We (Annie Morrad and Ian McArthur) live at opposite ends of the planet. We compose and play collaborative live performances through the use of digital software Mixlr and Skype .
Mixlr is an Internet radio platform through which McArthur broadcasts electronic sounds, field recordings and live mixing. Morrad plays live improvised alto and tenor saxophone against these. Skype enables the artists to create networked live improvisational performances but also enriches their work through its inherent defective elements. Skype produces effects such as time delays, glitches, feedback and distortion. These problematic sonic artifacts have been widely discussed in discourse about telematics and live performance in terms of latency and the challenge it presents to artists. However, in the live improvisations of Morrad and McArthur these otherwise undesirable and unpredictable ‘accidents’ are all utilised. The use and extension of prior technical or experiential understandings to produce sound art creates the potential for new knowledge and language.
When playing a live instrument with the digital a unique is formed. Whereas digital sound is electronically mediated, the traditional instrument is forged from established understandings of music shaped within a Western scalic use of wavelengths. Playing saxophone requires physical responses formed from a reaction in the breath through a bamboo or plastic reed and fingers on a set of metal disks. Expanding such a technical device by re-contextualising or extending its intrinsic dimension to re-arrange or reinterpret existing concepts can communicate, re-communicate and delineate new positions on established tropes or generate novel sonic concepts. In live performance and improvisation the networked digital environment created by Skype produces an uncertainty about what is coming next. A human player creates rhythms that one can predict but live digital output is inconstant. This exciting and emergent aspect manifests as interference, feedback, glitches, frozen screens, delays, echoes repeating back, and environmental sound sent from the original source.
A frozen screen can be a nuisance, but also provides space within the piece – a moment for reflection on what was heard. Glitches provide a textural palette of information. As an enlivening element the delays and repeating back enable a complex sonic dialogue through which the artists can respond. The repetition of continuous sounds alters over time and can be augmented on each repetition, creating complex, momentary expanded improvisational spaces.