Vol 10 No.6/00
Interactive Music

On December 15, aficionados of avant-garde music in New York City will be treated to a special event. Experimental Media will host a performance of Szene Instrumental, an Austrian chamber orchestra for contemporary music.

In 1968, the heyday of our cultural revolution, Experimental Intermedia was set up in New York by Elaine Summers as a forum for artists working in intermedia forms. Throughout its history, EI has produced more than 1,000 events in New York and other cities in the U.S. and abroad. "And who would have thought that it could go on for thirty-two years?" remarks Phill Niblock, director of Experimental Intermedia, with astonishment.

This orchestra will combine familiar with unconventional instruments: While Szene Instrumental´s founder, Wolfgang Hattinger, will play the clarinet and Elisabeth Taschner the violoncello, Se-Lien Chuang will perform on the Chinese instrument Yan-Zin and Andreas Weixler on the computer. Like Experimental Intermedia, Szene Instrumental was founded for the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (ORF) in 1994 to support and promote young Austrian composers. From the very beginning, it was conceived as a chamber orchestra for the realization of specific projects rather than an ensemble devoted to a twentieth-century repertoire. 
Andreas Weixler and Se-Lien Chuang, an Austro-Taiwanese duo (who also happen to be married to each other), have had a longstanding cooperation with Szene Instrumental. Andreas Weixler, a professor for music and media technology at the Bruckner Conservatory in Linz, is a composer of instrumental and computer music with a special emphasis on audiovisual and algorithmic composition. Se-Lien Chuang is a composer, pianist, and video and computer artist and performs classical, contemporary, interactive, and Web music. Together they run Atelier Avant, their own studio for computer music and visual art, in their hometown Graz. The New York performance will feature computer music, electronically treated sounds from contemporary instrumental compositions, and live processing of visual arts and video. 
Although this description might sound technical, the actual performance is far from it. The duo´s compositions evoke a sensual mood by interweaving Asian and European traditions. Chuang and Weixler often produce a spherical sound and develop a musical language of their own. The soft tones do not end in a saccharine tootling, however. The duo´s main concern is the experiment. By altering the sound of the piano electronically, they create tensions and achieve an alienating effect. Contrasts develop, structures are either hinted at or fully formulated. The music sounds tender and sharp at the same time. 
The team´s dialogs of computer music and video art are complex compositions that often can only be grasped after several listening sessions. "I use the computer as a musical instrument to improvise on a compositional outline," explains Andreas Weixler. He does not assign a fixed score to the computer, but creates a behavioral pattern instead. If the clarinet and the cello play the same note, the computer imitates them. If they play different notes, it will try to play all the notes that lie in between simultaneously or in a pattern. In their composition "Waon," Weixler and Chuang try to capture the Japanese sense of harmony. The more the notes diverge, the stronger the computer reacts. Weixler establishes parameters for the computer live on stage, but can only influence the production of the sound, not the sound itself. 
In their interactive composition "Crush on you," Se-Lien Chuang plays the Yan-Zin, a Chinese dulcimer. The computer records short sequences of her play, alters them electronically and then plays them over a loudspeaker. The computer thus becomes a hyperinstrument that records live music and develops a sound of its own that still harmonizes with the rest of the compositions. 
Andreas Weixler and Se-Lien Chuang are currently on a research grant at Nagoya City University in Japan. Their compositions are constant works-in-progress. From now until December 15, they hope to find enough inspirational material in the Land of the Rising Sun to present to their listeners in New York. 
For further information on the performance on December 15, please see the calendar section

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