More Internet Audio Experiments

by Michael Szpakowski

Music alone on a web page is (speak softly) boring. The medium is so visual it demands totality. One often finds that composers add visuals as an afterthought or as part of that strange beast ‘the interface’. Personally I think to make interesting music for the net we should put on our opera heads –we can deploy speech, text, images of every variety, with exactly the same control in time as we have over the music. It seems to me not at all strange that Director, the most sophisticated multimedia authoring package, has a window called the "Score", in which one places all events on a timeline. Here form does indeed follow function.

Chance, randomness, generativity, really come into their own on the net. I always found Lutoslawski (a composer) much more interesting than Cage (philosopher and prankster) and the technology allows a creative use of chance in a Lutoslawskian vein. We know pretty much the limiting cases of our composition but we cannot predict every possible individual outcome. The texture, the line, will always be familiar- the specific manifestation not so.

The limitations of the medium at present are not a problem, but an opportunity to be seized. My heart sinks when I hear people say 'In two years we’ll be able to do this or that but until then…'. An artist worth their salt makes art not only in the teeth of, but actively embracing, limitation.( Fugue for God’s sake!) How do we get that file size down? Will compressing that sound ruin it? What synthetic sounds can we accept and what real world recordings must we have?

The old question resurfaces: where does the heart of music lie – in the structure, on the surface or in a dialectic between the two?

To date much of the really path breaking work has come from people with a visual arts background rather than composers. This has meant that there are weaknesses – one will see a brilliantly visually conceived and cleverly coded piece which uses sound in a potentially exciting but in practice rather rudimentary way.

The answer is – composers get stuck in! Embrace the new miniature total text / image / sound works. If you can’t make visuals or create texts yourself, find writers, visual artists, and animators to collaborate with.

The gesamtkunstwerk has arrived!

Michael Szpakowski

this site has one of the oldest ( about six years!) and most comprehensive collections of online artworks, many of which feature sound/music in some way.
a site specifically showcasing net based works involving sound.


Please note all of these pieces require that Shockwave is installed on your browser and at least one requires Quick Time also.

1. if we shadows by michael szpakowski

A generative and interactive piece which a number of piano loops are triggered by the user clicking on the figures in the animation, creating rich and complex phase patterns. Although many of the manifestations of the piece have a similar sound it is never exactly the same on two occasions.

(As you hold the cursor over the figures in turn one will appear to bathed in a blue light- this is the clickable one.)

2. misuc box by michael szpakowski

A tiny generative/interactive music game - the user clicks on the shapes to bring in /take out small loops using five different timbres. The piece was originally entered for a contest in which the total file size was to be no more that 20K.

( click 'start' in the box to begin the piece and then click on the shapes to bring in/take out 'instruments'. Different areas of the box are associated with different timbres –after 'playing' the piece for a while you should be able to establish a fair degree of control)

3. messages from another world by michael szpakowski & matthew davidson

A much more equal partnership between image and music (and with quite big file sizes). Users click on the screen to create 'canons' of up to eight voices.

4. Tim - an opera by michael szpakowski & annie pui ling lok

Part of a larger project, not all of which is music based, this piece uses random numbers to generate an almost infinitely varying accompaniment to Tim's narration about Leyton Orient football club. The narration in turn is 'cut up' by use of random numbers in the programming. Furthermore there are two different sets of images available for each pass through the piece, within which further randomization takes place.

The files are quite big so if you are on a dial up connection have a cup of tea and a book to hand as you wait for the piece to download.

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