Built upon shared interests in technology, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, Axon Ladder is a multimedia performance installation by Bhob Rainey and Cahtherine Pancake. Combining algorithmic electronic composition with real-time video manipulation, this world premiere evening length work offers a timely view into the intersection of advancing technology and human intuition.
From the composer:
Imagine, on the one hand, a modest algorithm that describes a population of creatures who want two things only: to eat and to be near each other. Give them a field of "food" and rules for birth and death. Set the creatures in motion. You will see a space that throbs with activity, a population that grows and shrinks unpredictably. To witness it is hypnotizing and occasionally horrific, like the teeming goo under a wet log. On the other hand, imagine an expressive synthesizer with too many "dials" to be performed. Picture nine of these synthesizers. To make them do things we find musically engaging, weâ€™ll write a program that moves dials to interesting places in sequences that we hope to be poetic. Weâ€™ll tell that program what we like and what we don't, and it will learn something from us.
Put the two hands together. What happens? The "creatures" infect the music, which is quite dense and furiously transforming. Individual phrases have a human quality, but the density of changes and presence of uncanny silences suggest the creatures' obsessiveness and the fragile stability of their population. The timbre is roughly vocal, and intense spacialization evokes a swarm. At the level of short events, there is an overload of information. Yet, the larger structure brings a sense of purpose, so that a space is carved out for navigating an environment teeming with expression.
Alone, this music is evocative of the seductive but troubling relationship we have with "lifelike" technology. Yet, there is more that can be done to tickle this tension into the concert space. By feeding the music into movement and mediating that movement through video representations, we extend the resonance of this human-technological knot and form a loop-like structure: artificial life (technological presence) -> musical composition (aesthetic activity) -> dance (embodied aesthetic activity) -> uncanny videography (technological mediation). The formal clarity of this loop, along with the strong impact that audio / visual collaborations bring, will significantly heighten the actual experience of the conceptual content of this work.
ABOUT THE ARTISTS
Bhob Rainey is a composer / performer. He has a long and well-regarded history as an improviser, known for a masterful yet often understated technique that transforms the soprano saxophone into an electronic-like, textural, or percussive device. He is also known for his ongoing critique of improvisational practice, which has brought influential concepts and stylistic components into the practice as a whole. While Rainey has worked with numerous improvisers globally, he is best known for his solo work, Nmperign (with trumpeter Greg Kelley), and his direction of the improvising large ensemble, The BSC. Rainey also works in the realm of electronic and algorithmic composition. In 2013, Rainey was awarded the prestigious Pew Fellowship in the Arts for his work in these areas.
Catherine Pancake is an award-winning filmmaker and sound artist. Her work has been presented nationally and internationally in a wide variety of venues, including the Museum of Modern Art, Royal Ontario Museum, Baltimore Museum of Art, Academy of Fine Arts Prague and Big Screen Plaza, Herald Square NYC. Her awards include the Paul Robeson Independent Media Award, Jack Spadaro Documentary Award, Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award, the Silver Chris, and Edes Foundation Emerging Artist Fellowship at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her films have been broadcast in the U.S.A. and Great Britain and are distributed by Bullfrog Films and the Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre. Sound art releases can be found on Ehse Records and Recorded in Baltimore. Pancake completed her MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in May 2012. She is currently a member of the Vox Populi Gallery in Philadelphia, PA, and is an Assistant Professor in the Film and Media Arts Program at Temple University.