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Intermedia: Redefining American Music at the Turn of the Third Millennium

Intermedia: Redefining American Music at the Turn of the Third Millennium 

This article is a condensed version of: The Feminine Musique': Multimedia and
Women Today (2004)
Outside the realms of traditional art forms, intermedia incorporates digital video, sound synthesis, virtual reality, interactive audiovisual installations, the Internet, and a limitless array of technological innovation. With such a broad range of technological possibility at the composer’s fingertips, creativity reaches to the far ends of the imagination. Artists like Maryanne Amacher and Brenda Hutchinson create sound environments that evolve as participants interact with them. Carla Scarletti’s Internet gallery, Public Organ, invites Internet users to participate by submitting original artwork. Kristine H. Burns uses video generation and sound synthesis to create fluid visual images that captivate the audience, and Laurie Anderson performs large-scale multimedia operas wearing a multi-sensory suit that emits percussive sounds with each movement she makes. With such diverse artistic output, multimedia crosses over disciplines indiscriminately.

The history of intermedia stems from unique philosophical movements that mocked the establishment by an outrageousness and unorthodox approach to the craft. Futurism, Surrealism, and Dadaism birthed the idea of taking art outside of the gallery and into the streets. The Fluxists acted against the materialistic art business. They borrowed from Dada and Surrealism, creating performances of simultaneous unrelated events. Musicians, painters, poets, and a motley of other artists orchestrated these “Happenings.” Events ranged from Charlotte Moorman’s nude cello performance of Nam June Paik’s Sextronique to Yoko Ono’s Cutting Piece, where she invited the audience to slowly cut apart the clothing she wore. Performance art pieces, besides shocking art connoisseurs, stole unabashedly from visual art, electroacoustic music, and theater. A handful of artists contributed to the birth of Fluxism, including Alison Knowles. Both she and her
husband Dick Higgins conceptualized the idea of the simple over the extravagant, a major premise of this artistic phenomena. (1)

Meredith Monk grew up under the shadow of Fluxism. While a young dancer Monk performed in numerous “Happenings.” She fully plunged herself into performance art with her work, Juice (1969). The work showcased her unique choreography with the 85 performers and constantly played with “different spaces and changing sensibilities." (2) Each of the three parts took place in a different location, with one section involving the spiraling staircase of the Guggenheim Museum. In 1968 Monk founded “The House,” a performance art group. Incorporating her fascination with extended vocal techniques and her penchant for choreography, Monk directed the company’s interdisciplinary ensemble throughout the 1970s. In 1978 the newly created Meredith Monk Vocal Ensemble
presented concerts using African and Asian techniques, such as chanting, clucking, and ululating. (3) Monk turned her talents toward film in the 1980s, directing both Ellis Island and Book of Days. The 1990s watched her return to her theatrical roots, as she created operatic events, and the Houston Grand Opera premiered her full-length opera, Atlas: An Opera in Three Parts in 1991. In the late 1970s soundscape artist Liz Phillips used interactive sculptures and sonic environments to explore the relationship of the audience to time and space. Her combination of the visual and audio resulted in a “multidimensional space that responds to the audience." (4) Sunspots I and Sunspots II (1979–1981), involved an installation with a copper tube and screen acting as a theremin, triggering a nearby synthesizer based on the proximity of passersby. (5) Other works involved sensors that directed sonic events towards detected body movement. Phillips’ installations allow
the audience to evaluate the correlation of their own actions and the resulting auditory experience. (6)

Bridging the gap between popular culture and the musical community, Laurie Anderson uses music technology, pop culture, and references to the current political atmosphere in her compositions. Often described as a type of opera, Anderson's multimedia narratives shift from the immediate and real to personal musings. The dichotomy of her work “moves between being an exhibition of technology and live (bodily) performance, between being auditory and visual, between being authentic and inauthentic, real and unreal." (7) Anderson explains that “...electronics have always been connected to storytelling. Maybe because storytelling began when people used to sit around fires and because fire is magic, compelling, and dangerous. We are transfixed by its light and by its destructive power. Electronics are modern

fires.” (8)In the early 1980s Warner Brothers elevated Anderson to a cultural icon by contracting her to do several albums, starting with Big Science (1982). The relationship with Warner Brothers continued through several albums, including Home of the Brave. Eventually the contract expired, ostensibly because Anderson’s work did not generate enough revenue. Anderson continued creating multimedia works, including Empty Places (1989), the CD- ROM Puppet Motel (1995), and End of the Moon (2004), a narrative exploration of her experiences as NASA's first artist-in- residence. (9)
As the United States approached the 1990s, new technologies challenged artists to extend their creativity beyond the existent boundaries. The Internet and virtual reality moved the performance space into a virtual world, leaving concreteness behind. Video editing programs, priced within the ranges of the consumer, gave anyone the ability to
edit visual imagery like professionals. Realtime performances, run by Max or SuperCollider, enabled musicians to synthesize produced sounds as they played. Robotics, biology, and genetics joined with composers to develop music using scientific tools. An exciting world of limitless possibility had opened up and composers discovered that the realization of their imagination might be only a click away. With the final decade of the 20th century coming to a close, a cyberculture developed, one which became, “...increasingly comfortable with substituting representations of reality for the real." (10) Instant gratification transformed societal expectations as the digital age exploded exponentially. The “death of the author" (11) promulgated by the advent of superior computer systems, changed the notion of “artistic genius” as “originality and creativity [became] a matter of software engineering." (12) The computer, once
simply a tool used in the creation of a piece, became integral to the compositional process. Ironically, in some instances, the computer took on the role of composer as it ran programs input by the artist. Combining previous techniques with recent digital advances, composers produced a new generation of masterpieces.
Science and music joined forces in the works of composers at the turn of the millennium such as the works of San Francisco-based vocalist and composer Pamela Z, who used her technological skills to engineer the BodySynthTM, a MIDI controller triggered by body movements. A seasoned singer, she performs with extended vocal technique and bel canto, in conjunction with spoken word, percussion, digital delay and MAX/MSP. (13) Part of her inspiration for the BodySynthTM came from the freedom she felt as she layered percussive sounds and extended vocal technique with digital delays, saying that
“ hands and my body were freed up for gesture and movement, and I became more focused on the performance aspect of my work. I came to see the sound I was making, and my physical behavior while making it, as an integrated whole..." (14)Wanting to utilize this free motion, Pamela Z developed the BodySynthTM to compose in realtime using movement and gestures. Pamela Z composes in several mediums, including large-scale multimedia works, film music, and performance pieces. She produces Z Programs, dedicated to interdisciplinary events, and she performs in the interdisciplinary ensembles sensorChip and The Qube Chix.

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Composers have discovered that the inherently interactive Internet provides more than an advertising venue and instead creates opportunities for online installations and virtual exhibits. Though composers typically limit their sites with links to their music, biographical materials, and
publication information, Brenda Hutchinson, well-known for her instrument The Tube and her narrative pieces, has attempted to transform her web page into a work in its own right. Brenda Hutchinson’s Internet page, found at <>, opens with Sonic Portraits, a dizzying array of repetitive noise and white segmented lines moving in time to the looped sounds. Button selection triggers samples of her vocalizations. She takes the site one step further with the piece Sold (2004, in progress). Sold suggests scathing political commentary of America’s economic and foreign policy. Set in an interface representing the United States, disturbingly out-of-tune recordings of God Bless America permeating throughout, Sold gives the user the opportunity to explore some of Hutchinson’s own exploits into the streets of New York. Selecting a state adds another croaked voice to the dizzying strain of
disembodied voices. Hutchinson uses recordings of mental patients and homeless men to sing about the “land that I love.” The poignant irony, lies in the bold truth that the nation has failed these citizens. They must “stand beside her,” the country which relegates them to white walls and cardboard boxes. Sold exemplifies how a composer can use the Internet to proclaim a message through the cybercommunity. As web design becomes an integral component of music education more composers will use the Internet to both promote and produce new compositions.
Digital video editing software gave more freedom to visual artists by the end of the 20th century, and within the next decade, electroacoustic composers were regularly incorporating digital video into their compositional output. Ostensibly unrelated to popular music videos, a number of these works balanced electroacoustic music with visual imagery, sometimes in conjunction

with a narrator or live musicians. Thematic elements differed greatly from artist to artist.

Abstract forms, scathing political commentary, and personal documentaries number among the diverse collection of digital video compositions. Alicyn Warren, Assistant Professor in the School of Music at the University of Michigan, combines video, electronic music, and spoken word to create moving mixed media narratives. Two such pieces are Molly (1997) and Mirror Story: Graveside (2004), the first scene of an electronic opera. Mirror Story: Graveside intertwines live voice, video, spoken word, and music into an impressive multimedia experience. Director of the Electronic Music Studios at Florida International University, Dr. Kristine H. Burns’ treats the electronic score and the digital video as musical motifs that counter each other not unlike two themes in a classical work. (15) In Copper Islands, liquid metal entrances the audience with its circular undulations. Burns clearly
delineates each section, interspersing small motifs between longer audiovisual phrases. Copper Islands begins with an amorphous blurred patch of metallic yellow that teasingly appears and disappears from the screen, ending with waves of color subsiding and the piece resolving into a solitary line. At the University of North Texas, Elizabeth Hinkle-Turner’s intermedia works focus on her themes related to her personal life. (16) Her approach to composition derives its materials from introspection. Having conquered cancer as a young woman, she pulls from the strength she gained through the illness to develop works sharing her experiences. Her CD- ROM, Full Circle, meticulously documents her struggles, and having dealt with a number of obstacles as a cancer survivor, Hinkle-Turner reviews the societal and emotional issues related to the illness. The next generation of composers, such as Hsiao-Lan Wang, Maria Del Carmen
Montoya, Sabrina Peña Young, and Angela Veomett, continue to find innovative ways of incorporating video into traditional musical art forms.

The Amiga computer system processes realtime movement and displays visual patterns based on the input information, and many composers have used AMIGA in creating exciting interactive works. Using video, electroacoustic music, and logarithms calculated by the AMIGA computer system, Maggie Payne focuses on “[taking] natural sounds and transform them using equalization, convolution, phase vocoding - [with] whatever resources are available. (17) For Liquid Metal (1994), Payne collected samples of “unpleasant” sounds she recorded while on a canoeing trip. Using her prowess in the studio, Payne distorts and morphs the harsh sounds into pleasing tones. (18) In both Chromosonics: Alexander Lake (1991) and Chromosonics: The Lady That is Known (1993) she uses the AMIGA
computer’s ability to calculate logarithms based on changing video tint. Many of Sylvia Pengilly’s works utilize AMIGA’s Mandala 3000 computer system. In her work, Elemental Chaos (1992), the AMIGA computer calculates logarithms based on chaos theory. The end result splashes the video screen with mesmerizing fractals. Alternate Spaces (1999) uses the AMIGA computer to generate a video using the recorded figures of the dancers, a commonly used practice of contemporary dance concerts. By allowing the computer to generate these forms, Pengilly gives up full control over the piece, depending on the performers and the AMIGA to produce a cohesive work. Interactive programs, such as those produced by the AMIGA, have a definitive advantage over standard tape pieces in that they have flexibility. While tape pieces cannot pause without disrupting the concert, the AMIGA creates with live bodily movement. If the performer tires, the
AMIGA detects the slowed motions and produces video imagery accordingly. The unpredictability of each performance adds to the anticipation makes each performance fresh and interesting. (19)

Contemporary multimedia involves composers that incorporate computers into complex interactive installations and performances. In Lynn Hershman-Neeson’s 1992 installation, Room of One’s Own, she connects the user’s choice of object, say a telephone or a bed, to an erotic icon. (20) The viewer has unwittingly became a voyeur and a victim. (21)The McLean Mix, Priscilla Anne McLean and her husband Barton, use their expertise in electroacoustic to envelope the audience in an interactive sonic nature environment. The McLean Mix deals with the subject of nature and environmental awareness in their works. In Rainforest recorded sounds and pictures of the rainforest filled the room. The audience participated by playing acoustic and
electronic instruments provided, including didgeridoos. (22,23) Raymond Ghirado and Megan Roberts collaborate in large-scale video installations involving sculpture and electronic music such as Badlands (1988), where the pair constructed a dry and eroded mountain with a path leading to the summit 12 feet above the ground. Looking into the crater at the center of the summit, the observer sees the form of a person pounding the ground, an illusion constructed by three television sets partially buried below. Accompanying sound effects mimicking the sound of pounding fists further add to the believability of the construction. Soundscape artist Maryanne Amacher uses a combination of psychoacoustics and ambient sounds to create sonic environments. (24) Live mixing and speaker placement play an integral part in her soundscapes. (25) Amacher sometimes adds slides and other visual elements to enhance the space. Visitors often find themselves embarking on
an adventure as they explore one area and then another. Her works are considered “site-specific” because the installation conforms to the physical space it occupies. Current developments in digital technology have challenged composers to further stretch their imaginations and expand the definition of music to include virtual reality, artificial intelligence, software design, 3D animation, and Internet art. Cutting edge artists find themselves flooded by constantly burgeoning media developments. A significant number of these works actively engage the user with intricate environments and inviting interactive computer interfaces. Public Organ: An Interactive, Networked Sound Installation (1995) made its debut at the International Computer Music Conference. Created by computer programmer Carla Scaletti, Public Organ commented on the impact of the world wide Internet through the user’s choice of selected objects, such as a radio, telephone, or spray
can. (26) Scaletti co-invented KYMA, a sound design computer language, for the Public Organ project in which Scaletti designed an Internet gallery inviting participants to submit graphics of themselves, along with original graffiti. The installation instantly added the materials to the online gallery. Other composers, such as Sarah Peebles and Rebecca Allen, have experimented with the Internet and its use as a public space. (27,28).
Interactive virtual environments, cyberspace galleries, and music composed by artificial intelligence sound like features of a science fiction film, but such advances are soon becoming the archaic relics of yesterday. Intermedia has left behind pencil and paper, assimilating materializing technologies. The contemporary intermedia composer discovers creative uses for scientific innovation, from Pamela Z’s BodySynthTM to Carla Scaletti’s cyber Public Organ and Sylvia Pengilly’s algorithm-based video.
These composers have extended their craft beyond the horizon, “foreshadowing in their art the social impact of technological change. (29) Already composers have begun to cross the next frontier — biotechnology, virtual worlds, artificial intelligence, and neuroscience. Inspiration balances between invention and imagination.
1. Higgin, Dick.
Horizons: The Poetics and Theory of the Intermedia. Cabondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1984, pg 87.
2. Goldberg, Roselle.
Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1988, 143-144.
3. Jeffrey Byrd. "Meredith Monk." In
Women and Music in America Since 1900: An Encyclopedia. Vol. 1-2. Kristine H. Burns, ed. (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2002).
4. Mary Simoni. "Liz Phillips." In
Women and Music in America Since 1900: An Encyclopedia. Vol. 1-2. Kristine H. Burns, ed. (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2002).
5. Chadabe, Joel.
Electric Sound: The Past and Promise of Electronic Music. Upper Saddle River:

Prentice Hall, 1997, 327-328.
6. Mary Simoni. "Liz Phillips." In
Women and Music in America Since 1900: An Encyclopedia. Vol. 1-2. Kristine H. Burns, ed. (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2002).
7. MacArthur, Sally.
Feminist Aesthetics in Music. Westport, N.J.: Greenwood Press, 2002, 179-180.
8. Borchert, Gavin. "American Women in Electronic Music, 1984-1994."
Contemporary Music Review 16, no. 1-2. (1997), 89-97.
9. Laurie Anderson.
The End of the Moon. Gusman Hall, Miami. 23 October 2004.
10. Rene' T.A. Lysloff., "Musical Life in Softcity: An Internet Ethnography."
Music and Technoculture. Lysloff Rene T. A. and Leslie C. Gay, Jr., eds. (Middletown: Wesleyen University Press, 2003). 31. 11. Ibid.
12. Sarah Chaplin. "Cyberfeminism." In
Feminist Visual Culture. Carson, Fiona and Clair Pajaczkowska, eds., (Routledge: Edinburgh University Press, 1993), 270.
13. Pamela Z. "Bio". ,>, October 2004.
14. CDeMUSIC. "Pamela Z." ,>, (Electronica Music Foundation, Ltd., 2003.)
15. Elizabeth Hinkle-Turner. "Multimedia." In

Women and Music in America Since 1900: An Encyclopedia. Vol. 1-2. Kristine H. Burns, ed. (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2002).
16. Ibid.

17. Chadabe, Joel. Electric Sound: The Past and Promise of Electronic Music. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1997, 78-79.
18. Elizabeth Hinkle-Turner. "Multimedia." In
Women and Music in America Since 1900: An Encyclopedia. Vol. 1-2. Kristine H. Burns, ed. (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2002).

19. Sylvia Pengilly. "Sylvia Pengilly." <>, 14 9 2004. 20. Michael Rush. New Media in the Late 20th Century. (New York: Thams & Hudson, Inc., 1999.), 204.
21. Carol Gigliotti. "Women and the Aesthetics of New Media." <>, 20 June 2003.
22. Mary Simoni. "Priscilla McLean." In
Women and Music in America Since 1900: An Encyclopedia. Vol. 1-2. Kristine H. Burns, ed. (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2002).
23. Michael Rush.
New Media in the Late 20th Century. (New York: Thams & Hudson, Inc., 1999.), 204.
24. Kristine H. Burns. "Maryanne Amacher." In
Women and Music in America Since 1900: An

Encyclopedia. Vol. 1-2. Kristine H. Burns, ed. (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2002).
25. Borchert, Gavin. "American Women in Electronic Music, 1984-1994."
Contemporary Music Review. vol. 16. Parts 1 & 2. (1997), 93.
26. Chadabe, Joel.
Electric Sound: The Past and Promise of Electronic Music. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 337.
27. Sarah Peebles. <>, October 2004.
28. Art Interactive. "Rebecca Allen,
Bush Soul #3." < oul.shtml>, 13 3 2004.
29. Andrew Murphie and John Potts.
Culture and Technology. (Houndmills: Palgrave MacMillan, 2003), 39. 


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