for Monome and Live-Electronics
composed in 2018
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.
In Chemical Etudes growing geometric shapes occupy the 256 pixels. The performer’s task is to react to the proliferating geometries in order to prevent them from becoming too complex. In order to achieve this, particular buttons have to be pressed with precision and highly accurate timing. Failures are as much part of the piece as strikes, though, as the former entail different sonorities that are equal part of the palette of sounds that characterize the piece. Contrary to the common design of computer games, in Chemical Etudes it is the number of failures that makes the piece progress from section to section. Each section introduces a different audiovisual scenario with changed rule-sets for the performer.
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.
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