on Metacosm at NMF, by sdf

reflections on the first Metacosm performance, by sdf 20120131

What HELOpg proposed to the Network Music Festival (NMF) requested the use of a space for an interactive installation / performance that would last several hours.  During that time we would have continuously constructed, mostly through livecoding, the Metacosm instrument (if instrument is the best word for it) which is conceived as a single entity comprising multiple laptops and other hardware.  The technical and philosophical underpinnings of the Metacosm were named as the SLIME System.

Understandably, the NMF was unable to allot a suitable space to host our experimental happening, but did offer a 30minute performance slot instead.
In accepting this performance opportunity it was necessary to rethink the construction of Metacosm, and so used the three rehearsal times we had available to develop the SLIME System.

For each of us (sjb, jb, sh, and i (sdf)), the task was to adapt our own individual laptop-instrument-systems to interface with one another, and thereby create a single entity collaboratively controlled by the group.  The SLIME System involves networks of both control data (via OSC on UDP) and audio data (via analogue connections to and from the NetMixer by sh).

For my own part a decision made at the start of this process may have set me up for avoidable hardship;  rather than take ‘sdfHELOrig’ (the modular performance toolset that has been in use with HELOpg since 2009, and is itself built upon the _inever system developed as part of my MA in 2007), I opted to take my current PhD project sdf.sys_beta and implement some the network features that were already high on the to do list of that project.
The result, therefore, was a experimental extension of an experimental system which was initially designed for compositional modes of working rather than improvised performance.  None the less a specific setup of sdfsys was established and a set of /slime OSC namespaces published to the other HELOpg players.

HELOpg performed Metacosm at the NMF on Sunday 29 January.  The published program note was that of our original proposal for a long installation type performance thing. My contribution to the 30 minute set was hindered by (perhaps inevitable) technical problems : the laptop I was using to send and receive OSC was not receiving all of the messages, and a level of panic set in. I have yet to see/hear a recording, so cannot be sure how it went, but at the time it felt like there was some strong transitions of state in the soundscape, and agreed with someone who afterwards said it sounded ‘really tense’.

In conclusion of this rambling post,  the SLIME System offers valuable modes of interaction but more careful planning is required to make good use of the possibilities in performance, and, finally, while the pursuit of experimentality is worthy one should not abandon one’s tried and tested tricks.

HELO At The Network Music Festival

Sunday 29th January // 4pm Birmingham

HELOpg presents the premier of the SLIME performance system at the Birmingham Network Music Festival an interactive laptop network sound system; an installation, live performance, hackathon event where more laptops than performers share data and audio signals (via even more wires).