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Built upon shared interests in technology, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, Axon Ladder is a multimedia performance installation by Bhob Rainey and Catherine Pancake. Combining algorithmic electronic composition with real-time video manipulation, this world premiere evening length work offers a timely view into the intersection of advancing technology and human intuition. The performance features footage of dancer/ choreographer Meg Foley.
From the composer:
Imagine, on the one hand, a modest algorithm that describes a population of creatures who want two things only: to eat and to be near each other. Give them a field of “food” and rules for birth and death. Set the creatures in motion. You will see a space that throbs with activity, a population that grows and shrinks unpredictably. To witness it is hypnotizing and occasionally horrific, like the teeming goo under a wet log. On the other hand, imagine an expressive synthesizer with too many “dials” to be performed. Picture nine of these synthesizers. To make them do things we find musically engaging, we’ll write a program that moves dials to interesting places in sequences that we hope to be poetic. We’ll tell that program what we like and what we don’t, and it will learn something from us.
Put the two hands together. What happens? The “creatures” infect the music, which is quite dense and furiously transforming. Individual phrases have a human quality, but the density of changes and presence of uncanny silences suggest the creatures’ obsessiveness and the fragile stability of their population. The timbre is roughly vocal, and intense specialization evokes a swarm. At the level of short events, there is an overload of information. Yet, the larger structure brings a sense of purpose, so that a space is carved out for navigating an environment teeming with expression.
Alone, this music is evocative of the seductive but troubling relationship we have with “lifelike” technology. Yet, there is more that can be done to tickle this tension into the concert space. By feeding the music into movement and mediating that movement through video representations, we extend the resonance of this human-technological knot and form a loop-like structure: artificial life (technological presence) -> musical composition (aesthetic activity) -> dance (embodied aesthetic activity) -> uncanny videography (technological mediation). The formal clarity of this loop, along with the strong impact that audio / visual collaborations bring, will significantly heighten the actual experience of the conceptual content of this work.
This program has been funded in part, with a grant from the American Composer’s Forum – Philadelphia Chapter.
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