Warren does lots of things. He makes music, produces radio shows, makes videos and films, does performance art, writes criticism, builds instruments, organizes community events, teaches privately, occasionally teaches inside an institution, writes software, and a few other things. Central to all these activities is a concern with the body, and performance, and real-time.
"I started working with electronic music in 1968, working
primarily with analog synthesizers, and except for a couple of
pieces, working in friends' studios. I didn't really work with
computers and "computer music" until 1982, when I bought
an AIM-65 single board micro that I could own myself, and that
I could program to perform in real time with. My concern has
always been with affordability, accessibility, and performability.
So my work does not usually conform to "commercial"
or "common-practice" models. There are enough people
out there doing that already. Although some of my work is very
funny, I don't regard myself as essentially an entertainer. I
think of myself as an explorer, who shares the results of their
explorations with like-minded and curious friends and acquaintances.
In the second photo (missing pic - ed.), I'm performing in the observation tower at Melbourne's Ripponlea Estate - an historic house and garden. This was part of the Recent Ruins exhibition of sound installations held at Ripponlea by the Contemporary Music Events Company in November 1999. In this performance the laptop is on my lap, and it's connected to a tiny amplifier (outside of the photo) which distorts the string instrument samples I'm using so that they sound like a Japanese koto. In fact, the music I'm playing is tuned in a series of ancient Greek modes which, to the contemporary ear, do indeed sound Japanese! I'm also reading from a book of Chinese poetry of the Ming and Ching dynasties. So here, the combination of performance in an outdoor environment, live reading, and a tiny amplifier removes the piece from the alienating heroics of the computer performer in the club, and renders things a bit more physical and human-scale.
In the third photo (right), the laptop is on the floor, playing very sharp spiky sounds controlled by SoftStep software (more about that later), while choreographer Anne O'Keeffe and myself move small high-quality loudspeakers at different angles, creating different echoes, so that the way sound outlines the physical dimensions of a space can be heard by an audience. This performance occurred in late 1998 at Theatre of the Ordinary, Melbourne.
The fourth photo (left below) is of an installation work of mine, "Installation for Three Laptops" which took place at Monash University, Melbourne, as part of the "First Iteration Conference" in 1999. Here, the laptops themselves are the focus. They are mounted on plinths, along with the loudspeakers, and toy penguins and other soft toy animals. The laptops are in a feedback loop. That is, information from laptop 1 goes into laptop 2, which responds and sends information to laptop 3, which responds and sends information to laptop 1, etc. The result of this feedback loop is heard as flurries of microtonally tuned electric-piano notes. Imagine 3 free improvisation electric piano players playing softly, yet at top speed, and you'll get the idea. The installation is purposely set up to look like a department store display. Both the cute toy animals, and the commercial style installation are designed to emphasize the consumer-level culture that produces the tools we work with. The sounding results, which are anything but commercial, emphasize how other potentials can come out of this. And occasionally, I'll even dispense with the presence of the computer altogether! In the fifth photo, I'm performing on my copy of Harry Partch's "harmonic canon" instrument, while dancer Vanessa Case, off stage, mixes sound made by the computer to accompany me. The music for this, although quite pastoral, was in 23 tones per octave, not the usual 12, so that I could have a richer harmonic palette than the Western 12 note scale offers. This photo (right below) is from a November 2001 performance at Theatre of the Ordinary.
In the sixth and seventh photos (below, left & right), Vanessa Case and myself are performing live while computer made sounds (a series of chords made up of all piano samples of all 12 Western notes - that is, each chord had all 12 tones in it, spread over many octaves) accompany us. My persona for this performance was that of a stodgy academic, whose partner was desperately trying to reestablish a connection with him. The failure of these attempts to re-establish connection provided the piece with much of its hilarity. Again, this is from a November 2001 series of performances at Theatre of the Ordinary.
Musically, I'm very involved in setting up real-time processes, and then controlling them in performance, shaping the output of the machine, as it presents me with options and choices. If you like, I program the machine to be like an improvising partner, and together we shape the final music. In my piece "Some Physical Virtual Sensuality", I control a computer while talking about the issue of the physicality of computer performance. I have my finger on the mouse pad of the computer, and movements along one axis of the touch pad produce changes in frequency modulation and a vowel filter (a filter that produces spectra that resemble human vowels), while movements in the other direction produce pan and volume changes. To make this piece, I used Martin Fay's synthesizer program Vaz Modular (www.software-technology.com) controlled by SoftStep (http://algoart.com). I find the combination of Vaz Modular and SoftStep to be very powerful indeed. In the screen shot of the Vaz patch for this piece (below), you can see the Vowel Filter, with "female singing" and a variety of vowels selected, and you can also see how I'm controlling the frequency of Oscillator 1, which is then frequency modulating Oscillator 2. It's the combination of frequency modulation and vowel filtering that gives the piece its whiny, nasal sound.
In the upper left hand corner of the screen is the Ball module.
This generates rhythms based on the bouncing of a ball within
a 4-walled space. Both horizontal and vertical motion of the
ball can be externally controlled, too. Below that is a Fractal
module, here generating a Mira fractal, the output of which is
scaled to a range of 0 to 7, which is used to update the elements
of a table of pitch values which are also fed by the Chaos module
underneath it. The Chaos module is set to a function called "Burt
Shift", which is simply a shift register feedback circuit
that produces pseudo-random numbers. Also of interest is the
Image module in the lower right, which reads pixel values from
any 128x128 pixel image. In this case, the image was generated
with the classic "James Gleick's Chaos" program. One
could write a complete article about this piece (I have - it's
in the Proceedings of the 1999 Australasian Computer Music Association
Conference - http://www.acma.asn.au ), but perhaps just one more
example would be useful here. In the middle bottom, there's a
button called B-1, with a note below it that says "Add morse-thue
melodies". When this button is pushed, a melody played by
a rather bell like tone begins playing. It is controlled by one
of the horizontal bar controls to its left, and produces the
ascending melodies that occasionally appear in the piece. These
melodies follow the output of the Morse-Thue equation, a chaotic
In 1995, I began working with the now-obsolete DOS software
"US". Written by Adam Cain, at the University of Illinois,
and Dave Muller, at the University of Iowa, US was a very nice
sound generating and modifying toolkit. It also allowed you to
write your own extensions to it. I became intrigued with the
idea of mangling the number files produced by a fast fourier
transform function, and used US, and PowerBasic to do this. Simply,
a fast-fourier transform function analyses a very short section
of a sound, and produces a set of numbers (which can be stored
in a file) which describe the frequency makeup of that short
section of sound. If these numbers are then fed into an inverse
fast-fourier transform function, the result should be your original
sound. If, however, you change these numbers, the result will
be your sound either changed slightly or radically, depending
on how you changed the numbers. In order to get understandable
results out of a fast-fourier transform, it is important that
you do not change the format of the numbers, but just the actual
numbers themselves. This, of course, is too much of a temptation
for me, so I wrote programs, which, of course, juggled around
the format of the fast-fourier transform numbers outrageously.
Then I converted them back into sound. The result was the piece
"Scraps from the Lab Floor." I think the total sound
input into the piece was one sample each of the voices of myself,
Harry Partch, and Kenneth Gaburo, a sine wave, and a brief snatch
of some piano playing by Bill Evans. (Memory might fail me -
there might have been another sample or two used, but not many.)
All the sounds you hear in the piece, which I regard as a rather
fun and high-spirited collage, are the results of my format-mangling
programs. Sometimes the modifications are very slight. Sometimes,
they're so radical that any resemblance with the original is
totally lost. But like a mad scientist assembling "scraps
from the lab floor", I put them all into this, my good-humoured
Curiously, the piece is, for me, fairly hard listening. The sine-wave timbres produce chords with very strange, non-acoustic instrument balances - often, the most prominent harmonics are at the top of the sound, rather than at the bottom, as would be the case with most acoustic instruments. The makes the timbres sound rather "uneasy", but it's an uneasiness that I'm more than happy to live with, and explore. Since these chords express the golden section, which is also found in the geometry of plant life, this piece was used as the soundtrack to a video piece, "64 Views of the Wetlands", which was incorporated into my 1998 solo political multi-media theatre piece "Diversity." "64 Views of the Wetlands" is just that - 64 fixed camera video shots taken by me of scenes in the Bittern Wetlands on Western Port Bay southwest of Melbourne. Each scene lasts the duration of one chord. The analogy is between the nature-like structure of the golden section, and the actual nature-produced structure of the wetlands, and the plants within it. As someone who is concerned with the environment, it was important for me to make a piece which put the environment right into people's faces, and didn't pretty it up into some new-age fantasy. The severity of the chords and the severity of the wetlands environment seemed a very effective combination in showing this more harsh, unforgiving side of nature and its structuring.
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