Vol. 24 Issue 2 Reviews
CyberQuilt: An ICMA CD-ROM Anthology

CD-ROM (for Macintosh), 1999, ICMA CDR001
available from International Computer Music Association
1819 Polk Street, Suite 330
San Francisco, California 94109, USA
telephone (734) 878-3310
electronic mail icma@umich.edu
World Wide Web http://www.computermusic.org/

Reviewed by James Bohn
North Dartmouth, Massechussetts USA

CyberQuilt is a CD-ROM anthology put out by the International Computer Music Association (ICMA), curated by Brenda Hutchinson. The disc contains nine works that are roughly split between humorous and staid, with some living in the gray area in between. All of these creations were produced using Director (a Macromedia authoring program).

NoiseOrgan, by Ryan Francesconi, is my favorite work on the disc. It is a humorous homage to Futurism. The interface is laid out as a five-by-six matrix. Each square features a black and white image, most of which have a 'retro' look to them in terms of their content or graphic design. The thirty squares offer fifteen pairs, some clearly and closely related (featuring the same graphic, similar sounds, etc.), while others are more loosely related. When you click on a square, the image becomes animate and a sound begins to play. The animations and sounds have varying degrees of connection to the image they are associated with. By going "click crazy," it is possible to build up a nice thick montage of sound. The sounds shut themselves off on their own, after a point, while many of the animations continue.

Emma Speaks, by Mary Simoni and Joseph Marchant, is a very attractive, playful work involving video (Mr. Marchant), music (Ms. Simoni), and dance (Emma Cotter–choreography by Ms. Cotter and Mr. Marchant). The presentation takes place over what appears to be pixilated, digitally distorted images from nature. The interface consists of three computer-rendered, two-dimensional, stylized figurines in dance-like positions which toggle to different positions on MouseOver events. Clicking on these figures brings you to new vignettes. Each scene consists of a larger movie of Ms. Cotter dancing in various park-like settings, and a smaller movie showing empty swing sets with the swings in slight motion. The dance movies feature relatively long lap dissolves, which seem to complement the music with its lush harmonies that elide through the use of long release times.

So Yong Kim's work, shedog, consists of a looped black and white film. The imagery is very dark, and alludes to female grooming rituals. The music, like the video, deals with a lot of low-level repetition. It features several layers, a number of which are looped. Many of these sonic layers consist of trills, suggesting the monotony of the grooming routines. Make no mistake about it, I like shedog. I think it is a well-executed video work that is interesting and has something to say. However, I question its inclusion on this CD-ROM, as it doesn't take advantage of the medium in any way. It is clearly a video work which would best be distributed on tape. Seeing the work in quarter-screen video probably doesn't do it justice either.

Perhaps the work that takes advantage of the medium the most in terms of interactivity is sPhiral by Tina Jailani. In this piece, one navigates through an abstract, geometrical (fractally-oriented) world by clicking arrows on the screen, much the same as in popular video games. Personally, I am not very good at navigating this sort of environment, so I'm afraid I can't say that I have explored the entire work. I cheated, though, and looked at the source material, and found it all very interesting and attractive. Again, having cheated, I found that much of the sound was created using Tom Erbe's SoundHack program. If my guess is correct, Ms. Jailani used many of the same source files in different combinations to create convoluted sounds. The effect of this lends the sound environment the flavor of a "registered set;" that is, certain frequency components exist in a majority of the sounds. These sonorities make use of the stereophonic spectrum very effectively, and at times allude to gamelan music.

Elizabeth Hinkle-Turner's An object of… suffers from a bad case of excerpting. It is the third part of a trilogy based upon the composer's experience as a cancer survivor. This particular segment deals with societal expectations of feminine beauty, in light of the composer's experience, and consists of five movements, only three of which are presented on this anthology. By the time this three-movement excerpt is over, it feels as if the work has ended mid-stream. Visual materials are predominantly treated as two-dimensional sprites, and are often pixilated and flat in terms of contrast. However, the composer chose to integrate pixilation into her work so that by the time you're through it feels like a trait rather than a flaw.

Walking the Faultlines, by Roger Dean, Hazel Smith, and Greg White, seems to be an homage to Dadaism. The work allows you to superimpose several layers of sounds and text. While the work is interesting and amusing, the interface harkens back to the stark days of HyperCard.

The remaining works are predominantly humorous creations fairly modest in scope. I Love You, by Laurence Arcadias, is a very funny work in which an animated couple interacts with each other based upon which key the user presses (its use of music is minimal, though, so I'm not sure what it is doing on this anthology). Grace Chen's Stretch consists of a very short video/sound loop (funny, but not all that compelling). Funky Funk!, by Kirsten Beazley, consists of an animated girl who walks progressively faster to progressively faster funk music (again, not funny enough to entice one to watch it again).

Amazingly enough, I had absolutely no technical problems with the CD-ROM. The machine I tested it on was a 240 MHz Macintosh clone with 40 MB of RAM running System 8.0 (the CD-ROM does not run on Windows or anything else). While the projects did run smoothly when played from my hard drive (as recommended), they also played pretty well straight off the CD.

I hope that ICMA puts out a second CD-ROM Anthology. As digitally-based artists become better acquainted with this relatively new media, we should begin to see the emergence of a new strain of art, one where the audience is welcomed into the process–empowered, active not passive; an art form unconfined by the linear.