Playing-Apart-Together II

Improvising freely in lockdown days

 

The internet boom, that some thirty years ago started connecting networks of networks of digital data crunching machines, from its early days onward has inspired technologically gifted and visionary actors in the global electronic and electro-acoustic music scene to imagine ways to extend and cross-over their performance practice to the virtual. A fascinating example using the earliest available technologies for streaming audio, and again one close to my heart and personal practice, is the International Headphone Festival ‘Le Placard’, that was put on track almost twenty five years ago, in 1998, by electronic musician Erik Minkkinen. It was Erik who came up with Le Placard’s highly innovative concept, both artistically and socially, as an endless chain of global open-to-all experimental music events, using streaming audio servers to virtually connect performance spaces and listening spaces (the ‘placards’—French for ‘cupboards’) that in principle could be set up by anyone, anywhere and at any time.

The technical heart of a placard is a streaming audio server, like Icecast.

To make it tick as a play-apart-together tool, that enables musicians to play and perform ‘together’ even though—individually, or in small groups—they find themselves in places that can be as far apart as La Générale Nord-Est’s music room in Paris and a band’s rehearsal studio in Chuncheon (the capital of the South-Korean province of Gangwon), each of the participating locations needs to be both a sending and a receiving placard.
For this, each location needs to come equipped with its proper streaming audio server.
Each location also needs to be able to receive and play back the audio sent by the others (for that is what you’ll play along with).
And thirdly, each location should have the technical means (mixing consoles and separate sound projections for ‘internal’ and ‘external’ contributions) to strictly separate the music that is performed and webcast locally, from the audio that is received from the other locations. (This is necessary in order to prevent turning the set-up accidentally into an internet echo-loop, a ‘Frippertronic’-like feedback system; but one can of course choose to use this very interesting option as part of the performance and recording(s)).
[ Here is a sketchy abstract diagram of what a two-location set-up would look like (locations ‘P’ for Paris and ‘K’ for Korea, the ‘M’s are the mixing consoles used in local musicking and webcasting, the ‘R’s stand for the local receivers of the other side’s signals. ]

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It is a fantasy, a dream of mine, to one of these days make this playing-apart-together set-up happen in a ‘round-and-round-the-world-we-go’ speculative performance, with participants not in merely two, but in all (seven or more) continents. 

To extend this form of PATting into public events, it suffices to assign a PAT event-‘director’, who’ll be made responsible for the final mixing together of the different contributing audio streams. The director’s ‘final cut’ then is webcast by an n+1-th streaming audio server, now serving not the contributing performers, but their virtual concert’s audience.

Be well aware though, that this kind of musicking always will include jittering: time-lags. You cannot but play ‘out of time’. Or rather: each location has its own time. There is no such thing as ‘simultaneity’… Some lag already is inherent in the mere physical distance: a signal bridging a path like the one that separates Chuncheon and Paris—9000 kilometres as the crow flies—can not do this in less than 30 milliseconds. That’s the lower bound. That’s theory. In practice, though, the lag will be much more, and may run up to several tens of seconds. And due also to discrepancies in the buffering on different machines, it will take on different values in different places. In your playing-apart-together the streaming technology becomes a ‘creative’ actor, a crucial player, a pivot in what your audience is going to perceive.

Paris, December 2021

 

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Harold Schellinx

Harold Schellinx

“iftheskywastornleasttheredbesomenoise” (Yi Sang)

HAROLD SCHELLINX (aka Har$) is a Dutch expat living and working in Paris, France. His endeavours span several decades and cover grounds stretching between areas as divers as research in pure mathematics and the collection and mapping of trashed magnetic audiotape and pacifiers in Western metropolises.

An extensive documentation of Har$’s work of the last 15 years can be found online, at http://harsmedia.com and the related http://soundblog.net. Twitter: http://twitter.com/soundblog

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The non-profit foundation Plus-X-Creative was founded in 2015 by three creatives from the Netherlands: J. Koolen (city council, banjo musician, Rotterdam), H. Kwee (photographer, Amsterdam) and X. Gottenkieny (musician & artist Rotterdam). They met during cultural events and shared the passion to perform and to spread music and art. With this foundation their main aim was to play an active and supporting role in building a platform for creative empowerment.

Mission: Put creativity first!

These are exciting but also challenging times for the creative entrepreneur. Apart from trying to keep up with the fast changing world of technology, we’ve seen the emergence of necessary initiatives such as the ‘Platform for freelance musicians’ and the ‘Fair Practice Code’. Inspired by these positive movements, we want to help stimulate the emancipation of the artist, musician, dancer, performer and many other creatives.. .

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We focus on cross-border projects / platforms where different artists and media come together. We seek collaboration with organizations that work with groundbreaking (‘realtime’) software technology.. We invite musicians and artists to explore the possibilities of these platforms and to what extent it enables musicians in developing their professional practice. We challenge artists to experiment and create new work at an accessible level with innovative technology.. Now and in the future, we will be able to reach more places where music and art are less obvious.

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On March the 8th we organized a special ‘Mesh it Up!’ edition at the MeshPrintClub. Besides fantastic concerts and performances given by Tinyloops & Monster 3D Incubator and Kanipchen Fit we also had a T-shirt competition! First prize shared winners were Margriet Killian and Juninho Wouter! The designs were printed by Eden Simhony.

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