"Welcome Sound" Event Commentary

Brad Garton
May, 2009

Following along the lines of the successful Art Walk in the Woods, the Roosevelt Arts Project decided to go for a town-wide event. Organized by the intrepid Vicky Estok, it was a tremendously wonderful day.

At our house, I invited a few friends over (several from far-flung places loke Wisconsin and Colorado) for a folk/laptop "supergroup":

After the event, Darwin Grosse (one of the participants in the "supergroup") decided to write a description of the day for the Cycling '74 website. an article titled Experiences from "Welcome Sound". He asked each of us in the "PGTGTr" group to write a few paragraphs about what we did. You can read my comments in the article, but here is my contribution:
Technical Description:

My performance with "PGTGTr" at the Roosevelt event uses an
approach probably best described as 'process improvisation'.
Much of my work with digital machines and music has involved
manipulation of algorithmic music-creating processes.  Basically I'm
a lazy guy, and letting the computer do my musical work for me is a
very attractive way for me to "compose" or "perform".  I use a music
language called RTcmix to build and manipulate sets of these
musical algorithms.  The language is imbedded inside max/msp,
as this gives me easy access to real-time control and
signal-processing capabilities that don't exist in other
environments.  My performance patch consists of about 50 discrete
[rtcmix~] objects loaded with different algorithmic scripts I have
written, some with sliders or number-boxes attached to alter
the RTcmix script parameters.  Often I edit the scripts to
modify them while performing.  I guess the trendy way to describe
this is a type of 'live-coding', but I tend to think of it as
more involved with overall musical trajectories instead of
the just-in-time crafting of individual sound objects typically
associated with live-coding.  My contribution to the music is to
bend and steer unfolding sonic processes in response to the
sounds I hear.

I also take audio inputs from the acoustic performers in the group --
at the Roosevelt event it was Terry Pender's mandolin and Dan Trueman's
hardanger fiddle -- and route them through various plugins and RTcmix
processing.  I generally use a program like Digital Performer or Logic
to mix all the signals together before sending out a stereo feed to the
main PA system.  Although I have a few keyboard-multisliders augmenting
my [rtcmix~] objects, I don't use any external controllers for performing.
After years of lugging around various DEC, SGI, Sun, NeXT computers (with
heavy monitors!), I made a conscious decision to go with as minimal a
set-up as possible.  Everything I do runs entirely on my MacBook laptop.

Commentary on the Afternoon:

The Roosevelt event was particularly special to me.  First of all,
Roosevelt is where we (my family) live, and the town's unique character
and history make it an appealing place to engage community/artistic
events.  I've also been a long-time advocate for re-imagining how
our work as composers can situate itself in society (one of my more
widely-read youthful polemics was titled "Why I Hate Concerts").  The
"house tour/sound installations" afternoon was a perfect example of
how an expanded concept of artistic presentation can make for a genuinely
wonderful experience.  By pairing artists with homeowners in town, we
were able to promote a collaborative creative ethos that endowed the
entire show with a profound feeling of sharing and fun.

I often get discouraged with the all-too-facile acceptance of standard
paradigms for presenting and performing music (and thereby defining
creative success), especially among younger composers.  The Roosevelt
event reminded me how terrific an alternative approach to musical
presentation can be.  And within this alternative context, the
chance to make music I really enjoy with good friends and musicians I
truly respect and admire -- heck, right in my own back yard! -- well,
this is what life should be.