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Wednesday, June 6 • 7:30pm - 8:30pm
Music Piece 8B.4

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108 Troubles
by Rob Hamilton


In an age where massive data stores are accessible in real-time from tiny devices in our pockets, on our wrists or (perhaps soon) implanted somewhere in our bodies, the manners in which information is vetted as truthful or accurate before being disseminated _should_ be an issue of great importance to us all. The appropriation - or hijacking - of a narrative or the simple misdirections caused by an incorrect translation or reference can quickly mask and erode actual fact, replacing it with sloppy fictions floated to the top of our lists by search algorithms that seek only to give us what we want: fast and "free" data with little regard for the how and why.     It was in this way that "108 Troubles" was born, initially inspired by a chance visit to the massive Tian Tan Buddha statue on the outskirts of Hong Kong. The guide-book describes a computer-controlled bell housed within the statue which rings 108 times each day, in the author's words, "to symbolise escape from what Buddhism terms the '108 troubles of mankind.'" A compelling narrative: computer-controlled musical systems representing contemplative lessons from a spiritual icon, culturally as well as geographically distant from "home".     Such a story could stop there. However after even the most basic amount of research into Buddhist tenets, numerology and ascribed belief systems, it became painfully clear that that enticing phrase "108 troubles of mankind" might not be exactly... right. While the number 108 certainly holds many important roles in Buddhism, references to "troubles" or any common synonyms never materialized. The phrase feels mired in a between-space, born out of misdirection and misunderstanding, yet prominently displayed for billions to see, ingest and pass along.     "108 Troubles" seeks to embrace that between space, combining traditional musical elements from Western and Eastern cultures but without context or clear reference to either canon. Twenty-first century technologies - most notably EMPAC's amazing new wavefield speaker array - are brought to life by an actuated piano blended with computer-generated models of traditional prayer bowls. Musically, the work focuses on obfuscated and recontexualized material: a composed piano score was performed by pianist Chryssie Nanou, reduced to a data-set and "re-performed" as filtered through a computer algorithm. For the last two weeks, that data set has powered an installation running in this space, presenting one long and languid view into the musical space.     For tonight's concert, that re-performace is now accompanied once again by the same pianist performing a new piano score, itself derived from the algorithmically-filtered source material. Musical forms move along at varying time-scales, as human performer and computer system seek to reconcile their inherent differences by adapting and reacting to one another.     This type of self-referential and ouroboric form feels especially pertinent within today's hyper-charged political environments, where a political flak can seed the media with a damaging statement about an opponent's health, backing up his claims by asking constituents to "go online" and search for stories about her "illness". Our very act of searching for answers feeds the algorithmic snake, so to speak, ensuring that the mispresented or misdirected information continues to percolate across the interwebs, stored forever as fuel for a future search, ready to stoke a future discussion without context or validation.     This work was made possible by support from EMPAC, the Rensselaer Department of the Arts and pianist Chryssie Nanou to whom this work is dedicated.

Artists
avatar for Rob Hamilton

Rob Hamilton

Assistant Professor of Music and Media, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institu
Researcher and composer Rob Hamilton explores the converging spaces between sound, music and interaction. His creative practice includes mixed-reality performance works built within fully rendered networked game environments, procedural music engines and mobile musical ecosystems... Read More →


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