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 Yannick Franck
 Esther B
 Esther B


Issue #214, December 2001 - Ether Talk - Dispatches from the digital domain. This month: Anthony Huberman investigates new forums for artistic interchange

The history of interfaces between audience and art is one involving many readjustments. From intimate cabinets de curiosité to entire squatted buildings slated for demolition, the contexts in which art has been presented to the public have wavered between private privilege and dynamic interaction. The changing nature of art and music call for constantly revised models. Today, the work of many artists fits the 'round table' over the 'lecture hall', the flexible workshop over the rigid exhibition or concert.

Everyone gathering at share. Photo by James Healy

In 1997, at the Documenta X art festival in Kassel, Germany, and the Berlin Biennale, the artists Pit Schultz and Geert Lovink initiated the Hybrid Workspace, a "temporary laboratory" at Berlin's Orangerie: host to "100 days of 100 guests", where artists, musicians, scholars, curators, and activists tirelessly presented performances, lectures, screenings, interviews, and exhibitions to a local and remote public - via internet broadcasts on the radio Website and the Nettime email forum. This ongoing workshop acknowledged that in a networked culture, artistic production exists in constant flux, and cannot simply be presented in the static form of an exhibition. The nature of the artists' creative explorations implied a shift in the way their work was to be presented to an audience. The exhibition strategy was changed to one which maintained the simultaneity, fluidity, interdependence, and unresolved relationships that characterize the society in which the artists were creating their media-based work.

Since that time, similar examples have surfaced, but not enough to mark a decipherable change in the politics of display and the architecture of exhibition spaces. The question still hovers, though: was Hybrid Workspace a successful model? The question can be extended to the music community: how would this strategy fare with music? Could the concert setting become more dialectic? Is there something about music today that would attract musicians and their public to this model?

A resounding yes to that would certainly come from Keiko Uenishi, aka o.blaat, a New York based sound artist and curator. Before becoming a fluent Max/MSP composer, Uenishi began her career as a tapdancer. Dissatisfied with the stubborn traditional approaches to rhythm and beats she experienced within that community, she moved on to experiment with sound environments. Retaining her interest in motion and performance, she "wanted to make music by making movement and make movement by making sound". Uenishi's sense that sound exists within the elements of the environment in which it is played led to a distrust in the performer, a distaste for the stage:

o.blaat w/ pbk. Photo by Gerard Malanga

"Performers are so self-conscious," she says, "they think about how to present themselves on stage and about how the audience is looking at them." Uenishi articulates her artistic concerns: "How can I erase myself?" Answering that question has led her to collaborations with Ikue Mori, DJ Olive, Toshio Kajiwara, Christine Bard, Kaffe Matthews, Marina Rosenfeld, among others; to curating electronic music events; and to her own sound artwork. In her work, Uenishi constructs installations in which the audience triggers the sound, which is sent through filters in her Powerbook; she has wired contact mics to cash registers, coat check rooms, and ping-pong tables. Her curatorial efforts, [electroluxe] (1999-2001 at Tonic) and Audibleview (2001, at the non-profit art space White Columns) are further opportunities for her personal research. At [electroluxe], a series which has featured Jim O'Rourke, Peter Rehberg, Christian Marclay, Gen Ken Montgomery, Lary 7, So Takahashi, among many others, "the audience was encouraged to walk around, chat, ignore the performer's presence, and run into the object or the atmosphere being made. It has been functioning as a sort of laboratory where I can explore relationships between audience and live music performers." Uenishi believes in the environment, not in the concert.

In what is perhaps a musical adaptation of documenta's Hybrid Workspace is Share, a weekly party at the East Village bar Openair (or [ ]penair), and one to which Uenishi felt herself immediately attracted. Five month old, the party was initiated by Rich Panciera (aka Lloop), Geoff Matters (aka GeoffGDAM), and Daniel Smith (aka Newclueless). Dubbed an "assemblage of portable computers, data exchange, performances, nd MP3djing," Share is a laboratory for electronic file swapping, technique tips, and interpenetrating aesthetics. "Come to listen, come to trade, computer not required"; the evening begins with walk-in impromptu collaborations between participants, and later features curated performances. Panciera claims that New York is missing a setting where people can be exposed to the evolving tools and possibilities facing electronic music: "The song of the future," he says, "will not be a song but an application that allows us all to make songs." While such a prophesy might be slightly too nea, Panciera certainly points to what he calls "decentertainment" and to what Uenishi has been working towards: the performer being replaced by a workshop for performers.

Mirroring Schultz and Lovink's 1997 experiment, Share acknowledges that new tools and new sounds demand a new context; electronic music can be elastic, malleable, audience-inclusive, and exchanged and generated in real-time. This open-ended ambiguity contradicts the one-way logic of concert events and suggests another sociology of music. Responding to concerns of more artists than just Uenishi, Share functions as a proposal for a revised model for the interface between live music and its public.