AUDO: Alternative Practices in Sound and Alternative Models for Exchange

Summer 2011: v.07 n.01: Under Fire: 3D Animation Pedagogy

Shannon McMullen
Assistant Professor of Electronic and Time-Based Arts
Patti and Rusty Rueff School of Visual and Performing Arts, Purdue University
email
audospace.org/

 Figure 1: AUDO logo on podium set-up, Shannon McMullen (Photo: Shannon McMullen), September 10, 2010.

Figure 1: AUDO logo on podium set-up, Shannon McMullen (Photo: Shannon McMullen), September 10, 2010.

By engaging in a public forum such as Media-N, I hope to generate a conversation about two things that have come to be important to the organizers of a new event hosted by the Program in Electronic and Time-Based Art at Purdue University: social spaces for artistic and research exchange and sound within contemporary art practice and media research. From September 10 – 12, 2010, the second installment of AUDO: Alternative Practices in Sound took place in the Rueff Galleries at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana [1]. The symposium and exhibition were organized by faculty and graduate students (former and current) in the Program in Electronic and Time-Based Art, which is housed within the Department of Art and Design. As AUDO evolves into a biannual event, the organizers and participants are attempting to develop a model for exchange, learning, and presentation that resides on a regional level between large-scale national conferences like CAA and very local interest-based learning communities like Make City Groups [2]. In this commentary, I would like to describe the concept for the event and reflect on the last two occurrences in order to tease out what might be unique about the practices and processes of AUDO.

CONCEPT
How do you construct a site that is simultaneously one for artistic expression, intellectual exchange, and a comfortable social space that allows the expression of community and supports informal conversations that can lead to new connections? My colleague and collaborator Fabian Winkler and I have been attempting to create models for such spaces since our arrival at Purdue University. With the help of our then graduate students, Esteban Garcia and Juan Obando, AUDO was conceived as such a model in 2007. Our intent was to bring together practitioners, theoreticians, and researchers from a broad range of sound-related disciplines to discuss contemporary strategies for the creation, production, distribution and cultural analysis of sound and music-based work. The primary focus of work and presentations would be within the diverse practices of new media or electronic and time-based media, but conceptual art and performance-based works would also become important components of AUDO_08 and carry over into AUDO_10. The focus on sound and, to a more limited extent, music, would allow affinities and contrasts between practices and fields to be explored. The number of invited participants was intentionally small. This offered several advantages: the event could unfold over a weekend; it would be possible for participants to attend all presentations; the shared experiences provided fodder for a lively roundtable discussion at the close of the event; and finally, the organizers could provide a sit-down dinner and food beyond the usual cheese cubes and mixed melon chunks. The resulting AUDO_08 combined presentations and demos of artistic work, participatory artwork performance, art historical research, technical workshops, and informal discussion [3].

The event ended with a roundtable discussion that reflected on the issues raised over two days. One highlight of that conversation was a lively debate about the cultural implications of a lack of documentation of performance-based artworks – events that happened once and were not documented in a way that succeeding generations could experience them through imagery and sound. A split occurred between curator, Rebecca Uchill, and Professor for Rhetoric and Composition, Michael Salvo, with Uchill making a plea to the artists present to document their work, so that they might be able to share a visual and audio copy with a wider audience, and over time. Professor for Rhetoric and Composition, Michael Salvo on the other hand, argued for the possibility of alternative forms of memory and existence – namely the narratives of firsthand experience passed along from person to person with all the potential exaggerations, misrepresentations, and forgotten details. Thorough this exchange, two competing problems within our contemporary new media culture, accessibility and the freedom to forget, could be grappled with in a direct way by practitioners, educators, curators, and students.

 Figure 2: AUDO is diverse in its offerings. Lectures, workshops, performances and an exhibition component are offered in a space designed to encourage lingering and conversation. (Photos: lower left - Shannon McMullen, all others - Mara Battiste), September 10-11, 2010.

Figure 2: AUDO is diverse in its offerings. Lectures, workshops, performances and an exhibition component are offered in a space designed to encourage lingering and conversation. (Photos: lower left – Shannon McMullen, all others – Mara Battiste), September 10-11, 2010.

AUDO_10 had a slightly different structure. It was comprised of two linked components: a two and a half day series of discussion forums, performances and workshops; and a resulting exhibition that combined artworks completed by Purdue ETB graduate students and Art and Design faculty prior to the symposium, projects presented during the conference, projects realized as part of the symposium, and traces of works that were performed. The goal of the exhibition was to share both the process and results of creative interactions among AUDO participants with a larger audience and allow faculty members to integrate the exhibition into their classes where relevant. During AUDO the gallery was transformed into an inhabited social space – blurring the lines between symposium, process, exhibition, and “third space.” [4]

PROJECTS
Activities for AUDO_10 were diverse. They included: sound walks, concerts, creation of interactive sound networks, performances, exhibits that translated hand drawn images or body movements into sounds, and contemplation of taken for granted sounds of the everyday. In some cases, new work was produced. For example, Leslie Sharpe, artist and Associate Professor of Digital Art at Indiana University, conducted a workshop entitled Purdue Sound Walk. Sharpe shared her locative media expertise and artistic insight through an experiential exploration of a local sound environment connected to the global network created by geo-tagging technology. The outcome was a collaborative installation in the gallery that revealed both the process of creating the work and the collective sound portrait of the participants’ soundwalk.

This AUDO included a handful of interactive works that gave gallery visitors the chance to influence and experiment with the production of sound. Purdue Associate Professor in Visual Communication Design, Petronio Bendito, adapted a performative audio-visual work realized with his collaborator, Didier Guigue, for the gallery and was thus able to explore its sculptural and interactive qualities. The Processing-based software Action//Musique was originally developed for improvisational dance experiments, in which the movements of the dancers trigger sounds based on a pre-defined vocabulary of interaction, but it acquired new meaning through its installation in the gallery (Figure 3). First-year Purdue ETB graduate student, Yagiz Mungan, contributed a work in which musical compositions based on listeners’ taste preferences were generated algorithmically on the fly. By selecting different parameters for the creation of a composition such as scale, tempo, and fitness, visitors were able to interact with a genetic algorithm that composed short musical pieces accordingly. Make Noise with Your Drawings contributed by Alejandro Tamayo allowed visitors to draw pencil images that were translated in real-time into electronic sounds. He also made a DIY brochure available, so that the project could be repeated at home.

 Figure 3: Visitors to the Rueff Galleries encountered Action//Musique by Petronio Bendito and Didier Guigue as an opportunity to explore an interactive relationship between movement, sound and color. (Photos: Shannon McMullen), September 11, 2010.

Figure 3: Visitors to the Rueff Galleries encountered Action//Musique by Petronio Bendito and Didier Guigue as an opportunity to explore an interactive relationship between movement, sound and color. (Photos: Shannon McMullen), September 11, 2010.

Tamayo’s project, like Sharpe’s soundwalk and Daniel Sauter’s workshop (described below), represent an important thread at AUDO – a conscious effort to give attendees the opportunity to learn and apply new technologies and techniques. In 2010, through a workshop called Ping, Daniel Sauter guided participants through collaborative real-time audio synthesis in an ad-hoc peer-to-peer multi-hop network. Within just two hours, Sauter’s audience created a network among their laptops, utilizing internal microphones and speakers as sensors and actuators respectively, providing input into a Processing program that created real-time sound compositions based on ambient sound (Figure 4). Similarly, during the inaugural AUDO in 2008, Andrew Bucksbarg performed his work Ecotone and then introduced participants to its technological architecture through his workshop Making Custom Hacked Electronic Instruments [5].

 Figure 4: Participants in Daniel Sauter’s workshop created an ad-hoc peer-to-peer multi-hop network with their laptops. Workshops like this at AUDO provide hands-on experience with new technologies and techniques. (Photo: Mara Battiste), September 11, 2010.

Figure 4: Participants in Daniel Sauter’s workshop created an ad-hoc peer-to-peer multi-hop network with their laptops. Workshops like this at AUDO provide hands-on experience with new technologies and techniques. (Photo: Mara Battiste), September 11, 2010.

In shaping the Electronic and Time-Based Art program at Purdue, first Fabian Winkler and then myself have been working hard to nurture interdisciplinary dialogue and collaboration within our program, across the university, and beyond. AUDO reflects our commitment to providing forums for bringing people together based on a common interest regardless of disciplinary approach. This also means mixing research and artistic work or blurring the lines between them [6]. In 2010, Thomas Rickert, Associate Professor of English at Purdue University, presented his research in progress on the relationship between technology, space, and sonics, through a consideration of the question, “Why does Microsoft Windows play music upon startup?” in his presentation, entitled “Music@MicrosoftWindows: Composing Ambience.” In 2008, Associate Professor Michael Salvo blurred the lines between research and performance with his presentation “Buffalo, Bison, Tatonka: Building Worlds Through Sound”. His lecture ended with the performance of a 5.1 sound environment specifically created for AUDO.

AUDO_fig5b_sparrow_esteban_lowres

 Figure 5: It has become tradition to begin AUDO with a Kick Off Party at the Black Sparrow in Lafayette. The party combines experimental electronic and acoustic performances with opportunities for organizers, graduate students and presenters to meet and get to know one another before the formal schedule begins. Featured here are AUDO presenters Esteban Garcia (above), Aaron Nemec, Andrew Bucksbarg and Leslie Sharp (below). (Photos: Mara Battiste), September 10, 2010.

Figure 5: It has become tradition to begin AUDO with a Kick Off Party at the Black Sparrow in Lafayette. The party combines experimental electronic and acoustic performances with opportunities for organizers, graduate students and presenters to meet and get to know one another before the formal schedule begins. Featured here are AUDO presenters Esteban Garcia (above), Aaron Nemec, Andrew Bucksbarg and Leslie Sharp (below). (Photos: Mara Battiste), September 10, 2010.

Finally, sound art performance and performative conceptual art has a strong presence within the AUDO program. AUDO_10, like AUD0_08 opened with a Kick-Off Party that presented a night of experimental electronic and electro-acoustic music and sound organized by ETB alumnus, Esteban Garcia, in a downtown pub that supports local music and art. The following day’s schedule included a total of four performances or concerts. Based on the once popular 1981 alien invasion video game Galaga, artist and educator Andrew Bucksbarg performed a live version of Galaga Remix 2 based on a visual score with Purdue ETB graduate student Jordan Cleland (Figure 6). According to Bucksbarg, “[b]y manipulating a simple interface, audio-visual artifacts are created over a continuous drone, exploring tonalities of audio-visual noise art.” I would add that he also explores the aesthetics of the glitch or hack. In the exhibition version of Galaga Remix 2, gallery visitors could experiment with the audio-visual experience. The 80s computer game graphics, joystick interface, and fluffy pillow invited participants to reconsider the gestures and motivations of videogaming.

 Figure 6: Jordan Cleland performing Galaga Remix 2 with Andrew Bucksbarg (not pictured). (Photo: Mara Battiste), September 11, 2010.

Figure 6: Jordan Cleland performing Galaga Remix 2 with Andrew Bucksbarg (not pictured). (Photo: Mara Battiste), September 11, 2010.

Cleland also debuted his own Micro Industrial Music, a composition created by a contact microphone attached to a hacked tape-deck and an amplifier, which produced intense industrial sounds from subtle minimal finger movements. Graduate student in ETB at Purdue, Aaron Nemec’s collaborative, Bass Rally, created a socio-acoustic space in a parking lot, when participants parked their cars in a loose circle, opened the doors, cranked the bass setting on their radios, and pumped up the volume. Chicago-based Serbian artist, Ika Knezevich, returned for AUDO_10, this time in collaboration with French horn player Nelson Fitch, to perform Diaboliad. While Fitch attempted to play the impossible score, Knezevich acted out a ritual of resurrection – what would be needed to make the score possible since two (Giovanni Punto and Dennis Brain) of the three (Barry Tuckwell is the third) necessary players to complete the piece are already dead. The work comments on the power of imagining the unimaginable, which for Knezevich is directly connected to revolutionary thinking.

ASPIRATIONS FOR THE FUTURE
As alluded to already, an integral part of both AUDO_08 and AUDO_10 as well as any future versions, is the social space that my co-organizers and myself have consciously attempted to provide. The community in which Purdue is located is only just beginning to offer venues for experimental art, performance and music – spaces that support experimentation, creative exchange and act as a catalyst for community-building [7]. Thus, efforts such as AUDO provide a forum for graduate students to present new work and receive critical feedback from successful artists and researchers they otherwise would likely not encounter.

In terms of organization and structure, as the projects above demonstrate, AUDO has been crafted as a small-scale hybrid event that combines elements of the workshop, symposium and exhibition formats, firmly embedded in a social space that allows for both formal exchange and communal gathering. This is what the organizers strive to achieve every two years. But, what can we do, what do we want to do, what should we do in between AUDOs? These questions became the focus of the roundtable at the end of AUDO_10.

Based on the collective discussion, what we would like to do is develop an on-line distributed network community of participating faculty on university campuses in the Midwest, similar to UCDARnet (University of California Digital Arts Research Network) on the West Coast, when it began in the late 1990s [8]. The goals would be to facilitate communication and collaboration among artists, researchers and students in our immediate region who explore sound through art, technology, design, theory, and/or research. As an access point for regional events, current projects, archived workshops, and publications, as well as faculty and student profiles, it could serve as a valuable resource for research and education for those in the network, and provide the opportunity to connect our region to an international community. The network would not be intended to replace the biennial AUDO event, but to keep conversations going and pursue the ideas that start at AUDO.

Soon it will be time to think about AUDO_12. After two successful and stimulating years at Purdue, we are at a crossroads. The question will be whether to continue producing AUDO at Purdue, or whether we should experiment with different locations.

 Figure 7: Entrance to east wing of the AUDO exhibition in the Rueff Galleries at Purdue. The exhibition was open a week after the event, in order to reach a broader audience and provide a resource for art and design classes. (Photo: Shannon McMullen), September 12, 2010.

Figure 7: Entrance to east wing of the AUDO exhibition in the Rueff Galleries at Purdue. The exhibition was open a week after the event, in order to reach a broader audience and provide a resource for art and design classes. (Photo: Shannon McMullen), September 12, 2010.

AUDO Organizers
Fabian Winkler, Asst. Prof., Dept. of Art and Design, Purdue University (2008, 2010)
Shannon McMullen, Asst. Prof. Dept. of Art and Design, Purdue University (2008,2010)
Esteban Garcia, PhD student in Computer Graphics Technology, Purdue (2008, 2010)
Aaron Nemec, MFA student in ETB, Purdue University (2010)
Juan Obando, Asst. Prof., Dept. of Art, Elon University (2008, 2010)

Endnotes
1. A description, schedule, bios and project profiles are available at: www.audospace.org
2. For a description of the city groups see: http://makezine.com/groups/index.csp (when I say region, at this point, we are talking primarily about the Indiana – Illinois region.)
3. AUDO_2008 participants included: Rosanne Altstatt (curator and Visiting Scholar, Purdue University), Andrew Bucksbarg (artist), Andres Burbano (artist), Irena Knezevic (artist), Michael Salvo (Assistant Professor, Department of English, Purdue University, now Associate Professor), Daniel Sauter (Assistant Professor, New Media Arts, University of Illinois, Chicago), Rebecca Uchill (then Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art – currently pursuing a PhD in the Department of History, Theory and Criticism in Art and Architecture at MIT). Band performances included: Analog Zebra, D.O.B., Drumkit and VJ Snebtor.
4. This is not unlike Ray Oldenburg’s idea of the ‘great good place.’ My concept of social space is also directly influenced by Pierre Bourdieu’s idea of habitus.
Ray Oldenburg, The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community. (New York: De Capo Press, 1999).
5. Daniel Sauter also conducted a Processing and Supercollider workshop in 2008 called Listening to Images.
6. This approach is central to the collaborative art project that Fabian Winkler and I engage in. It is also part of our commitment to forging interdisciplinary links and opportunities at Purdue University. To this end, we are currently teaching a course entitled Images of Nature and conducting a study of art – science – technology collaboration that has been generously funded by an NSF Creative IT grant. For more about the course see: www.gardensandmachines.com/Imagesofnatureseminar, Accessed May 27, 2011.
For abstract of the awarded NSF grant see: http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward.do?AwardNumber=1002835, Accessed May 27, 2011.
7. See, for example, E3 the new improvisation in performance series initiated by artists Rebecca Bryant, Don Nichols and Danny Weiss: http://pmpd.org/E3.htm#, Accessed May 27, 2011.
8. Sample pages of the website with a description of the goals of UCDARNet can still be found at: http://souzaesilva.com/projects/webdesign/ucdarnet/uccampus/ucparticipants.htm , Accessed May 27, 2011.