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Matt Roberts - Thoughts on “The Interface”

I’m really excited for the premiere of “The Interface” Friday, September 13th 9pm-1am, at Measure, 292 Brunswick Ave (at Bloor). “What is ‘The Interface’?” you ask? Well, it’s a new interactive sound installation/live performance that I have been creating for the last several weeks in collaboration with my colleagues in Spectrum Music. “And what does that mean?” you ask? Well, let me try to explain…

The basic concept is pretty simple. An improvising musician stands in the middle of a circle of eight “loop sensors”. The audience is invited to use their bodies to physically connect the musician and the sensors. When this occurs, a signal is sent to a computer which triggers it to either start or stop playing a sound loop. Each sensor is associated with a different sound loop, for a total of eight loops that can be layered according to the collective whims of the audience. The musician then improvises in response to the actions of the audience and the resulting soundscape.

For the premiere performance on Friday, the musicians taking a turn performing at the centre of Interface will be Jim Lewis, trumpet; Christine Duncan, voice; Aline Homzy, violin; Ben Dietschi, saxophone; and myself on double bass. Each musician will have a separate set of eight loops which has been created specifically for them. Ben Dietschi created loops for Aline Homzy; I created loops for Ben; Heather Segger is creating loops for Jim Lewis; Shannon Graham is creating loops for Christine Duncan; and guest composer Dave Wall has created a set of loops for me. Later on in the evening, we plan to explore different musician/loop-set combinations, and possibly even duets.

That’s what Interface is. The next questions are, “Why are you doing this?” and “What does it all mean??” Here there are no simple answers! But maybe that’s okay. I feel that with my past musical compositions, I have perhaps been overly burdened by a desire to tell a story or impose a particular point of view on the audience. With Interface, I’m not sure exactly what it is “supposed” to express, so the first performance (and perhaps each performance thereafter as well) is going to be a discovery process for me as much as everyone who comes to see it. That’s partially because the entire piece really won’t be complete until an audience comes to interact with it – and how they do interact with it is going to be a huge part of what it expresses. That’s one of the things that has me excited about this project – it really blurs the definitions of audience, performer, and composer.

There is also an element of blurring the lines between human and machine/computer. The Interface runs on physical touch between human beings, a supremely “human” activity. It creates an environment where a bunch of individuals who might not even know each other are invited to physically touch one another in order to create something. But the magic in Interface doesn’t happen unless that human element is also connected to the machine element. As an audience member, you will (quite literally) have on one hand an human being improvising in response to their environment in a very impromptu, human way, and on the other hand, you will be touching metal connected to a computer, which will introduce a bit of the vibe of electronic music to the mix by triggering pre-determined recorded sound files. When an “audience” member uses their body to connect the musician with one of the sensors, they will actually be completing an electric circuit from the musician to the sensor. The “audience” member’s body will be acting in a somewhat analogous way to how a transistor acts in a microchip. There is even the potential for multiple audience members to form more complex circuits to trigger multiple sensors at once. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that the audience literally becomes part of the circuitry of the Interface.

For me personally the project has been very exciting because I’ve gotten to combine many different skill sets – I’ve had to do carpentry, set design, upholstering, soldering, coding, configuring of various programs, composing, recording  – and at the performance, I’ll do some improvising! Despite all these different aspects that I’ve already added to Interface (and there are actually even more aspects that I haven’t explained here – you’ll just have to come be part of it!) it really won’t be complete until you, the “audience” starts interacting with it. So I really hope you’ll join us at the Measure at 9pm on the 13th. It’s going to be a party – Spectrum is officially launching our 2013/14 season, we’re going to play a video retrospective of our 2012/13 season, Beau’s Lug Tread Lager is going to be on special all night, and there are going to be plenty of breaks in the music to chat and hang out, so feel free to drop in/out during the night. On Friday the 13th, don’t miss your chance to literally be a part of The Interface!

- Matt Roberts

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