Telematics

On Wednesday, I went to Rutgers University in Newark where I’ve been auditing John Howland’s big band class since early September. The topic for the week was the post-WWII era starting with bebop (Billy Eckstine and Woody Herman) and moving up to progressive jazz and Third Stream (Stan Kenton and John Lewis). After the students’ analytical presentations, there was quite a bit of discussion about Third Stream, where avant-garde jazz and classical aesthetics have been deracinated and combined into a new contextual milieu, an academic construct that has produced some very exciting music and programs since its inception in the ‘50s. When the question “What effect do you see Third Stream having outside of the New England Conservatory?” arose, all I could think of was Pauline Oliveros at the San Francisco Conservatory and Bill Mathieu’s Sufi Choir. (I’m not very quick on the draw in Q&A situations.) While on my way home, I got an email saying that Denman Maroney would be performing that night at the Stone with multi-instrumentalist Vinny Golia (Eric Friedlander had to bow out because of a family emergency).

Since I’ll be playing there with Denman on the 13th, I thought I would go in and clear my head after so much sitting around talking about subjects I know little of: history and contemporary music. I only caught the last two pieces, but the music was superb. Denman’s approach to playing the “insides” of the piano is very distinctive, personal, and difficult to describe. He doesn’t just strum or hit the strings, but uses a set of about six objects he’s collected to induce sustained tones that sound more like a bowed waterphone than the piano (only the analogy is like comparing a pipe organ to a harmonica). Vinny Golia was in great form. There just aren’t very many people who can negotiate the baritone sax with as much facility and ease as he does, and his control of the bass clarinet is stunning, particularly when playing multiple-overtone chords. What I heard was freely improvised, focused on the development of an opening gesture that eventually morphed into a closing one, that had a slight “East Coast/West Coast” vibe (Golia lives in Southern California and Maroney resides in near Ramapo).

Afterward, Denman invited me to go along with him to see Mark Dresser at New York University. I didn’t know Mark was in town and I soon found out that he wasn’t. He was playing in a concert called “Inspiraling: Telematic Jazz Explorations,” which featured Sarah Weaver conducting a group at the NYU Steinhardt School Music Technology and Music Composition department that included Jane Ira Bloom on soprano sax, Oliver Lake on alto sax, Amire ElSaffar on trumpet and voice, Tomas Ulrich on cello, and Ikue Mori on laptop computer with a group at the Conrad Prebys Music Center Experimental Theater of the University of California San Diego co-led by Dresser with Nicole Mitchell on flute, Michael Dessen on trombone, and Joshua White on piano. Weaver and Dresser have been organizing telematic music events together over the last four or five years that allow musicians to play together, in real time, although separated by great distances. What I gathered from Ms. Weaver’s explanation is that each group broadcasts high-quality streaming audio and video feeds over Internet 2 with an application called Jacktrip. Denman and I did the math and figured that the delay was 0.0162 seconds.

The program included three pieces “New Flowers in Old Tracks” by Michael Dessen, “en-s(o)” by Sarah Weaver, and “Nourishments” by Mark Dresser. The first was a set of written and improvised variations on “Nuper Rosarum Flores,” an isorhythmic motet composed by Guilaume Dufay for the consecration of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore in 1436. The second was a video and compositional play on circles (“ens­ō” is the Japanese word for “circle”). The last was part of a series of pieces composed around the socializing aspects of food and music. A play-by-play is beyond the scope of this blog, but I will say that what I saw and heard was an excellent example of Third Stream music making that, with the help of modern technology, was also an excellent “East Coast/West Coast” musical presentation. The only drawback was that the sound system was really not up to the scope of the presentation and was a little strident at times. But the music was so well balanced in its conception and realization that everyone who stayed to the end could not deny its merit. This was due in large part to the stature of the improvisers involved, who really “gave it up” for the concert. It will be interesting to see when non-academically based venues start regularly putting on these kinds of telematic events.

2 thoughts on “Telematics

  1. Lawton Hall

    Great to hear Mark Dresser perform, even if he’s on the other side of the continent!

    It’s funny you mentioned Pauline Oliveros, since she’s the first name that comes to mind (for me) when discussing telematics. She’s been working with the technology since the 80’s, when she organized multi-site improvisations using the equivalent of a land-line conference call. For her, delay has always been an integral part of music-making (from acoustic echos to analog tape delay), so the inherent latency is just another musical element in these pieces.

    She talks a great deal about the history and technology of telematic music in her newest book, Sounding the Margins: Collected Writings 1992-2009. Definitely worth checking out, if you’re interested in this budding field of music technology.

    Reply
  2. Ratzo B Harris

    Thanks for the link, Lawton. I received a private message from someone (actually a colleague of Oliveros) who claims he was talking to Bell Labs about this very thing back in the 90’s, but they weren’t interested. I knew nothing about telematics until I reviewed Dresser’s DVD, Guts . Have you done anything along this line?

    Reply

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