No Interesting Music or Expression

Comment on NIME++ 2010
One speaker during the week used a school magazine trick of presenting his paper backwards because, wait for it, it was about contrary motion. Gimmicks are no substitute for content, as evidenced by an uninspiring final concert to the NIME++ 2010 conference in Sydney.

With five minutes venue changeover time we were herded into a cold foyer to witness various constellations of the mobile phone (read iPhone) orchestra. Poor old Stelarc’s articulated head from earlier in the week was slumped to the ground, disconnected. The geniality of the opening evening dissolved - no drinks - and we were asked to switch off our own phones.

The performance was a dispossessed and musically unimaginative collage of dully choreographed lo-fi idiocy that plunged music and technology to unprecedented depths of gratuitous platitude. The performers were from Stanford University's Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics. Between pieces they inexplicably switched between iPhone and iPad, though no sonic difference between the two "instruments" was discernible. Various rhythmic samples were employed, but not even rudimentary synchronisation was attempted. The most sophisticated of the various childish manoeuvres was a type of Mexican wave, whereby each player in line swiped their screen to the same colour then chirped in turn. The iPads excited me for a moment because I hoped the funereal mood would be broken by a unison slamming of tablets into respective foreheads as in Monty Python's Holy Grail.

As informed and serious musicians and listeners we have a responsibility to maintain quality in our performances. As useful and smooth the iPhone is as a phone, we have a responsibility not to swallow everything it emits without scrutiny. These are unpromising musical instruments, with a limited playing surface, no touch sensitivity, and sound quality (despite Altec Lansing sponsorship speakers) worse than a transistor radio. A badly sounding, ill-conceived and dour act by performers with little experience and no stage presence needs to be labelled and dealt with as it really is. Empty Trash.
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