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George Lewis: Interactive Trio

Thursday, October 20, 2011
12:00 AM
Rackham Auditorium, 915 E. Washington, Ann Arbor, MI

Acclaimed avant-garde trombonist and musical innovator George Lewis performs with U-M’s own grand jazz pianist Geri Allen for a live action trio with a computer generated “virtual improvisor” program (designed by Lewis) to respond to their playing on acoustic Yamaha Disklavier. Their combination of live and digitally generated music and completely improvised dialogue/sonic negotiation should not be missed.

George Lewis, trombone; Geri Allen, piano I; Lewis interactive music system, piano II.

In this performance, George Lewis and Geri Allen are engaged in live, completely improvised dialogue with a computer-driven, interactive "virtual improvisor" program. The computer performs on a computer-controlled acoustic piano, the Yamaha Disklavier.  The program analyzes aspects of the other performers' music in real time and uses that analysis to guide the generation of complex responses to the musicians’ playing, while also establishing its own independent generative and analytic behavior.

The system does not need real-time human input to generate music; therefore, part of the task of constructing the work consisted of providing the program with its “own sound," an expression of a kind of technology-mediated animism.  As an independent improvisor, difference is asserted by the system in the form of program responses that are not necessarily related (or even deliberately unrelated to) outside input.  These responses can be heard as the consequences of different modes of a construction of "listening," where the software attempts to create a detailed representation of what it receives from the improvisors.  Thus, in playing with different people or in different musical situations, the system should play differently, while retaining something of its own personality.

In this work, the improvised musical encounter is experienced as a sonic negotiation between musicians, some of whom are people and others not. Any entity operating in this conceptual space would deal with issues of behavior, communication and intersubjectivity. As the anthropologist of technology Lucy Suchman has maintained, human interactions succeed not due to the abilities of any one participant to construct meaningfulness, but to the possibility of mutually constructing intelligibility in and through the interaction.  Suchman's logical conclusion here, and one that has guided my work with interactive machines since the late 1970s, is that "machine-human differences are discursively enacted and available for refiguring."

Panel Discussion (following performance):  Improvisation as a Way of Life

With Arnold I. Davidson, University of Chicago; George E. Lewis, Columbia University; Geri Allen and Edward W. Sarath, University of Michigan.