There aren’t too many things left in the world that baffle us to the point of wanting to call them magic. The vast majority of the population certainly understands science on a basic level enough to know why things around them are happening. Perhaps one of the last things that approaches magic to most of us is the world of computer programming. We can see the effects of such actions but most of us have no idea what the processes are that caused them. Last Friday night, an audience was witness to a magic show of sorts at the Southern Exposure New Music Series’ concert of electronic music, “Exposed Wiring V”. The concert featured musical works which were created in part by computer programming techniques.
The thought that programming code can create a work of art is certainly deserving of the term “magic”. But the works on this program were created by composers who have mastered computers so completely that their work with them is undeniably art. The goal, perhaps, of any art form is to achieve a level of technical proficiency such that the audience ceases to perceive technique and only notices the artwork. This is the definition of virtuosity.
This virtuosity was displayed in a variety of ways. There was true electro-acoustic music, a combination of electronically generated sounds and acoustic instruments in which the electronics become another instrument in the ensemble. There was also acoustic sound electronically amplified in order to provide a different perspective of an acoustic piece. There was, finally, work in which electronically generated sound commanded the most agency. Most memorably, an amplified and processed cactus was used for one piece and a type of now-ancient video game controller used for another.
As a further testament to the magic of the evening, nothing technical went horribly awry. Or, at least, I was not able to tell that anything happened that was not anticipated. I have dabbled in the performance of electronic music and know from experience that computers and speakers are like magnets for Murphy’s Law. The fact that nothing went seriously wrong is proof of the high level of skill possessed by everyone involved in the concert.
To say nothing of the music, the best part of the experience for me was the concert atmosphere. Due to the experimental nature of the music, there was an openness in which the audience seemed highly receptive to a wide variety of sounds, accepting them as musical. Even when there was the inevitable sound of crinkling cough drop wrappers and the occasional snore, there was a moment in which we all looked at the speakers wondering if the sound had come from them. The show lent itself to an inclusion of everything happening in the event as part of the performance. The music was clearly the focal point but the ambient and “unplanned” sounds were very much part of the experience.
The whole evening was indeed (at the risk of triteness) “magical”.