for Monome and Live-Electronics
composed in 2016
Atomic Etudes and Chemical Etudes are strongly characterized by the interface I use, which is a Monome 256 . It consists of sixteen rows of sixteen buttons, in sum two-hundred-fifty-six, that can be used as on/off or toggle buttons. Furthermore, they can be lit up in sixteen degrees of intensities. I use the Monome as an audiovisual instrument. I press its buttons in order to generate input data that are sent to a computer, but I also treat it as a sort of low resolution screen––with sixteen by sixteen pixels. While the Monome has been designed to be laid flat on a table, when I perform with it, I hold it vertically just under my chest facing the audience, in order to make the visual patterns that are shaped by the lit buttons perfectly visible. This results in a posture that has often been compared to holding an accordion.
Atomic Etudes and Chemical Etudes are solo pieces that are both based on geometries that move across the 256 pixels––or buttons––to which I have to react in particular ways. These low-resolution monochromatic graphics evoke the association of crude designs of early video games. Although I never set as an explicit goal to compose these pieces with retro aesthetics, I gave in to the association and chose synthesis methods that also match the harshness of the three-in-one sound chips that were typical for those early video games. However, the synthesis methods I use neither use low bit rates or sample resolutions, nor are the synthesis methods particularly old fashioned.
Atomic Etudes I composed in 2016. It was inspired by a visit to the “National Atomic Testing Museum” in Las Vegas/USA. I was flabbergasted when I learned in the exhibition that in the fifties of the past century, nuclear tests have been performed close enough to Las Vegas, that the mushroom clouds could be seen with bare eyes from elevated positions in the city. This even became a tourist attraction: bars and restaurants on tops of skyscrapers in Las Vegas served drinks with apt names such as Atomic Cocktails, or La Bomba Grande while nuclear explosions went off in the distance. Military potency thus served as an entertaining spectacle in the “Gambling Capital of the World”.
This––from today’s perspective––absurd combination of nuclear destruction and entertainment led me to compose this piece, which is based on the idea of containing a nuclear chain reaction in a game setup. In Atomic Etudes a trajectory of illuminated buttons travels across the Monome. Once it reaches one of the four edges of the screen it bounces off and splits in two trajectories, that are then moving across the interface independently in different directions. When one of these trajectories again reaches the edge, again it multiplies. If this process continues uninhibitedly, the entire screen is lit up within seconds. The performer’s task is to contain those reflections by pressing the buttons at the edge, before the trajectory arrives there. If it reaches the edge while the corresponding buttons are pressed no reflection takes place and the trajectory is thus absorbed. This entire process is accompanied with sounds that are tied to the individual events––the individual pixels of the crossing trajectories and the pressing of the buttons.
In this piece a competitive situation arises between the performer and the game system that runs on the computer. Although the performer is predominantly in the role of reacting to the chain of evens, he or she can still influence the pacing of the performance, for example by deliberately slowing down or even delaying the process of containing growing complexities. Artistically interesting versions are achieved by exploring and stretching the spaces of possibilities that arise through the rule sets, rather than by following the tasks in a straight forward fashion.
 monome.org/ is a small company in upstate New York that produced this particular model in 2011 and 2012. A total of about 150 units was produced.
 The splitting of the trajectories is a simplified simulation of nuclear chain reactions, where a neutron splits an atom and thereby releases two new neutrons that continue splitting again other atoms and thereby sustain the chain reaction.
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