In Tandem: Max Mathews, Aaron Koblin, and Daniel Massey

Next Friday we are launching the new Recombinant Media Labs +dialog symposium series at the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts. For the first go around we’ve put together a rather incredible evening of both the history of computer music, and a discussion of a new groundbreaking work.

I can’t describe in prose how important Max Mathews is to my life and to those of everyone that has ever listened to or caused a computer to make sound. He started it all. The advent of our information technology catalyzing our music was a harnessing of metaphor every bit as important to our collective history as the splitting of the atom, and this is a rare opportunity to hear Max discuss these nascent breaths of digital song.

It is also fortuitous that we currently have in our Gray Area exhibition hall Aaron Koblin, who with Daniel Massey (himself a part of the last round of our Resident Artists), has created Bicycle Built For Two Thousand – a crowdsourced version of the original work. Comprised of over 2,000 voice recordings collected via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk web service, this work creates an eerily similar sound to the original but sang by people all over the world.

The parallels and juxtapositions between these two renditions of the same song, Daisy Bell, are myriad. First we embodied the machine with our song, and then the machine brought us together from no matter how far apart. Two of the most important cultural metaphors in the last century, the information processor and the network, are manifest in these works.

Don’t miss this unique night if you’re anywhere in the area.

Friday, March 19, 2010
7-9 PM
Gray Area
55 Taylor St. San Francisco
Suggested Donation $5-10 – No one turned away for lack of funds.

+dialog symposia series
presented by RML SF, Gray Area Foundation for the Arts, and Phasor~

Friday, March 19, 2010
7-9 PM
Gray Area
55 Taylor St. San Francisco
Suggested Donation $5-10 – No one turned away for lack of funds.

The RML SF +dialog symposia series fosters discussion and interaction between audiences and artists, authors, theorists, educators, and producers of cutting-edge work.

This first edition traces the history of the most important song in computer music through two groundbreaking renditions. Max Mathews, the father of computer music, and new media artists Aaron Koblin and Daniel Massey, will give presentations about their interpretations of the classic song followed by a open discussion moderated by digital arts technologist Barry Threw.

Computer performance of music was born in 1957 when Max Mathews made an IBM 704 at Bell Labs play a 17 second composition on the Music I program.

In 1962 Mathews synthesized the music for the song “Daisy Bell”, originally written by Harry Dacre in 1892, as an accompaniment for a vocoder speech synthesizer created by John L. Kelly. Arthur C. Clarke, then visiting friend and colleague John Pierce at the Bell Labs Murray Hill facility, saw this remarkable demonstration and later used it in the climactic scene of his novel and screenplay for “2001: A Space Odyssey” as the swan song of the dying computer, HAL9000.

In 2009, the online work Bicycle Built For Two Thousand by artists Aaron Koblin and Daniel Massey took this first recording and created a crowd-sourced rendition using a custom tool made in Processing. Comprised of over 2,000 voice recordings collected via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk web service, participants were asked to listen to a short sound clip and record themselves imitating what they heard. The result was a reconstructed version of the song as rendered by a distributed system of human voices. Instead of programming a computer, they used a computer program to stitch together a cross section of humanity.

Max Mathews
Max V. Mathews worked in acoustic research at AT&T Bell Laboratories from 1955 to 1987 where he directed the Behavioral and Acoustic Research Center. This laboratory carried out research in speech communication, visual communication, human memory and learning, programmed instruction, analysis of subjective opinions, physical acoustics, and industrial robotics.

From 1974 to 1980 he was the Scientific Advisor to the Institute de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique (IRCAM), Paris, France. In 1987 Mathews joined the Stanford University Music Department in the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) as Professor of Music (Research) where he developed a new pickup for electronic violins and a real-time computer system for music performance called the Conductor and Improv Programs and a 3D MIDI Controller called the Radio Baton.

At Bell Labs in 1957, Mathews demonstrated synthesis of music on a digital computer with his Music I program. Music I was followed by Music II through Music V and GROOVE, all were involved in the composition and performance of music on and with computers. These programs have been influential in the development of computer music. For this pioneering work he has been called the “father of computer music,” and most recently, “the great grandfather of techno!”

Max Mathews has conducted research on computer methods for speech processing, human speech production and auditory masking, and developed techniques for computer drawing of typography. The developer of “Music V” synthesis software and “Groove,” the first computer system for live performance, he is also the inventor of the Radio Baton, a computer-driven device that allows the user to conduct their own orchestral performances from MIDI files stored in the computer. Many multimedia patching languages such as Max/FTS, pd, jMax, and Cycling 74’s MaxMSP was based on Mathews’ ideas for a flexible, user-patchable sound generating system.

Mathews is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering and is a fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Acoustical Society of America, the IEEE, and the Audio Engineering Society.

Aaron Koblin
Aaron Koblin is an an artist specializing in data visualization. His work takes social and infrastructural data and uses it to depict cultural trends and emergent patterns. Aaron’s work has been shown at international festivals including Ars Electronica, SIGGRAPH, OFFF, the Japan Media Arts Festival, and TED. He received the National Science foundation’s first place award for science visualization and is part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. Currently, Aaron is Technology Lead of Google’s Creative Lab where he helped to launch Chrome Experiments, a website showcasing JavaScript work by designers from around the world.

Daniel Massey
Daniel Massey (b. 1982, Mexico) is an artist, designer, and programmer based out of San Francisco, CA. Daniel’s recent work seeks to instigate new modes of collaboration, creation, and transformation by approaching technology as inherently malleable. His projects take on varied forms, from immersive installations and web-based work, to live visuals and music. Daniel earned his MFA in Digital Arts & New media from the University of California, Santa Cruz. He was part of the Yahoo! Design Innovation Team and is now a resident artist at the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts.