Control Next Week

Thursday 3 September 2015

Next week I’m presenting a new work as part of a group show, Control, curated by Tom Mudd. It’s a sound installation: one knob, one speaker. The show

attempts to call attention to the role that the musical artefacts play in developing musical ideas. A single dial is connected to a single speaker, but the relationship between the two is not fixed; it flits between a range of possibilities composed by a diverse range of artists.

How do people interact with controls? It depends on the sorts of feedback available to the user – tactile, visual, audible – besides the results or consequences of the controller itself. Computer controls make this problem more obvious: feedback can be nonexistent, apparently independent of action, or present only as a deliberately programmed artefact.

Making digitally-controlled music therefore presents a dilemma. Control is either so direct and precise that all the subtle complexities are eliminated, or obfuscated to introduce uncertainty. Working with an obfuscated system should ideally be a responsive, performative activity; but it can easily become a purely reactive experience.

For my contribution, the knob controls two attributes of a pure sine tone: its pitch and its harmonic treatment. The relationship between the two is simple but it isn’t always clear, thanks to a delay built into the system. Also, there’s a gate which may or may not let each sound come through. A relationship between the knob and the speaker can be intuited, but the nature of the relationship isn’t immediately, or ever, obvious.

This is a microcosm of my dilemma when developing my own system of controls for making live electronic music with computers, but enough about me. Control launches next week at Oto Project Space as part of the gig on Wednesday 9 September 2015, and then is on from 10 to 13 September, from 1 to 9 pm each day. (Free entry.)