Ars Electronica 2000
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Festival 1979-2007


Notes on small Fish

'Wolfgang Muench Wolfgang Muench / 'Kiyoshi Furukawa Kiyoshi Furukawa / 'Masaki Fujihata Masaki Fujihata

Active Score Music

The idea of a synaestetic bonding of sound and image is a recurring motif in artistic work; the possibilities currently afforded by computer technology make available fascinating tools with which to implement that idea. Masaki Fujihata and Golan Levin— independent of one another—have confronted this problem and come up with ingenious solutions including Scribble and Small Fish.

Ars Electronica has invited the two artists to premier their installations and software modules as digital media instruments in a concert performance.

Scribble combines elements of graphical and music software in a dynamic and highly expressive way, and enables this artist/musician quartet to perform orchestrated as well as freely improvised music.

Small Fish is primarily an interactive picture that produces music. In this concert performance, it is used as a digital instrument. Active

Masaki Fujihata / Kiyoshi Furukawa / Wolfgang Münch
Notes on Small Fish
The world of abstract expression pioneered in twentieth century art by Schoenberg in music, and Kandinsky and others in painting can now be given concrete expression thanks to the interactive media made possible by computer technology.

By now we have become quite accustomed to thinking of dots and lines in relation to music, but we must still use our imagination before we can hear music in painting. Indeed the whole point is to use our imagination to anticipate that music.Watching a movie about painting while playing music can only cause our imagination to shrink. The primary theme of this work is “interaction.” The production of meaning in semiotic theory requires a mutual interaction of signifying codes. If we can create a space in which the meaning created by painterly elements such as dots, lines, and colors interacts with the meanings created by the tone and pitch of instruments, it should be possible to have a concrete experience of and appreciation for the space of abstract meaning. The point is not to engage in some kind of cerebral interaction after each element of the painting has been decoded, as one might look at a painting, but to draw the meaning out through direct interaction with the images. Thought does not follow experience, it is itself experience. That is the primary condition of the interactive environment.

Our Small Fish is an attempt to create such a space. The dots and lines placed on the computer‘s electronic canvas have elements of musical notation, but they are also instruments for the interactive production of sound.

Initially the user may experience some difficulty understanding the various meanings of the symbols on the screen, but those meanings gradually become clear as he or she begins to manipulate them. Eventually the sound sequences generated will begin to sound like “music.” (In any case we know that our brains are always trying to distinguish music in noise. The way in which people begin to hear music is thus an indication of the depth of their musical culture and background.) The search for meaning is made more complex here, going beyond mere “symbols” with the addition of music. The pleasures of movement and of music yield subtly to each other in a common progression.

There is a lot of talk of the infinite possibilities of interactive art using computers. The free combination of a range of elements is said to astonish us with bizarre and unpredictable happenings. All of this may be true in a laboratory setting, but it is quite another matter to produce chance happenings and offer them up to an audience as art. In this project we felt it was extremely important to find a way to delimit the background and potential of each element in the interest of generating meaning. The fascination of relations emerging over time derives from the extraordinary complexity which can arise even within a set of rigid limitations.

Small Fish is designed so that users will come to understand the musical structure proposed by Furukawa through precisely those limitations. Repetitions, rising and falling sequences, the left and right hand of the piano—all classic musical structures —can be heard amidst the chaos. But no amount of manipulation will cause them to coalesce into perfect music. The overall effect is like a child thrusting his arms into a running stream, trying to catch a fish.

Small Fish was released by Cants in 1999 as part of the ZKM Digital Arts Edition #3.
At the Ars Electronica Festival, however,we will present a special performance version in concert.