Center for Community Engagement

August already?

Submitted by Maxwell J. Suechting on Wednesday, 7/29/2009, at 2:36 PM

So tragically it is nearly August, which means that next week (my ninth @ CNMAT) will be my final one. With that in mind, I've certainly gotten a lot done here in Berkeley over those two months - since I last wrote I've conducted probably five or six interviews for CNMAT and at least four on my own. Aside from this I've harvested a good quantity of information relating to each of the artists and their work in order to prepare for the interviews.

The last two weeks, I've been participating in the CNMAT MaxMSPJitter workshops that take place every summer in the main room. Week 1 was the beginner-intermediate class, taught by Michael Zbyszyński, a researcher at CNMAT responsible for developing and maintaining the CNMAT Max depot over the last ten years. A lot of the first few days was pretty simple stuff that I had done before, but later on in the week I started developing a patch designed to loop and vary drum breaks (basically simple, sampled drum solos). Here's a screen shot of my first patch:

drumbreakerv1


Week 2 is being taught by Ali Momeni, a former grad student at CNMAT who now teaches at the University of Minnesota-Minneapolis. The class is centered on using control data from the iPhone app MRMR to control Max parameters - yesterday it happened to be for granular synthesis. Really fascinating stuff, actually. In my free time I've been working on a second iteration of my drumbreak software:
drumbreakv2


While the control algorithms are really, really, really simple, my Max skills aren't good enough to program them efficiently, which is setting me back a bit. Hopefully this will change over time. At least it seems to be.

**

A few of the people I've interviewed lately or will be interviewing soon:
Ali Momeni

 

Larry Ochs (of ROVA fame)

 

Georg Hajdu (this a performance using his custom Max software, quintet.net)

 

Starting to interview -

Submitted by Maxwell J. Suechting on Tuesday, 7/14/2009, at 8:06 PM

The last two weeks have been really, really busy out here in Berkeley - quite a bit going on, both here at CNMAT and elsewhere. God knows it's been hot enough - at least 80 everyday - but I have been sequestering myself in the heavily-shaded and well-ventilated conference room upstairs for relief. Thank goodness!

Anyway, I have done my first interview here at CNMAT, with kotoist and electronic musician Miya Masaoka. (Some of you may rember Miya's performance and lecture at Amherst in the fall of 2008, as part of Visiting Assistant Professor of Music Jason Robinson's Faultlines: Mapping Jazz in the 21st Century. Miya lectured at Amherst on several of her performance art pieces, including pieces written for bees and for Madagascar hissing cockroackes, which you can see trailers for here (not for small children or people with an aversion to insects crawling around on naked bodies):

She is better known for her work as an musician, utilizing her "laser koto" (an array of laser beams which can be plucked like strings to drive a bank of synthesizers and samplers) and her "koto monster" (a koto - traditional Japanese gagaku instrument - augmented with a variety of pads, pedals, and keys, that control a MaxMSP-programmed sampler). You can see clips of that here:

Now THAT is cool.

Anyway, next on the list is up-and-coming New York pianist Vijay Iyer. Incidentally, Iyer also performed on the Faultlines festival, with saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa in their duo Raw Materials. Vijay wrote a doctoral thesis here, with the help of CNMAT director David Wessel, that covers a variety of topics related to rhythmic cognition. (You can read it here.) We'll be talking about his work here and relating CNMAT to the wider world of music and scholarship today.

Coming up are composer Alvin Curran, Fernando Benadon, and David Bithell; I'll also be attending classes on MaxMSP and Jitter over the next few weeks as part of my experience here. (This is going to really, really cool - CNMAT offers some of the best Max instruction in the world.)

Berkeley's a beautiful city and I seem to be discovering more and more of it as time passes. The pier down by the marina is a great place to go for a bike ride or just to hang out and read; really quite a nice view. And this evening I'm heading to Sausalito (just across the Golden Gate Bridge) to see some music in the beautiful Cafe DiVino.

Aside from all of this, I've been spending plenty of time in the library, reading mostly about contemporary classical music. I'm really getting interested in John Cage's writings and theories - I've read several interviews with him, and I can't seem to get over how offbeat-and-yet-insightful he mangages to be. Particularly when he speaks about 4'33", his famous "silent piece,"  which you can see a video of here. A great movie on Cage, which I have just recently had the chance to see, is Revenge of the Dead Indians: In Memoriam John Cage (featuring, yes, Dennis Hopper):

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Interning at the ACLU National Capital Punishment Project!

Submitted by Rachel L. Tuchman on Monday, 7/6/2009, at 11:41 AM

Hello from Chapel Hill, North Carolina! My name is Rachel Tuchman and I am spending my summer down South working at the ACLU office dedicated to ending capital punishment in the United States. My office's work is two-fold. We represent clients currently on death row and we work with legislators and do public education campaigns bringing more awareness into the community about capital punishment. So far this summer I have worked on a number of different projects.

First, I was asked to put together a brief memo summarizing a recent bill that was passed in Nebraska, changing the method of execution from electrocution to lethal injection. My next project consisted of putting together 'talking points' about the death penalty in North Carolina. The talking points included research on race and the death penalty, mental illness and the death penalty, poor representation on death row, and prosecutorial misconduct. I was then asked to edit our website and update facts and statistics. The ACLU's website is one of the first to show up when google searching capital punishment so it is crucial to maintain the right information online. I am now working on editing a piece that was published a few years ago in collaboration with the ACLU Women's Rights Project entitled "The Forgotten Population: A Look at Death Row in the United States Through the Experiences of Women."

I have some photos to put up from an NAACP rally I attended with my office in support of Troy Davis, so check back in to see those!

A bit of what I'll be doing at CNMAT this summer.

Submitted by Maxwell J. Suechting on Tuesday, 6/30/2009, at 6:12 PM

My name is Max Suechting. I’m a rising junior at Amherst College, where I study English (with interests in literature and contemporary poetry) and music (percussion, electronics, and, er, “jazz”). My poetry and writing has been published in a few of the campus publications, as well as the Hanging Moss Journal (poetry) and the Scene (journalism). I grew up in Neenah, WI, which, while certainly a pleasant place, is about as interesting as watching grass grow.

So, after a college application process much, much worse than most, I moved to Amherst. (I still think I owe my acceptance to my father and grandfather’s Amherst years. My mother says otherwise.) After a couple of false starts my freshman year, I began to play music seriously in a variety of settings: with my band, Tashtego; in two different jazz combos (trio and quintet); in an independent study focusing on sound processing in MaxMSP and real-time networked performances using JackTrip; in each of the performances theses (including Ayyappan Venkatraman's "Istanbul") of the spring semester; and finally in a free-improvisational context. My guides along the way have been the inimitable Visiting Assistant Professor of Music and Black Studies Jason Robinson, as well as my friend and drumset teacher Bob Weiner.

At the same time as my musical tastes were developing, I began to read and write poetry more seriously. Helping me along were Professors of English Howell Chickering, David Sofield, and (former US Poet Laureate) Richard Wilbur.

In both music and poetry, my interests are equal parts emotional and intellectual; I like to take in and produce things that both draw in an audience in and spark conversations about a number of things. A large portion of my work as a poet focuses on a feeling of alienation or opaqueness, while my more experimental musical work is frequently divergent from trends in popular music and contemporary jazz. Generally speaking, my attraction to art (in all mediums) of this sort is an outgrowth of what seems to me to be an increasingly distant and superficial culture.

While I don’t have any strong ideological ties, I do feel that I am quite a political person. My academic interests include the ties between existentialism and post-modernism; the poetics of the avant-garde; whiteness and cultural relativism in America; and jazz history of the last forty years.

Outside of my classwork, I’m currently pursuing a long-term project centered on my experience performing “new music” – free improvisation, contemporary composition, experimental jazz, electronics, and so forth. An audio-based venture, I have been interviewing musicians in these fields over the last seven or so months, with the hope of eventually collecting my recordings (fifteen or so at the moment) into a longer, more cogent audio documentary dealing with the relationship between “out” musicians/music and the mainstream (in politicial, social, economic and aesthetic terms). Interview subjects thus far have included drummers Hamid Drake, Lou Grassi, Tom Rainey, George Schuller, and Warren Smith; jazz musicians (and educators) Susan Muscarella, Michael Dessen and Marty Ehrlich; electronics musicians Tim Perkis and Matt Davignon; and several others. With luck, this project will pan out to coincide with my senior thesis.

***

For now, though, it’s perhaps best to talk about just what exactly I’m doing here at the Center for New Music and Audio Technologies (hereafter referred to as CNMAT). Celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year, CNMAT has been a powerhouse for all sorts of interesting and current developments in musical technology; Amherst College Professor Eric Sawyere has spent a semester here, as well as famous French composer Jean-Claude Risset. Though CNMAT doesn’t usually have interns, they agreed to take me on here for the summer, and have actually given me a couple of excellent, excellent, excellent tasks.

A taste of several things related to CNMAT - first, director David Wessel performing on an instrument developed here, known as SLABS:

This is a video of a composer Jeffrey Stolet demonstrating the capabilities of MaxMSP/Jitter, a program used quite frequently for both compositional and improvisational music making:

 

The first – and slightly-less-excellent-though-still-pretty-great – task has been to work with various social networking tools to create a basic presence for CNMAT. (If you read my last post: this is what is known as irony.) The eventual plan is to develop a hierarchical hub of sorts using the Drupal CNMAT site to feed data to twitter, myspace and facebook, with the end goal of attracting users back to the very complex and chock-full-of-resources CNMAT site. In this way the various sites will care for themselves, rather than require a lot of manipulation and time spent.

My second job has been to compile notes on a variety of performers and scholars acquainted with CNMAT over its twenty-year history, covering their careers as well as their affiliation with the Center. This portion of the project is fairly well done. Come July, my supervisor, Richard Andrews, and one of the directors here, David Wessel, will begin to contact the performers, and if they are willing, I will conduct a brief interview with them to discuss their work and its relationship to CNMAT over the last two decades.

The end goal of this is two-fold. First, I’ll edit each of the interviews down to roughly five minutes clips, in order to produce a small artist profile to go up in a special section on the CNMAT site. This will go hand-in-hand with written info on each artist – their areas of work, well-known compositions, etc. After this is done, I’ll be editing the hours and hours of video collected over the course of the next month into a short (~15-20 min.) documentary…sort of a “best-of” for the artist profiles.

***

This week I've just started to send out the first wave of interview-invitations; responses (several yea, a couple nay) are beginning to trickle in. Hopefully there will be more substance about the actual results of my work within the next week or two.

Max Suechting @ CNMAT

Social Networking

Max Suechting's blog - Wednesday, 6/10/2009, at 3:45 PM

Before I begin, I have to say that it’s a bit intimidating to look at my (rather pedestrian) posts alongside the work of Andy Schmeder (Wii remote hacking, pendaphonics) and Adrian Freed (stringless 12-string cello). My recommendation would be to stop reading this and scroll down on your browser to read about some truly interesting stuff.

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Introductions

Max Suechting's blog - Thursday, 6/4/2009, at 3:42 PM

Good afternoon and hello to everyone. My name is Max; this summer I have the privilege of working here at CNMAT on a variety of projects, with the generous support of the Amherst Center for Community Engagement and it’s Fellowships for Action programs, as well as the help of Richard Andrews and the rest of the CNMAT staff.

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Blogging from CNMAT

Submitted by Maxwell J. Suechting on Tuesday, 6/30/2009, at 5:46 PM

I like technology; really, I do. I like digital cameras, and handheld recorders, and cell phones, and all sorts of things like that. I’m an electronics musician who regularly sets up and untangles  a million devices and cables, or sits up until the wee hours of the AM connecting virtual lines to virtual sliders and virtual boxes.

With that in mind – I don’t think it’s technophobic to be wary of it. (Technology, that is.) I worry that personal interaction is largely being replaced by virtual interaction (texts, facebook, twitter, etc.). Sometimes it seems as if the emphasis gets shifted from how one is to how one appears. There’s an artificiality about it that really throws me.

I dunno. Maybe it’s just me. I like letters and vinyl records and early free jazz and old furniture too, so maybe I’m just dragging my heels.

But! In any case – if I want to use things like this (blogs, facebook, myspace, and so forth)  while actively trying to avoid living in them, creating a virtual (and at least a little misleading) Max Suechting, then this blog ought to serve readers interested in what I’m doing, rather than to highlight all the fun little thoughts I have. (Incidentally, if you want to find some of my thoughts and even a touch of my budding jazz criticism, you can check it out at SHORTER, FASTER, LOUDER.)

Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for another post shortly.