The highlight of the weekend was obviously electronic music legend Suzanne Ciani, who presented her new work Under the Electric Sea. The piece is a live analog performance on a Buchla 200E, a machine which more resembles the command module of the Apollo mission than a musical instrument.
The diva of the diode humbly stood in line for the bathrooms with everyone else, then took the stage in front of her byzantine instrument, situated in the dead center of the Hexadome (in a visual collaboration with AudeRrose), with the audience on all sides watching her every move with rapt attention. In this setup, musical signals are physically rerouted through different parts of the hardware circuitry using changeable cables, where every module that the signal is directed through transforms the sound at the output in some way.
The adept performer must have some knowledge of the transfer function of each of these modules a priori in order to generate the kinds of sounds they specifically want for a certain piece by patching on the fly. Nobody knows how to tease such intricate soundscapes out of this kind of hardware like Ciani, who has been innovating the form since the ’60s.
Pure and corrupted sawtooth waves rose with an almost physical heft, practically leaving dents as they pinged off the corrugated metal roof. It was a somewhat more purposefully digital sound than Ciani is famous for. Single notes vibrate and then plunge octaves, structure and rhythm appearing and then collapsing again, Ciani proving that she has not retreated one centimeter from the experimental and radical, and is perhaps now doubling down.
The final day consisted of workshops, hands-on activities allowing those in attendance to explore this interface of art and technology for themselves. The workshop I attended, on the topic of homebrewed synthesizer design, suffered a bit from its ambition, which was to ensure that every random person who signed up (most with no technical background whatever) would walk out with a functional synthesizer they had soldered together themselves, from a kit.
This resulted in the instructor unfortunately having to focus far more time on the finer points of prototype board soldering technique then the more interesting theory of how or why a synthesizer is built this way, what the individual components are for, the electronic theory of why these modules were working at all. (Which, by some technical miracle, most were by the end of the session.) But really, nothing fires up the imagination like completing a project like this with your own two hands, switching it on, and listening to the sounds that come rocketing out. Isn’t that what we all came here for, after all?