[PD] Pd performance at TED

Andy Farnell padawan12 at obiwannabe.co.uk
Mon Jun 20 16:36:14 CEST 2011

I think the "problem" is really a simpler one. It applies to all
kinds of technological music. It is the understanding that the 
audience has of the performance.

Most people have an idea how a flute or saxophone or guitar works.
They have picked one up and had a go at playing. Indeed, 
many are are musicians. Thus it's possible to appreciate a wonderful
virtuoso performance. 

When you see someone adorned with lights and technology 
dancing around on a dark stage it's hard to see cause and effect
amidst the visual spectacle. And thus hard to differentiate
man and machine. That was always the thrill of confusion with techno
in the 1990s, with laser beams emanating from the magical DJ with 
stacks of synthesisers. It allowed only a select and geeky few to 
ruminate on what they had seen, vis a vis performance. For the rest
it was the pure novelty and energy of the sound. It's hard to know 
whether you see a talented master or a slave to an electronic whip. 
What I crave to see in gestural music is more like Tai Chi, a 
dancer who looks like they are at one with the wind, but what I 
often see is quite violent and spasmodic, maybe representing a
unspoken relationship to technology.

One suspects, in the TED clip we saw, very few of the audience 
had any idea what was actually happening. The sound was relatively
pedestrian by standards of "progressive synthesis"; acceptably 
funky tonalities. Like many situations in modern art, they are 
applauding with respect for the effort and totality of the 
performance, but also a little bit confused and politely clapping 
because they know something terribly clever is going on. Indeed I 
think some obfuscation rather than exposition was part of that act.
The ambiguity of man and machine was the lure.

Put it this way: (and maybe this speaks for my stupidity more
than anything)... I couldn't tell what was happening and it's my
business to know. I design this kind of stuff and only last week
was with a class of masters students of gestural musical interface 
design giving their final presentations. Before I could appreciate
their work each needed to explain their mappings and design 

It raises the questions (again I suppose); Is the challenge for 
these new arts, of manifold form, to "legitimise" the 
performer? Should they ever feel they have to? Are they seeking 
recognition as performer or technologist? Or is the spectacle
(including sound) enough, whereas the audience enter into some
kind of "artistic contract" to expect and ignore the cloak of
magic ? 

The MSc kids clearly had a different agenda. As masters 
of _science_ they are required to explicate mechanism. Although 
the T in TED stands for technology their agenda of cultural 
fusion and diversity leaves plenty of room for ambiguity, so I 
don't think it was supposed to be taken as a demonstration of 
anything conceptually fresh so much as slice of fun. Unless I missed
a 20 minute prelude where Ashanti explains why the system is special.

To me the coolness was apparent in the preparation, and energy.
Other than that, a fit, good looking black guy who can dance and 
bang out some beats has an certain je ne sais quoi absent with
a spooky white guy making scary noises. :) That's nothing to do
with Design, or with Technology, that's Entertainment.


Andy Farnell <padawan12 at obiwannabe.co.uk>

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