Keynote Curiosity

As with all conferences, the keynote is the most high-anticipated event.  It’s meant to be full of inspiring quotes and powerful demonstrations of progress.  NIME, in its vein of creativity, took the keynote to a whole new level, particularly with artist Laetitia Sonami‘s performance.

What started off as a calm, rehearsed “speech” became a journey into corners of the mind that question exactly what makes music music and sound sound, and where the dividing line is between music and sound.  Sonami took the stage and started speaking normally.  Slowly, she raised one of her hands, clad in the rumored “Lady’s Glove”.  With the slightest movement of her fingers, Sonami’s voice transformed into a surreal audio clip from a movie, booming and echoing and changing as rapidly as the words of her speech.

It wasn’t just the “wow” factor of Sonami’s performance that caught my attention.  Sonami raises several valid points about the expectations artists and tech-gurus have for electronic music creation – what it should sound like, what it should “do” or represent…In “Historical Moment on a Line Between A and B”, Sonami describes how the Lady’s Glove (and, inevitably, many more sensor-based “control” devices) wasn’t really a controller at all, but rather an instrument with its own personality to which even an artist must adapt:

“[W]hile the practice of a gestural controller started in 1991 with desires of an embodied expression of control and power…it morphed into desires of inefficiency and unpredictability. This may be the conundrum faced by artists, and especially when dealing with technology. we so want to explore and dominate an unknown…I…learnt to relish the latencies dictated by the software, hardware, and the body itself…

Unpredictability became more and more welcome.”

(Excerpt from “Historical Moment on a Line Between A and B”, Laetitia Sonami)

When, I ask, is latency ever welcomed in the technology realm?  Engineers and computer scientists would argue that latency, unpredictability, any sign of lack of control in a system is not just intolerable, but positively frightening.  For Input A, we should receive output B, every time, on time.

Maybe we can take some cues from the Lady’s Glove performance and learn to adapt to changing interfaces. Individuals use technology; they use instruments, interfaces…individuals are unpredictable, but not necessarily negatively so.  Could there possibly be room, in a world of rigid technology, for a spark of creative spontaneity?  Certainly no great scientist or artist was without an uncurious side.  How else can anything new come of anything now?

Much to think about for the spontaneous and stubborn alike.

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