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Union (2015) is an algorithmic system for mediating collaboration in telematic improvisation.

Remote artists send audio streams from their locations to the performance venue in a live collaborative improvisation. The musicians interact via the Union system which is an algorithmic mechanism which aims to mediate interaction between performers and find musical consensus in the incoming audio streams.

The system analyses the incoming audio streams in realtime using a Music Information Retrieval library. Streams which are sonically most similar to the others are mixed louder than divergent streams. The algorithmically mixed streams are played in the performance space and sent back out to the network so performers can also hear the final mix as played in the performance venue.

The mixing process is regulated by an algorithm which generates a sonic density graph for the performance to ensure a musical ebb and flow and tries to give all performers approximately the same amount of ‘air time’.

Union responds to the logistical challenges of developing a large ensemble of female laptop musicians and aims to mediate collaboration between geographically distributed performers in a non-hierarchical way. The audio streaming software used is IceCast which is low bandwidth but has a long network delay time. This software was chosen over software such as JackTrip – which has much lower delay times but requires high bandwidth internet – in order to be as inclusive as possible e.g. to performers who don’t have access to institutional network connections. The delay between sending a stream and hearing the final mix with IceCast is up to ca.10 seconds meaning performers are playing with a degree of asynchronicity. This adds an extra challenge to performing telematically, which Union aims to ease by taking care of some elements of musical organisation and structure.

The performance plays with ideas around consensus and musical agency within a system that blurs the boundaries of cooperation, unity, presence and temporality.

Union was developed in 2015 as part of my research into non-hierarchical collaboration, laptop ensemble organisation and gender in technology, as well as experiences of performing with BiLE and the Grande Internationale Audio Stream Orchestra. I developed the system while I was a member of FLO (Female Laptop Orchestra) and it is now the collaboration system used by OFFAL (Orchestra For Females And Laptops).

OFFAL was formed in 2015 in response to research by members of the group around gender in digital technology and laptop ensemble practice. OFFAL is a non-hierarchical collective which aims to connect women engaged in electronic music and to develop technological systems and organisational practices to facilitate collaboration between women with an interest in laptop performance.

The premiere performance with the system can be heard here:

– Performances –

8th March 2016 / International Women’s Day Concert, Durham University Music Department, Durham / OFFAL (Orchestra For Females And Laptops)

27th February 2016 / Audioblast Festival, Nantes (FR) and Online / OFFAL (Orchestra For Females And Laptops)

24th June 2015 / Sound Kitchen @ Prague Quadrennial 2015, Prague/ FLO (Female Laptop Ensemble)

5th June 2015 / Klang Festival, Durham University Music Department, Durham / FLO (Female Laptop Ensemble)

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