The third edition of Network Music Festival took place at the end of September in various venues across the city of Birmingham, UK. The aim of the festival is to explore innovative digital music, art and research which investigates the impact of networking technology on musical creation and performance practice. To this end, an international group of contributors convened for a weekend of performances, installations, talks, and workshops. The main theme for the 2014 edition focused on collaboration through online environments and networked live coding, but there was room within the programme for a number of different approaches to this idea and to the broader theme of networked music and performance.
The most obvious type of networking evident throughout the weekend was the networking together of performers, either within the performance space in Birmingham, or across the world, or both. The festival opened with a performance by BEER (Birmingham Ensemble for Electroacoustic Research) in which audio objects were passed between performers over a local area network as they were shaped and modified on-the-fly. Groups such as The Cybernetic Orchestra and The Avatar Orchestra Metaverse had no representatives physically present in Birmingham, instead using virtual environments to bring together performers across multiple continents and create music that was streamed live to the festival audience. LaptopsRus connected locally present musicians with remote poets, video and performance artists throughout Europe for a raucous and politically direct performance, inspired by the coming together of global citizens in the equally loud street protests known as ‘Cacerolazo’.
Other artists took advantage of pre-existing networks in order to create something new from the coincidences and correspondences they facilitated. Tim Kreger’s “Firehose” was a duet for electric guitar and Twitter stream, in which the incidence of certain keywords in the Twitter stream shaped the pitch, melodic contour, and rhythm of the guitar sounds in real-time. The four channels of Robin Renwick’s installation “Synchrocities” each played a live stream from the Locus Sonus open microphone platform, with subtle swells and resonances occurring whenever synchronous events were detected happening between them. For the most part it wasn’t clear what events were triggering the swell response, which led to a beautiful impression of the senses being extended to grasp coincidences and correspondences that wouldn’t normally be perceptible — the world as heard by a patiently listening network.
Networks exist between performers and between events, but they can also be seen as a sort of material or discursive field that can be manipulated or invoked to aesthetic ends. André Damião presented a multichannel promenade performance in which the properties of the network itself, such as latency and distance between nodes, became the means for creating rhythms, tones and harmonies, much as a circuit bender would exploit the material properties of analogue circuitry to achieve similar goals. Myriam Bleau used four networked, LED-illuminated spinning tops to present a funky, high-energy performance with subtly profound resonances: cultural and historical nodes located in DJ culture, hip hop and dance music, and childhood play were all connected in a network of thoughts to be lit up and spun.
[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/161609342″ params=”color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]
There was much more to see, hear and do throughout the packed programme (maybe too packed?), and there were plenty of opportunities to participate, to ask questions, to talk with the artists, and to learn something new about the techniques and possibilities of networked music. Although the technological intricacies involved weren’t always audible to listeners, it was rare to come across a performance that felt like nothing more than a tech demo; though the music wasn’t always to my taste stylistically, the wealth of ideas and energy was rewarding to explore. Here’s looking forward to the next edition!
Photo: LaptopsRus, video projected during live networked performance “CrisisRus” at Network Music Festival 2014