Plausibly Live

by Steev Hise

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Live music by Steev Hise and Collaborators, 1998 - 2002
(original) Notes:
The very concept of listening to live improvised music has often struck many as a strange phenomenon. With music that is also constructed from pre-existing recorded sound, that is, sample-based music, the situation is even more convoluted. Often with modern tools the operations performed on source material while on stage are identical to the sort of process carried out with studio work. Or the source material has already been processed, and the live show is simply adding another level of realtime alterations, while people sit and watch.

So how does one present (represent) to listeners who were never present, the experience of 5 years of live gigs? I believe that the answer lies in applying a slight, further and final (at least on my part) level of manipulation to the live recordings, sticking with certain guidelines in the process. The rules were simple: no overdubs or layering; no addition of other material not in the actual live performance; and no moving parts out of chronological order.

In the mid-1990s, for its coverage of distant Olympic games in drastically different timezones, NBC started showing taped material and calling it "plausibly live." Time-shifting an event sometimes as much as 20 hours into the future so that American audiences could see the athletes in places like Sydney at more convenient hours, the network had created a strange new mode of simulation. My motives are not to sell eyeballs to prime-time advertisers, of course, but to give to you a sort of simulation or lens with which to view the past, a way to get the feel of the last few years of my performances. Replacing the energy of the improvised, in-the-moment live musical event with the curatorial, the energy of a sort of "hyperexcerpting," and casting aside the red herring of "documentation." I hope you enjoy the choices I made, both before, during, and after the shows.

Thanx to: Jose Marquez, Jay Pinka, Steve Rush, Jared, Scott, Ryan, Mark, Merlin, Bob, and Jon, Chris Stecker, and also everyone else who showed up.

Portland, August 2003

Additional Notes
I first “finished” this project of “re-finishing” a collection of my recorded live music performances in summer 2003, compiling and distilling what I thought were the best of my gigs over the period of 1998 to 2002. 2003 marked a breaking point, a stumbling spot where I stopped, after 11 years, considering myself the serious, sample-based electronic music composer and performer, and started rapidly drifting further into activism, videojournalism, and the making of documentaries. I thought this last album would be a fitting swan song, a punctuation mark before I dropped off the hemisphere later that year and spent a few months wandering South America in search of... the interesting? The effective? I'm not really sure anymore, but that's another story.

Anyway, that summer in Portland my energy peaked without the determination left to actually see that the thing got released. I think I sent it to one obscure noise label based in Portland whose name I don't even remember and who never replied. And then I literally didn't listen to this material again for over 10 years. Now I hear it almost as if it were made by someone else, with a critical ear, such that if I were to bring these tracks back into a sound editor for more distillation, the whole thing, 70 minutes or so, could probably be abridged down to about 30 minutes or less. In the end, perhaps the project is self-defeating, and we come full circle to the ambivalence I mentioned at the beginning of my original notes; Perhaps really the best document lives in the memories of each person who was at each of those shows.

Still, as a brief tour of a particular stretch of my creative life, like a tasting flight of bizarre craft beer experiments at an obscure microbrewery on the edge of town, these pieces function... plausibly well. Those few who were there at any of those nights or others like them, might nod in recognition and think, “oh yes, back when Steev did that kind of thing,” Others might raise their eyebrows, repeatedly hitting the track-advance button with a mix of confusion and aesthetic shock, perhaps straining to imagine what it must have been like to sit and watch those shows.

Tucson, November 2013/October 2014


released October 8, 2014

Additional performers:
Bob Boster (CD players, eletronics), Merlin Coleman (vocals), Scott Looney (electronics), Wobbly (Jon Leidecker) (electronics), Ryan Francesconi (software), and the Evolution Control Committee (Mark Gunderson)(Thimbletron)

Instruments used by Steev:
The Sampletar (tracks 1-4 and 12)
An instrument consisting of three components: a guitar with MIDI interface, a sampler, and a computer running software written by me in HMSL (Hierarchical Music Specification Language). The software takes MIDI note information from the guitar and maps it to loop points in a bank of samples, so that essentially I can assing a 14 second chunk of sound to each string of the guitar, and index into a sound depending on where I fret on that string. Controller knobs were also mapped to things like LFO resonance frequency and cutoff.

Stampede (tracks 5, 6, 9)
Granular synthesis software for the SGI Indy platform, written by Gerhard Behle. Granular Synthesis is one of my favorite techniques, and this software is a quite nice implementation of it, giving the user 16 different parameters to tweak in real time. Hours of fun.

The Syntagm Engine (tracks 7, 8, 9, 10, 11)
An attempt to solve the following problem: How does one combine a performative practice of non-idiomatic free improvisation with an aesthetic of critical sound collage (critical in the sense of detournement, the removal of a piece of culture from its original context and its placement in a new context with the purpose of commenting on or critiquing that material or its origins)?^MOne answer: a relational database of sounds categorized by several variables (like intensity, "rhythmicness", "semiotic density", etc.) which can be easily queried to present source material that is connected. Hence a wide variety of material is available to be juxtaposed and organized via many possible relationships, though the relationships are chosen dynamically by the player. The name of this new instrument derives from the field of semiotics, in which a syntagm is defined to be a sequence of signs. A traditional example of a syntagm is a sentence, such as "man bites dog." Of course the words, or signs, in this sentence can be rearranged to form a new syntagm with a different meaning, like "dog bites man." Similarly, the Syntagm Engine is a tool for quickly forming sequences of sonic signs. The Syntagm Engine consists of about 7000 lines of Perl, SQL, and Csound code which run on a Linux laptop. I first performed with it in May 2000 at the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival. Much of the same code went into the Detritus Sound Concensus Bakery, an internet sound installation ( funded by New Langton Arts that same year.




Steev Hise Tucson, Arizona

Steev Hise is a composer, media activist, and filmmaker based in Tucson, Arizona. He has presented his work on four continents beginning in the early 1990s.

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