April 2, 2007

Digital arts and new media grad students collaborate musically across three time zones

By Scott Rappaport

“Just wait until we do this from different planets,” someone remarked, seconds before the performance began.

Photo of Cynthia Payne
Cynthia Payne

Photo: Jim MacKenzie

The occasion was a live concert in late March featuring four different musical ensembles improvising simultaneously over the Internet across three different time zones.

As part of her M.F.A. thesis in digital arts and new media (DANM), UCSC graduate student Cynthia Payne performed with her group, E2.510, from a studio she set up on the fifth floor of the Engineering 2 Building.

Her collaborative partners from across the country included the Weave Soundpainting Orchestra from Loyola University in Chicago; Pauline Oliveros's Tintinabulate Ensemble from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York; and the SoundWIRE Group from the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics at Stanford University.

Using live audio and video streams, the four groups performed together in real time using high-speed Internet2, plus software developed at Stanford that reduces delay through the use of live microphones and reverberation techniques.

“I would describe the music as abstract, experimental, ambient…in the ear of the beholder,” Payne observed. “I would compare it to free jazz.”

Payne added that the music follows the philosophy of New York participant Pauline Oliveros’s “deep listening” practice in that the composers consider all sounds--even some considered as noise--as valid and relevant. A central figure in electronic art music and a pioneer in Internet musical collaboration, Oliveros has written four books and released numerous recordings on the subject. All four ensembles rehearsed and collaborated during winter quarter via the Internet as part of a seminar she taught from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

For UCSC’s role in the performance, Payne put together an eclectic ensemble of experimental composers employing a wide range of instruments--from the traditional to amplified sounds of rocks and leaves to the latest digital software. A trained vocalist, Payne uses her own voice to trigger various synthesizer sounds.

The March concert was one of the final steps toward Payne’s completion of her M.F.A. degree as a member of the second class of UCSC’s new interdisciplinary DANM graduate program. She earned her B.A. in film and digital media from UCSC in 2005 with a minor in electronic music.

“My research is about increasing access and exposure through making music on the Internet,” said Payne. “It’s about expanding the possibilities of interacting with people,” she added.

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