Video: Panic by Proxy Live at the Walker

On August 23, 2018 I debuted a new piece in remote collaboration with Syrian artist and filmmaker Khaled Alwarea. PANIC BY PROXY is an audiovisual translation of clips from Alwarea’s award winning film Panic Attack. The piece was commissioned by MN Artists for their MN Artists Presents series at the Walker Art Center, curated by Essma Imady.

The performance featured audiovisual objects projected and amplified while being granulated using Audiovisual Grain Machine (AVGM) — software I developed that performs audiovisual granular synthesis in realtime using a touch controller. Other instruments included Rhodes, Moog Sub 37, Novation Circuit, Korg KP3+, and an Electro-Harmonix Memory Man Delay. The dissonance, distortion, and uncanny synchronization in the sound and visuals illicit feelings of disturbance and confusion as an expression of the artist’s anxiety.

This video includes most of the performance and has only been edited for length. Thanks to Esmaa Imady for inviting me to participate in the event, Khaled Alwarea for his amazing film work, and Emily Gastineau at MN Artists for organizing the event. Read more about Esmaa Imady and the other artists who participated in this event on Hyperallergic.

VIDEO: Full Sets from Studio Z Nada Showcase

I performed this version of Vocalise Sintetica at on Friday, June 8, 2018 at Studio Z for the Nada showcase. The recording was captured by Mike Hodnick. In addition to the improvised elements, what makes this different from previous versions of the piece is that Studio Z is close to home, so I was able to bring my favorite instrument, the Moog Sub 37 for lead lines, melodies, drones, and arps. All the sound heard in this piece was generated by the AVGM (Audiovisual Grain Machine) controlled by an iPad, a Novation Circuit with custom samples and patches, a Minifooger Delay, and the Moog Sub 37.

This was an amazing evening of performances. The sets from Michael Flora, Mike Hodnick (Kindohm), and Spednar were all excellent. Mike also shared video of his own set of “tightly coupled audio and visuals” that he premiered at the event, which is definitely worth checking out:

Read on for the the official press release:

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45 Delusions for Common Time at the Walker Art Center

45 Delusions was commissioned by the Walker Art Center for an event with former Merce Cunningham Dance Company (MCDC) dancers as part of the Common Time exhibit and performance series. The piece was performed and recorded with the dancers on March 30, 2017 in the Perlman Gallery at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. My setup included Rhodes, Moog Sub 37, PreenFM2, Korg KP3+, and a Moog Minifooger Delay. Graham O’Brien performed on percussion and electronics triggered from his drums.

John Keston's Setup for the Common Time Event

My Setup for the Common Time Event

The score is two pages. The first page (pictured at top) is the timeline for both performers. The timeline is vertical and made up of cells that last between one and five minutes each. Frequently the cells correspond with each player, but they are arranged so that at times they overflow. Rests are also included as cells. Each cell includes brief instructions and/or graphics that give suggestions to the musicians. Some of the instructions are expanded on the second page of the score.

Graham O'Brien's Setup for Common Time

Graham O’Brien’s Setup for Common Time

The second page also includes a list of forty five delusions. These include terms such as alternative facts, capitalism, corporate culture, equality, freedom, fossil fuels, greed, justice, and so on. There are also a few technical delusions such as erotomania (belief that a celebrity is in love with you) and lycanthropy (belief that one can turn into an animal). The second page explains the delusions and what to do with them:

Anything that might be considered or is delusional. These are not necessarily medical or technical examples of delusions and may involve individuals, societies, or organizations. Prior to performing the piece, each musician chooses one “delusion” applied to each cell within the score.

Take a look at the PDF at the end of this article to see the complete list of delusions as well as expanded instructions for some of the cells. Obviously this is an improvised piece of music, but this approach steers the improvisation in directions that would be unlikely to occur freely. Particularly the timing. As one performs or listens to the piece it is possible to discern distinct variations as the musicians transition from one cell to the next. If you are inclined to listen to the piece in full, try following along with the score and placing a SoundCloud comment where you hear the cells change. The timing on the recording doesn’t exactly match the score, but it’s pretty close.

The reasons I took this approach are multi-faceted: (1) It keeps the piece moving. Often free improv tends to stagnate as ideas are repeated and refined. With this approach the challenge is to express ideas with concision and then move on to the next (this is possible, albeit rare, in free improv – we call it channel surfing). (2) It is possible to strictly define the length. We used a timer that counted up to 30 minutes. One quick glance at the timer illustrates the need to move on to “High Speed Arps” for example. (3) Mood, dynamics, and theatrics can be injected to create a narrative with scope and meaning. It is a way to ask questions, discover sounds, explore, and experiment. (4) It enhances my musical engagement. I am influenced by my collaborators and surroundings, but I’m also interpreting the language of the score, and hopefully to the benefit of the musical output.

45 Delusions by John C.S. Keston (148K PDF)

Revisiting Dogmatic Music with the Novation Circuit, PreenFM2, and Moog Sub 37

I composed this track and performed it live while limiting myself to using three electronic instruments: Novation Circuit, PreenFM2, and a Moog Sub 37. Afterward I added a recording of a Tibetan tingsha bell that I captured using a matched pair of Rode NT5 condensers. The instruments were sequenced using the Squarp Pyramid, which might technically be considered a fourth instrument, but it is not a sound source.

I continually revisit dogmatic approaches to making electronic music and this approach in particular may yield some interesting results. The last collection I made like this was back in 2013 and can be found in the post Builders of the Fauxpocalypse: a Dogmatic Approach to Music Making.