Pandemic Media Space: artists at the intersection of the web and art The pandemic has deepened our dependence on centralized digital platforms that instill a fixed view of the web. What worries me is that the digital environments in which we exist are often built on the principle of stimulating sudden reactions in a distracting environment. This is due to the business model that monetizes attention. It produces dependence rather than true comfort and freedom in such an environment. Yuri Bulka

Юрій Булка. Фото: Сергій Горобець, ліцензія cc by-sa 4.0

The new technological platform Pandemic Media Space, which is dedicated to music and media art, has become a tool for creating special projects during a pandemic. Soon fourteen authors from Ukraine and Poland will present their works on the website. We talked to them about creative ideas, lockdown, the meaning of this collaboration in their lives, and the future of Pandemic Media Space — so what comes from it? Read the answers of the first seven artists.

 

Monica Szpyrka

Pandemic time felt strange, at first filled with a lot of additional stress and fear of what the future would bring, whether I would be able to create and present music anymore. After the first month of constant insecurities, I started to make music independently, on my own, and with close friends during “homemade” concerts. It started to become fun and helped decrease my worries a bit. I would summarize this time as a mix of very stressful moments: missing live performances, meetings, etc.,  and on the other hand, occasions to strengthen inside, not letting myself give up. Also, I had a chance to have a fresh look at the music, to be closer to it again. 

When I first got the info about the PMS project, I thought that it is a great experience to confront my thoughts about pandemics in a creative way, especially in a group of various artists with distinct approaches. We’ve met with other participants during several Zoom meetings, mainly sharing our ideas and reflections considering our future works.  

In my piece “In Constant Rapid Collisions”, I focused on temperature, which I found the most interesting in the pandemic context. At first, I started my work by constructing the holistic structure of the form. I used all average monthly temperatures in Poland, considering the beginning of the lockdown in March as a starting point and ending in December 2020. I divided the whole piece into ten inner segments, which corresponded to temperature consecutively. Another step was to emphasize the correlation between sound and temperature, which affects its speed. Molecules at higher temperatures vibrate faster and sound waves can travel more quickly. In effect, the sound is more bright and crisp in lower temperatures and opaque, damped in higher. 

As a result, the sound was being filtered depending on the level of temperature in each segment. Constant micro-transformations of grains assisted it in different types of sounds, which were imaging vibrating molecules. The piece’s main idea was to oppose two perspectives, macro and micro, and create a musical relation between found parameters. The crucial element was also a reflection about processes that last constantly, but one is not always aware of that and usually cannot change them. 

And therefore I found the Pandemic Media Space project inspiring, especially in terms of these new connections between collected data and sound, transforming processes that appear in real life into musical structures. As important was also reflecting upon life in pandemics, realizing changes and challenges that it brought to us. 

The platform could become an empowering space for any users seeking inspiration in a more real-life-based context: the actuality of the topic, the flexibility of using collected data, and a historical value in the future. Works by various artists presented on The Pandemic Media Space website could influence other users to use raw data creatively. 

 

Yuri Bulka

In the very beginning, I realized that I wanted to create an interactive sound work that would exist exactly in a browser window. Therefore, it was important for me to act on the web to make a small contribution to the “decolonization” of this space from a monoculture of “monetized attention” in favor of art forms of expression and the creation of individual, independent spaces. In this sense, I am very inspired by net art, although I dare not call my work purely net art.

The voice became the second important element for me. In fact, the whole composition is based solely on my friends’ voices who suffered from coronavirus disease and recovered. I followed two other principles: first, it had to be the voices of people who were not musicians or actors; secondly, there’s only the nonverbal aspect of the voice — I do not use words.

I was interested in the individual, even the physical dimension of the pandemic experience. And the digital audio signal is the same data as any other. There is no fundamental difference — it’s just a certain value that changes over time. We make sense of the data at the moment of interpretation. My composition is an interpretation of human voice and body data collected with a microphone.

Voice is one of the things that has been confined between a pandemic. In video conferencing it seems to become “two-dimensional”, “flat”, losing its connection with both space and body. Remote audio codecs often significantly narrow the spectral richness of the signal. I wanted to “liberate” the voice from its “plane”.

The first level was the processing of records. Part of the material was preprocessed in SuperCollider, part remained virtually unchanged. Next — programming in JavaScript using the Web Audio API through the library Tone.js. Farther sound processing and compositional logic work right in a browser of the listener’s computer.

The browser is still not as stable an environment for sound synthesis/processing as, for example, SuperCollider. It does not guarantee that the composition will work 100% stably on each device. For example, browsers on smartphones do not provide enough speed for this song, so it should be opened on a computer.

Yury Bulka. Рhoto by Serhiy Horobets, cc by-sa 4.0 license

But that shouldn’t push us away. The more we use the web for audio the more the web will adapt. I expect that powerful specialized tools for working with sound on the basis of Web Assembly will appear soon (already today it is possible to work, for example, with Faust, there are also attempts to compile SuperCollider and Csound in Web Assembly), and we will be able to do even more difficult signal processing with less powerful devices right on the web.

Pandemic Media Space became an impulse for me. This is a project bringing together people from two countries and asking questions, and that is a great tool to start the process of creative synthesis. For me, it was a question of awareness of 2020 and the changes that have occurred as a result of the pandemic in the coordinate system of different temporal and spatial scales. What is this event in the context of abnormal climate change that has been going on for decades? Or how does it affect the experience of one person’s daily living? And how will this change humanity in the long run?

No less important is the fact that Pandemic Media Space as a web platform immediately and resolutely declared itself in the plane of the web and art intersection. This may seem like a technical detail (we all seem to be used to working with the web at home), but it is an important aspect of the project in the context of continuing and developing a certain tradition of media art in Ukraine.

It’s hard for me to say whether we can talk about another big paradigm shift right now. It is rather a continuous, iterative synthesis of individual creative paradigms. John Cage said that in his works he asks questions without giving answers. In my opinion, the essence of Pandemic Media Space is to stimulate creative thinking of the evolutionary and civilizational moment in which we find ourselves so that our “today” is a fertile ground for our potential “tomorrow”. Who knows, maybe there we will find a wealth of new musical and synesthetic languages!

 

Konrad Gęca

The main thing I liked about the idea for Pandemic Media Space was that the compositions should be created as a comment to certain phenomena observed in the real world. It means that the output can be something more than abstract music affecting only our emotions — which is for me quite boring and that this simple gesture of starting with some data describing our reality allows us to move the composition on a deeper level, providing many — musical and non-musical — layers. Making the long story short — my idea was that the piece should be very long and a little uncomfortable, so that no one would listen to the whole thing

The conception was predicted by the topic of the piece “Dzik jest dziki” — conspiracy theories. And once we realize that a conspiracy theory is simply less probable theory, then we can only affirm helplessness and tell jokes. And in a broader context, unless we can, it’s actually not so bad. 

Coming back to Pandemic Media Space — the initial assumptions are interesting. I think it’s too early for me to judge the possible meaning and impact of this platform at the moment but can only say that it was one of the most interesting projects I’ve been working on recently, providing many interesting questions. Pandemic Media Space is still in the process of self-determination, once the pieces are uploaded on the platform you can answer by yourself if there’s any use for it. 

 

Ostap Kostiuk

I wanted to make my work “1.5 Meters” as simple as possible. The title reveals a physical measure for social distancing recommended by Ukraine’s healthcare ministry. Eventually, I use wind data because the wind is a flow of air we all normally share as humans. And so is the sound as we are used to naturally perceive it by moving air

At that time of working, I watched some of Kim Ki-Duk’s movies. He sadly died of complications from Covid-19 on December 11, 2020. And I really liked the soundtrack to “Samaria” and the film itself. It seems to me that music for films is not a completely independent piece of music, because it complements the picture, works on it, creates an atmosphere. So I tried to do something similar in my work. 

There are only 4 main tracks, as in classic tape recordings, minimal effects, and compression. I just wanted to convey the atmosphere and the dynamics. I left there some things that happened quite by accident. But in the movie “Samaria” I liked the music, now I listen to it just on my player.

For me, Pandemic Media Space is a chance to see how other people work, what interests them, what techniques they use, what’s their way of living. It was also the first experience of online lectures, including the Zoom program. That technology is terrible, especially when it comes to the sound quality, but still better than nothing. I sympathize with the musicians who play online concerts in the empty rooms in front of the camera. It’s very difficult to play without a live audience.

In this case when I try to see this project’s prospects and accustom myself to the thought that it’ll last. Every time I think something won’t happen, it happens. I feel deeply edge about distancing between us humans that are caused by tech progress and growth of information we perceive daily, social class distancing, communication breakdown between political leaders in many issues that cause violence and irresponsible behavior in relation to the earth we all share together. I believe we need to be more careful and attentive to each other to overcome the future. 

 

Michal Janocha 

The piece I made for the PMS platform is called „Polska 2020” (Poland 2020). The other project participants and I have an opportunity to creatively use lots of various data. It reminded me of how statistics were part of our lives in the year 2020

In my pieces, I prefer to work on live or prerecorded sound and video, but this time I wanted to create a specific “digital atmosphere”. Therefore, the entire visual layer is graphics, not photos or recordings. I find it significant for the year 2020, we all lived very different lives than before, our social life became mostly digital, our work and everyday activities became digital. We were surrounded by numbers and statistics every day, especially by statistics related to the pandemic situation. This year was also very important for the social and political situation in Poland.

Michał Janocha. Photo by Marije van den Berg

My work has two versions: the first one is the audio-video piece and the second one is the interactive Max/MSP patch which you can use as the instrument and play „Polska 2020” music and pictures in your own way.

The most value of Pandemic Media Space is creating actual space dedicated to music and art. There is a huge lack of those places in these times. The PMS platform has a chance to be one of those places prepared for online art viewers and listeners.

Writing for that kind of platform is extremely inspiring, but also demanding. The Internet, like any other medium, requires from the composer thoughtful actions during the creation process and a good understanding of the medium.

Browser art, web art, net-specific art — we already know many approaches to the art made in (or with the usage) of the Internet. PMS is original because of the data available for everyone. I hope this can be a trigger for further art activities such as algorithmic music or stochastic musical constructions based on those data.

 

Danylo Pertsov 

Frankly speaking, until the site was launched, I had no idea what to do and how to sculpt it. Earlier I had to work with data — for the last few years, I’ve been building a complex system based on the spectrum in Max/MSP/Jitter. But here the idea of ​​the project concerned the Earth. Covid-19 statistics did not interest me: I watched various materials about the weather on YouTube, but could not come up with anything specific. It wasn’t until I first opened the site that its very structure led to a premonition: you’re sitting somewhere on a beach in Goa, at the same time it’s snowing in Kyiv, at the same time a storm is roaring in Cape Town — in fact, a compositional idea came out of it.

Somewhere in the parallel world, there are fellows for whom this simultaneous existence is a material being, they are no matter where, and at the same time in distant lands live separately parts of his business body, like the tentacles of an octopus, but as they say — “his money work”.

Danylo Pertsov

Some successful composers probably feel something similar — such as the late authors of the song Happy birthday to you, Brian Eno, who composed the screensaver for Windows, as well as an unknown author to the major chord with which the Mac starts. This is the general idea of ​​human civilization — it can be seen as a return to the original, ancient state of life when you multiply in spores and spread around the mycelium — something similar, by the way, we do now in our pandemic project.

So I decided to take as a basis four points on the map — the offshore: Belize, Cyprus, Italy, and New Jersey; accordingly, the name “Investment Climatology” immediately emerged. The topic of investment, in general, is a kind of sacrum for political establishments

In the end, the instrumentality of the work logically emerged — the piano was to act as the protagonist. Taught by bitter experience, I tried to write as simply as possible, instead of increasing the number of pianos to four. Ideally, of course, we would like to be able to play each game with one finger. And in the final part, the victorious Theme of the Finger sounds, simple and descending, in contrast to the ascending Theme of Investment from which the work begins.

Initially, I developed generative systems — two were planned: something like an arpeggiator with Fm-synthesis and a spectral ambient generator based on solar spectra. In the piano part, only one parameter is used — pressure.

Here I was inspired by the modal system of Leonid Grabovsky, whom I consider my mystical guru: I equated the magic number 1023, called “one atmosphere”, to the Ionian pentachord — 1111 in the ternary system, and thus obtained a sequence of chain frets in which he freely composed as will be tempted, except adhering to advantage for performance.

Pandemic Media Space was planned, among other things, as a means of survival, as a way to save the lives of those professionals who are most dependent on public life, and therefore the most affected by the pandemic — musicians. That is, it is not just an aesthetic game on a topical issue, not a conceptualization of this civilizational catastrophe — it is first a platform for effective cooperation, an oasis where you can remain a musician, artist, person for some time without feeling the need to become a courier, loader or robber.

But for me, paradoxically, this is the first entrance into the “adult” musical life. You could say I’ve been a pandemic composer all my life. It was this project that gave me the opportunity to work in my specialty for the first time. 

I do not agree with Manovich that from now on everything should be completely different, but I share the excitement before the discovery of the living tissue of the universe in aesthetic dimensions. We are surrounded, vibrated, and lived by the majestic song of the Cosmos, which is given to us in the flow of numbers, images, sounds, in the interweaving of genes and the evolution of matter, it is both eternally old and eternally new, and it is a great miracle that we grew up. When we become able to comprehend this incredible greatness.

 

Paweł Malinowski

This fantastic project was an inspiring creative challenge for me. I was considering how to choose the right tool for the piece, having in mind that due to pandemics, it is impossible to plan the direct interaction with the audience. That’s why I decided to compose a stereo track, which everyone could listen to on their devices, regardless of the technical equipment or isolation restrictions. 

The main inspiration for The Empty Mall Lo-fi Serenade was the internet phenomenon of remixing evergreens, (the Toto’s Africa is a classic example) to imitate them playing back in the abandoned shopping centers. That simple procedure results in a very touching musical image of longing and solitude. The emotional aspect of those remixes was brilliantly described by Jia Tolentino in “New Yorker” in 2018. The absence of interaction with the common public places, including their unique sonic features, is noticeable even more explicit through the lockdowns. 

In the presented piece, I decided to expand this idea even further: by creating several independent reverberated artificial sound spaces, through which the musical material was filtrated. I started with making some lo-fi hip-hop tracks. I picked that nostalgic genre, as, during the time of isolation, its soothing nature become extremely supportive for me (see playlists like Will Smith’s chill beats to quarantine to). Then, the music was sent to the mentioned earlier, virtually built reverberated rooms. I worked with the idea of frozen time, long decay, and slow deconstruction of the lo-fi timbres.

I consider the Pandemic Media Space as a great platform to share my creative thoughts and ideas. It was a very inspiring and supportive encounter with many great artists! Including the project coordinators: Alla Zagaykevych, prof. Marek Chołoniewski and Anton Stuk.

I believe, that the Pandemic Media Space has become an important and vivid virtual place for music creators. The tools prepared by the fellow engineers and musicians look very promising. Including the data into the composition could be very promising, and it certainly adds another depth layer to the pieces. I’m excited that so many creative possibilities are opened now.

 

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