UPDATE: A recent software update messed up our formatting, so we’re using a less-than-ideal visual theme until we restore functionality. Here’s what it will look like when we fix the formatting again:
Welcome to Weblogmusic! Click a mix above to see a performance. Click it again to see a different version. Use your browser’s zoom feature to fit the videos on your screen if needed.
Weblogmusic is a web-based platform for performers to improvise in asynchronous virtual ensembles and for audiences to experience these performances in ways that reflect the impact of technological mediation on human interaction, the human value of a sense of live presence, and the power of mediation as an expressive element in performing arts. It is funded by the Academy for Visual and Performing Arts at Texas A&M University.
Introduction and Significance
As technology invades and improves our lives at a rapidly increasing rate, it is hard enough to keep up with the latest requirements for doing ones work or communicating with family and friends. We have increasingly little time to reflect on how these developments affect the human experience: how we communicate, socialize, express ourselves, and create. Our sense of presence/liveness/“being there” is warped in different ways when we express ourselves or experience others through text messages, status updates, and avatars. It is essential to understand this if we are to know what it means to be a human today, but it is difficult to notice the frame when the subject matter within the frame is mundane and functional. For example, when seeking and obtaining an answer to a question, one only cares about the information and is likely to ignore any less-than-transparent effects of the medium, just like we train our minds to ignore a cough in a concert hall.
The performing arts provide experiences that make the impact of technological mediation more obvious. The imprint of mediation is often more distracting than the cough in the concert hall. Poor image and sound quality, fixed perspectives, and even “features” like the ability to pause, knowing one can rewind, and the ability to multitask significantly disrupt the experience of once-live performance. Philip Auslander, Julio d’Escriván, and others conclude that “progress” will see audiences ignoring these artifacts of mediation in the future. My previous work shows that while we may often accept such effects in exchange for convenience, we are still quite sensitive to disruptions in the sense of liveness, presence, authenticity, etc., and this presents an opportunity to reflect on and celebrate what is lost through mediation. Something among that which is lost in mediation can illuminate new understandings of the human experience.
A forum for “born digital” creative performance using the mundane structure of a weblog can directly highlight and spawn discussion on these issues in mediation, expression, and experience. (A weblog or blog is a site on the world-wide web that presents episodic content, often news stories or journal entries.) Weblogmusic is a web-based exhibit of asynchronously improvised performances. It will be an inquiry into the role of technological mediation in human expression, providing new situations to begin discussions on the nature of liveness, authenticity, and causality and the impact of technological mediation.
Viewers will see and hear a number of individual performers each of whom had been recorded at separate times, while responding to the previously recorded performances. A randomly-selected subset of these performed tracks will be presented together in each simultaneous “ensemble performance.” Artists will record their performances responding to a randomly selected mix of previously performed tracks. Weblogmusic will host multiple “mixes” which comprise multiple “tracks” recorded by performers, each at different times, but while listening and reacting to some previously recorded tracks from the same mix.
The result will be a continually evolving digital-only performance that reveals different aspects of its structure with each playing. It will probe the nature of collaboration through technological mediation and the nature of liveness, authenticity, and causality. It will put its own inflection by information technology in the spotlight for examination, giving us a chance to reflect on the human effects of technological progress.
This project might be compared with the YouTube Symphony Orchestra project. Other projects like Thru-You and In B-Flat build on various aspects of the same concept to make the “YouTube Symphony” more of a genre than the name of one project. Weblogmusic differs from these projects in that the end result can only exist on the site, and performers will be able to react to previously recorded performers. This is not a simple use of web-based media for convenience or a mashup experiment to see what comes out. It is a composition for improvisers using the internet as its medium, its venue, and its premise.
The resulting site will be both a community and a composition. It will both embody a creative discourse and be the subject of discourse on mediation, collaboration, and expression.