By Rebecca Bulnes
By Lee Zimmerman
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Imagine, if you will, music that is beheld. Imagine stepping into an orchestra and experiencing it from the inside. From that vantage point the view is inseparable from the notes. It's not watching like one watches television, but rather seeing in the mode of listening -- images are nonsymbolic, direct. The rhythmic soundscape is not framed and mounted on the wall; instead it is everywhere, all around. It stretches as far as the eye can see and as deep as the ear can hear.
Imagine, but don't expect to actually experience, all that at this Saturday's Recombinant Music Lounge at the Port of Miami's Terminal 12. Because although something like the "tactile, 3-D audio environment" described in the event's press release has been experimental musician Naut Humon's dream for a long time, he's admittedly not quite there yet. The Recombinant Music Lounge was designed, he points out, as "a sneak preview."
The show's eclectic lineup features avant-garde New York City electronic artists We, DJ Spooky, and Badawi, plus London club DJ Mixmaster Morris, as well as a handful of hip-hop turntable wizards, including the Bronx's X-ecutioners, L.A.'s Beat Junkies, and San Francisco's Invisibl Skratch Piklz.
Also on exhibit will be installations by Austrian artists Hive Music and Granular Synthesis. The former will import sounds and images from remote Miami locations to Terminal 12 through a specially designed recording network. The latter will present an audiovisual production called MODELL5, which Humon describes as a step toward "a new language where the visual is functional, not decorative."
Simultaneously, one floor below the Recombinant Music Lounge, expect a more traditional evening of performance featuring the bands Electric Skychurch, Rainbow Bridge, and Vortex. The Recombinant Music Lounge is the third event of its kind, at least by that name, and the first on the East Coast (the other two were held in L.A. and San Francisco in the fall of 1996). Central to the event is a six-channel audio delivery system called Sound Traffic Control. According to Lloop, who performed at the 1996 Recombinant festivals as a member of We, it employs technology developed for cinematic surround sound, as well as signal-delay techniques originally designed to perfect the amplification of music in venues such as football stadiums.
The word recombinant comes from the field of genetics. It refers to the process through which offspring come to possess characteristics not present in either parent. Sound Traffic Control is the machine that will link all the Recombinant performers' music together, but how did artists from so many disparate scenes end up on the same bill in the first place? To understand that, one must grasp the aspirations of Humon -- the man behind Sound Traffic Control. And to understand, in turn, how Humon sees the future of music performance, you have to consider his past. After a stint as a child professional stage actor in his native Seattle, the teenage Humon became involved in San Francisco's experimental theater scene in the early Seventies.
"We decided that the best way to deal with creative modes was to start from scratch," he says. "Throw away the script and the preconceptions and start from a blank slate." One event that Humon helped to stage, Dancing on Dead Rock, took place in complete darkness. He and other actors in the company (which later took the name Cripple Destiny) played the roles of mobile pieces of furniture. They also used rented rain machines (the kind used for film shoots), plus devices to spread different aromas. Thus they created a "climate" for the lightless performance room, with live and (then very experimental) tape-splice music filling the air.
"People would start off afraid and then get accustomed to it," Humon recalls. "They'd be transformed and would eventually start initiating activity and dictating what was going on, reacting to how the weather conditions in the room were changing." For the finale, he adds, "as people emerged, actors portraying news reporters would take flash pictures and interrogate the audience."
If Dancing on Dead Rock served as a metaphor for what Humon terms "a culture getting used to the dark," his subsequent work with the group Cellar M provided a new slew of challenges. Cellar M evolved out of Cripple Destiny's soundtrack work. As most Californians grooved to the harmonious sounds of Crosby, Stills and Nash and the Eagles, Humon and his cohorts were breaking into abandoned San Francisco warehouses, "like one with a twelve-second echo," he remembers, "then modifying vacuum cleaners with surgical gloves to make this siren sound."
Cellar M's performances fell somewhere between concerts and theater, sometimes merging music with recorded narratives or video techniques developed by high-tech artist Nam June Paik. Humon became increasingly interested in the use of hypnotic, synthesized rhythms. By the Eighties Humon and crew had a warehouse of their own: the Bloody Angle Compound, a 1500-square-foot space located in a nonresidential part of San Francisco. It's there that performance collective Cellar M evolved into the recording group Rhythm and Noise, which toured the United States in the mid-Eighties.
On the road they sought to redefine the orchestral process. Perhaps because of the musicians' theatrical background, they saw their collaboration as analogous to the work of a film crew, as opposed to that of a band. Rhythm and Noise thought of itself as a network of cooperating workers -- each with a completely different job, all of them contributing to a technologically integrated whole. Instead of instruments on one side of a room and an audience on the other, they imagined listeners at a hub surrounded by sounds in fluid motion.