and/or actions on a screen in films are normally louder than ambient noise and back-round music added.  A teacher from my old school complained of this same trend in society; of how music and sounds are deemed less important than what we can see.  This was an unusual thing to hear an art teacher complain about, but I agreed with him.

There does seem to be a pattern in that modern media forms are becoming more and more visual-orientated.  Even what were once solely audio devices in the form of the telephone network have been usurped by text and picture messaging on mobile phones and e-mails and (how appropriate) blogs.  Its is entirely understandable too, as all the methods stated previously allows time for consideration of the response to be given and a ‘smart alec’ quip can be thought up in the time it takes to write a text or e-mail.

This is, of course, entirely opposite to improvised music.  There should be as little predetermined as possible. As much as I like the idea of a network performance, my mind seems almost unchangeably wired to want to see performers ‘in the flesh’.  It’s the reason why I would go see a band play live even if somewhat ropey rather than listen to the album at home or, perhaps more fittingly, watch them on YouTube.  An Mp3 player is to me more technically impressive than a guitar plugged into a Vox, and in the same way there was so many intriguing elements to the distributed improvisation in its implementation compared with having FAINT play together live.

I walked away from Disparate Bodies amazed at what I had seen.  I preferred FAINT because I walked away amazed at what I heard.  The tight-nit understanding between the members of FAINT was intangible, and as such technology was unable to recreate it, making all the difference.

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