Introduction and Significance
As technology invades and improves our lives at a rapidly increasing rate, it is hard enough to keep up with the latest requirements for doing ones work or communicating with family and friends. We have increasingly little time to reflect on how these developments affect the human experience: how we communicate, socialize, express ourselves, and create. Our sense of presence/liveness/“being there” is warped in different ways when we express ourselves or experience others through text messages, status updates, and avatars. It is essential to understand this if we are to know what it means to be a human today, but it is difficult to notice the frame when the subject matter within the frame is mundane and functional. For example, when seeking and obtaining an answer to a question, one only cares about the information and is likely to ignore any less-than-transparent effects of the medium, just like we train our minds to ignore a cough in a concert hall.
The performing arts provide experiences that make the impact of technological mediation more obvious. The imprint of mediation is often more distracting than the cough in the concert hall. Poor image and sound quality, fixed perspectives, and even “features” like the ability to pause, knowing one can rewind, and the ability to multitask significantly disrupt the experience of once-live performance. Philip Auslander, Julio d’Escriván, and others conclude that “progress” will see audiences ignoring these artifacts of mediation in the future. Previous work by curator Jeff Morris shows that while we may often accept such effects in exchange for convenience, we are still quite sensitive to disruptions in the sense of liveness, presence, authenticity, etc., and this presents an opportunity to reflect on and celebrate what is lost through mediation. Something among that which is lost in mediation can illuminate new understandings of the human experience.
This isn’t “pop music.” It may not always be danceable or singable, so if that’s the only way you define music, then you might call this “sound art” or “performance art.” It’s free improvisation in the avant garde tradition: adventurous and skilled improvisers building a performance together spontaneously, without any pre-written melodies or chord charts. They’re simply having a conversation together in music, sound, visuals, and performance!
A forum for “born digital” creative performance using the mundane structure of a weblog can directly highlight and spawn discussion on these issues in mediation, expression, and experience. (A weblog or blog is a site on the world-wide web that presents episodic content, often news stories or journal entries.) Weblogmusic is a web-based exhibit of asynchronously improvised performances. It is an inquiry into the role of technological mediation in human expression, providing new situations to begin discussions on the nature of liveness, authenticity, and causality and the impact of technological mediation.
Viewers will see and hear a number of individual performers each of whom had been recorded at separate times, while responding to the previously recorded performances. A randomly-selected subset of these performed tracks will be presented together in each simultaneous “ensemble performance.” Artists record their performances responding to a randomly selected mix of previously performed tracks. Weblogmusic will host multiple “mixes” which comprise multiple “tracks” recorded by performers, each at different times, but while listening and reacting to some previously recorded tracks from the same mix.
The result is a continually evolving digital-only performance that reveals different aspects of its structure with each playing. It probes the nature of collaboration through technological mediation and the nature of liveness, authenticity, and causality. It exposes its own inflection via information technology for examination, giving us a chance to reflect on the human effects of technological progress.
This project might be compared with the YouTube Symphony Orchestra project. Other projects like Thru-You and In B-Flat build on various aspects of the same concept to make the “YouTube Symphony” more of a genre than the name of one project. Weblogmusic differs from these projects in that the end result can only exist on the site, and performers will be able to react to previously recorded performers. This is not a simple use of web-based media for convenience or a mashup experiment to see what comes out. It is a composition for improvisers using the internet as its medium, its venue, and its premise.
The resulting site is both a community and a composition. It embodies a creative discourse and is the subject of further scholarly discourse on mediation, collaboration, and expression.