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Page 1 ï~~RICHARD WAGNER WAS THE FIRST NETWORK ARTIST Andrew Gerzso Director of the Department for the Coordination of Scientific and Musical Research IRCAM 1 Place Stravinsky Paris 75004 France 1. INTRODUCTION The title is a joke, of course, but not completely. Richard Wagner (1813-1883) was, among many other accomplishments, the father of the modern concept of sound spatialisation, a topic close to the concerns of network performance - where performers, in the widest sense of the term, are spread out in virtual or real & virtual spaces. Of course, one can say that composer and organist Giovanni Gabrieli (1554-1612), was also a pioneer in spatialisation when one thinks of how he spread vocal and instrumental ensembles throughout Saint Marks Cathedral in Venice. But here he was taking advantage of what already existed. Wagner, in turn, was driven by an artistic vision which made necessary the construction of an opera house where the orchestra was never seen but only heard by the audience. With this in mind he designed the Bayreuth Festspielhaus with an original orchestra pit which is recessed under the stage and covered by a hood. Even the singers on stage see only the conductor, also invisible to the audience, except if they are near the edge of the stage in which case they see the violins only. The orchestra is deeper than standard orchestra pits and Wagner arranged the seating of the musicians in such a way that a singer on stage receives of the sound of the orchestra organized in the same way one receives the sound of an orchestra in a normal concert hall. He wanted that the sound should emerge from the pit and reach the audience by following an indirect path: the sound emerged "mixed" from the pit, bounced off the hood and mixed with the singers, bounced off the stage towards the audience. In this way, the audience receives an "enveloped" sound in keeping with his desire to create a theater of illusion. Now of course in the Festspielhaus there is no time lag between the pit and the audience, or at least not enough that it should be bothersome. But more importantly, Wagner probably took into account implicitly any factors of this kind when composing the Ring of the Nibelung, i.e., he composed for his medium. So here we have already a number of criteria which are still relevant to networked performance: necessity (why, from a practical or artistic point of view, do we need to use the network?); rendering (what aspects of the network performance do we wish to interpret, bring out and make important?); audience reaction (what should the audience perceive, what expressive relation are we trying to establish with the performers?); finally, specificities of the medium (what are the characteristics of the medium that we have to take into account and/or want to "play on"?). 2. THE COM-ME-DI-A PROJET SCENARIOS Exploring some of these issues is the Co-Me-Di-A project (Cooperation and Mediation in the Digital Arts - (www.comedia.eu.org), which is supported by the Education, Audiovisual & Culture Executive Agency (EACEA) of the European Commission for the period 2007 - 2010. While the Co-Me-Di-A project may have a rather wide ranging title, the partners are mostly concerned with music. The project began by defining together some scenarios ("use cases") that the seven partners would like to explore collectively. These include: a networking connection scheme (dubbed the "Comedia bus") for being able to set up performance and research projects quickly, streaming lectures or concerts, multi-site choral performances, distributed ensembles and real time composition, live coding over the network, using the network as an acoustic medium, audience to audience interaction, performer to performer interaction, creation of virtual audience spaces, musical instrument robots connected over the network, and active exploration of sound sources distributed over the network. This last point is also the concern of the European IST SAME project (www.sameproject.eu) in which IRCAM is a partner. 3. SOME INTERESTING ISSUES These scenarios address interesting questions. Using the network to contradict normal physical relations of space and time is one of them. This may even concern the physical layout of the nodes on the network themselves. One node could be mobile while the others remain fixed, for example. Nodes could be used for anticipating or recalling events.
Page 2 ï~~Interaction, while already being the subject of much work in the area of live performance, is another. What is frequently dubbed interaction in computer music is in many cases just a stimulus response situation. What is more interesting is how the interaction builds something with a memory over time. In this case we are exploring the dramaturgy of a particular situation, which in some cases can be quite simple (in the case of a streamed lecture, for example) or more complex (interaction between two performers, two choirs, or two audiences, for example). In certain cases a local network "mockup" can be used to explore and help clear up these issues before being sidetracked by the organizational worries of getting a wide area network version working. In interaction, the question of the study of expressivity is also of great importance. Elements of expressivity may be picked up from audio, gestural and visual information. What elements are crucial, how are they represented, how can they be transformed or sent over the network? The question of time delay. Composers have always learned to compose for their medium and so there is nothing basically new in the challenge posed by the inherent time delays of sound over the network. Synchronizing musicians or groups of musicians placed along the periphery of a large performance space (say 15 x 15 meters) to the precision of a sixteenth-note at a tempo of 120 to the quarter is, at best (and depending on the acoustics), an approximate exercise. So the composer must simply compose with a kind of loose coordination in mind, and at the same time this constraint can be the source for new musical ideas. Rendering, mentioned before, is another. So in the "simple" case of trying to set up a remote rehearsal or concert - questions of delay aside - the issue of rendering the sound of a performer or a music ensemble is crucial. But also, imagine that we have performers on three distinct nodes (each of which has a local audience) and that we would also like to make it possible for someone on the network to be able to be simply a listener/spectator. This involves three separate acoustic (not to mention visual) rendering questions: the local audiences, the "sum" of the three nodes both for the local audiences as well as for the virtual audience(s) spread out over the network. The answer to the questions will depend on what the composer wants to express. And so, we are back to Richard Wagner.