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Towards Hypermusic

Author(s): John Maxwell Hobbs


Source: Leonardo, Vol. 31, No. 4 (1998), pp. 294-295
Published by: The MIT Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1576666
Accessed: 11-09-2017 13:17 UTC

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Leonardo

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from
from the
the menu/poems
menu/poemsand and
mouse
mouse energetic
energetic acoustic
acoustic
experience
experience
should shouldforward
forward and and aastep
stepbackward.
backward.The The
games
games embedded
embeddedininthe
thestory.
story. begin
beginsuch
suchan unusually
an unusually
silent experi- sound
sound is
silent experi- is partially
partiallyintegrated,
integrated,butbutfunc-
func-
Digital
Digital Blood
Bloodisisthe
thestory
storyofof
two
two
friends,
friends, ence.
tions
tions only
only asas background
backgroundmusic.
music. It It
can-
can-
An
An (a
(a researcher
researcherininbenign
benign virus/agent
virus/agent Bits come streaming down not
not be
be manipulated,
the manipulated,
line and
andititleads
leads
production)
production)andandLin
Lin(an
(anintelligent
intelligent
in-in- from a huge data cloud. They nowhere.
nowhere.
get It It is
isaafrozen
frozenexperience,
experience,
terface
terface designer),
designer),both
bothrecent
recentmothers
mothers sorted into containers; the contents lacking
lacking the of
the dynamic
dynamicqualities
qualitiesofofthethe
who
who are
are taking
takingsome
sometime
time
off
off
from
fromwork
work the containers get identified other
other
andinformation
informationon onthe
thepage.
page.
to care
care for
forand
andget
gettotoknow
knowtheir
their
infants.
infants. things begin to coalesce. The
As screen
various
various approaches
approachesare
areexplored
explored
To
To amuse
amuse themselves,
themselves,they
they
elaborate
elaborateon on blazes with activity; there are and
and discarded,
discarded,
moving the thedensity
densityofofthe the
de-
de-
each
each other's
other'scomputer
computerwork.
work.
LinLin
creates
creates images of fire, waterfalls, birds, sired
sired information
information
danc- in
inthe
thedata
datacloud
cloudgets
gets
surreal interfaces for An's viruses-mak- ing mailboxes and more, but thin.some-
thin. It
It will
will take
takethe
thesensing
sensingability
ability
ofofa a
ing her machine sing and shout. An cre- thing is very wrong. Silenceshark fillsto the
detectair;
one bit in billions. The
ates viruses that cause Lin's interfaces to it has almost palpable weight. searchItforisthepos-
word "sound" reveals

evolve during use and to feel alive. sible to slip an audio compact 56,000disc
links.into
A similar search for the
After months of this, as their game the CD-ROM drive and play words
some "interactive
pre- music" reveals only
gets more and more intense and they recorded music, but the result 7,000,ismost of those leading to docu-
a very
make use of what their babies are teach- disconnected experience. A quick
ments about music, but containing no
ing them, they start losing control of search on the word "sound" music themselves.
produces
their computers. They finally realize that links to words and pictures about Almost by chance, the exploration
there is another entity inhabiting their sound. Digging deeper, some leads to
ofthethese
Web site Cinema Volta and a

systems. In the game, they have created words about sound lead to containers section called Web Phases. The first thing
an independent, evolving construct that of actual sound. A sound is selected. A that attracts attention is the word "Si-

one would have to say is living. Is this long a time passes. The download is fi- lence" repeated four times in four
threat to be destroyed or a treasure to nally completed. The sound plays. This frames across the top of the page. Click-
be cherished and nurtured? feels better for a moment, but some-ing on a button labeled "1" following the
Digital Blood: Part 0 was shown at the how it is ultimately unsatisfying in thewords "Phase 1" replaces the word "Si-
opening of the Mill Valley Film Festival, present context. All the other informa- lence" with "Phase 1" in the first frame.
October 1997. tion presented can be navigated. Text Almost immediately, music begins to
leads to other text, text leads to im- play. Clicking on the button labeled "2"
Note ages, images lead to images, imagescauses the same thing to happen to the
1. Digital Blood: Part ( was created on a Power
lead to text, endlessly. Images illustrate
second frame. There must be heavy traf-
Nacinltosh 9500 colmputer using Director, text; text illuminates images. The fic on the network, because it takes a
Photoshop, SoundEdit, Strata Studio Pro and Pre- sound leads nowhere. It plays from while
be- for the music to begin playing.
miere software.
ginning to end and stops. It seems to There are now two copies of the same
exist as an object from another dimen-
melody playing out of phase. Two more
sion, merely intersecting with this clicks, and "Phase 2" and "Drone 1" are
TOWARDS HYPERMUSIC
world without end, not merging with it.
playing in frames three and four. The
John Maxwell Hobbs, 75 Leonard StreetTravel through the data cloud re- musical loops are different in length, so
5NE, New York, NY 10013, U.S.A. E-mail:
veals other options. Some sounds are the relationships are constantly shifting.
<jmax@artswire.org>. Web site: <http://
delivered in streams that begin to Theplaystart times of each loop were af-
www.artswire.org/-jmax>. almost at once. Some of these streams fected by the nature of the traffic on the
allow the user to move forward and network that existed when they were be-
Experience backward in the stream, in a sense, ing downloaded. Essentially, the compo-
While connecting to the Internet, the time traveling. This is not the level sition
of being generated contains a picture
screaming of two modems arguing about in sound of the state of the Internet and
interactivity desired, but it is a move
their handshaking protocols finally stops the connection to it at that moment.
in the right direction. Almost by acci-
when they come to an agreement. The dent, a new approach is stumbled After a time, the phasing of this gen-
modem speaker is turned off, but the mo- upon-a page that contains text, im-eration of the music becomes familiar;
dem continues to translate digital infor- age and sound. The sound starts auto-
a click of a button changes that. A
mation into an acoustic signal: music for matically and plays while the reggae drum pattern replaces the music
machines, perhaps. It is odd that such an document is read. This is both a step
playing in the second frame. The com-

Fig. 3. Ian Pollock and Janet Silk, Garden of Eternal Time, a public art project using the public phone system, 1998.

294 Words on Works

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position
positionturns
turnsupuptempo,
tempo,
becomes
becomes
lessless two
tworeasons.
reasons.First,
First,
I wanted
I wanted to exploremusic. The
to explore The nature
nature of
of each
each loop
loop se-
se-
reflective.
reflective.AAnew
newpicture
picture
of of
Internet
Internet my
myambivalence
ambivalence toward
toward most "interac-lected is colored
most "interac- colored by
by the
the ones
ones that
that come
come
traffic has been overlaid on the earlier tive" music on the Web. Most of these before and after.

one. On a whim, a new drum pattern pieces


is are neither truly interactive nor Sound in the real world is a rich
added to the composition, replacing specific to the Web. The second reason source of information. Why should
the drone. This pattern's tempo, lengthwas to work toward the creation of a cyberspace be silent?
and feel are completely different from musical equivalent of hypertext.
the reggae pattern. The result is very I find that most interactive music References and Notes
jarring. A click of the "Silence" buttonworks only give the illusion of user par- 1. Myst is an interactive CD-ROM that has become
removes the reggae pattern. The sec-ticipation and freedom; the hand of thethe best-selling computer game in history. In Myst,
ond drum pattern is selected for all artist very tightly controls the users. No the user gathers clues and solves riddles to unlock
the secrets of Myst island. The game combines
four frames. It sounds like six sloppy matter what choices are made, the result beautiful graphics and an engaging soundtrack to
drummers playing in perfect time and is what the artist/creator wants it to be. create an immersive experience for the user.
paying no attention to each other. AnThere are very few works that allow the 2. Bad Day on the Midway by the Residents is an in-
entirely new picture of Internet trafficoption of mediocrity. Interactive fiction teractive CD-ROM by the avant-garde rock band
is created, and the composition takesand
a some role-playing games are notable and performance artist group. Bad Day on the Mid-
way places the user behind the eyes of several dif-
new direction. exceptions. Myst [1] allows the option offerent characters over the course of the game. The
aimless wandering. In both Bad Day on soundtrack is a major component, combining an
Mechanics ambient soundscape, background music and songs.
the Midway [2] by the Residents and the
Web Phases consists of a number of MIDI text adventure version of Hitchhiker's 3. Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a text-adventure
role playing game released 15 years ago by
(Musical Instrument Digital Interface)Guide to the Galaxy [3], if the user takes Infocom. It was created by Douglas Adams, the
"loops" of varying length, tempo and too much time to accomplish certain writer of the Hitchhiker's series of books.

content, and a web page divided into tasks, the possibility of winning the game
five frames: one control frame and four is removed and the user will wander

target frames. I chose to use MIDI be- through the game forever, interacting LOCAL 411: PRIVATE
cause it is a very compact data type andwith the other characters, exploring the
CONVERSATIONS IN PUBLIC
can be downloaded very quickly, even environment, neither dying nor making
SPACE
over slow connections. The user selects any progress toward the conclusion.
a MIDI loop and sends it to a specific I wanted to create a piece that wouldIan Pollock and Janet Silk, 540 Ala-
window, where it automatically plays,allow a user a satisfying experience with bama Street, #313, San Francisco, CA
once it completes downloading. When a minimal
a amount of participation, yet94110, U.S.A. E-mail:
user selects another loop and window, it a deeper involvement if desired. <ps313@sirius.com>.
allow I Web site: <http://
plays concurrently with the other loop viewed the concept of "satisfaction" aswww.sirius.com/-ps313>.
or loops, generating a continuously involving, in part, a feeling of accom-
changing composition due to the "phas- plishment. Therefore, it was necessaryIn Local 411, we use the public phone
ing" of the loops. The nature of the to allow the user to generate a composi- system to invigorate the historical land-
phasing comes not only from the differ- tion that might sound unpleasant. scape of the city in search of contempo-
ent lengths and tempi, but also from Without that, there could never be rary public art. The phone is physical; it
the data traffic on the Internet and the the sense of accomplishment that ac- creates an intimate space that unites
speed of the user's connection. If companies the generation of a "pleas-people over distance, even across time.
Internet traffic is heavy and the down- ant" composition. The casualness of its power, its transpar-
loading time is slow, the start time of Words can take on many layers of ent movement across vast geographical
meaning in hypertext. A word that is locations, its ease at accessing people of
the various loops will be affected. In es-
sence, the composition generated con-used as a hypertext link contains, in adifferent classes and cultures make it an
tains a "picture" of the current state ofsense, the information to which it exciting media for the subject of public
the user's connection to the Internet. points. That new information is coloredaddress. Radio, telephone and comput-
by the word that has led to it. ers have been called "psychotechnolo-
Concept In a document with many links, each gies" [1]: technological extensions of
Web Phases (http://www.artswire.org/ reader experiences these layers in a the mind, with global implications. We
-jmax/phaseframe.html) is an interac- personal way, based on their choices. are interested in how communications
tive piece of music that I created for Web Phases attempts to do the same withtechnologies shape the relationship of

Words on Works 295

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