Past Present, Future Perfect: The Future Music Summit 2012 Recap

Photos by Cory Garcia
DJ Spooky and the Telos Ensemble on stage, his iPad app on the big screen behind him
The most surprising thing, and maybe the most amazing, about the 2012 edition of the Future Music Summit didn't take place during a presentation or during the concert. It took place during the afterparty at Herzstein Plaza just a little before midnight.

During the day, during presentations and meals, attendees of the festival heard plenty of discussion about music, technology and how humans interact with both. When it was time for the concert portion of the Summit, those attendees were not the only ones in the audience; locals from the Round Top area had stopped by the concert as well.

The locals, used to the more traditional classical performances that take place at the Round Top Festival Institute, seemed at first perplexed by the cyborg orchestra, the augmented violin and the DJ curator. In a concert hall in the present built for music of the past, they got a glimpse of the future.

The locals loved it.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Patrick Flanagan (left) and his cyborg ensemble (center/right) perform as Jazari.
The Past: The Saturday Night Concert

The symposia part of the Summit was the opening act for the Saturday-night concert. It was a chance to take the theories of the day's earlier presentations and turn them into practice.

The cyborg percussion ensemble known as Jazari started off the evening. At the center of the literal drum machines stood Patrick Flanagan, who used a controller and computer to fill the hall with beats and synthesized audio.

Flanagan had spoken earlier in the day about technology as the extension of human ability. Jazari might be the name he goes under, but there's no question that Flanagan is one of the funkiest one-man bands on the planet.

While the end result is electronic in nature, it's his presentation that separates Flanagan from your average DJ or producer. Real drums have a certain presence that sampled drums often lack. They give the performance a certain energy compared to the sometimes sterile feeling that samples have. Literal drum machines also make for an interesting bit of spectacle.

Violin virtuoso Mari Kimura can do incredible things with a violin and bow before technology enters the equation, but it's that use of technology that makes her performance unique among classical musicians.

Using a motion sensor glove to track her movements and a computer to interpret the data, Kimura is able to record her performance and manipulate the way it's replayed. It gives her the ability to accompany herself, going from solo violinist to single-person duet.

At one point in her performance, she allowed the audience to view what she sees on her computer on the projector screen behind her. It was an attempt to pull back the curtain on her methods and show the audience how her technology works.

It was the opposite of having a magic trick exposed. Rather than demystify the performance, it actually made it more impressive. Kimura reveals herself to be a virtuoso multitasker, having to read music, keep up with her computer program, be in control of her hand movements and play violin at the same time. It makes for a performance unlike any violin soloist's you've come across previously.

Part composer, part teacher, part storyteller, DJ Spooky closed out the evening with a series of compositions fusing the old and the new.

Consider his version of Bach's "Goldberg Variations." With a bit of inspiration via Glenn Gould, it starts off as an almost straightforward classical piece before being remixed and then remixed again into a final version that is a crushing bit of hip-hop. It was something that would sound at home in an alternate dimension where DMX went in over classical beats.

Talking to him after his performance, one of the things that Spooky stressed is that everything is information, and all information can be used by composers. Music can be a collage.

This idea was most evident in his set closing "Winds of Change." The piece, originally commissioned by the NAACP, combines live strings, hip hop beats, sampled audio and archive video to teach a 100-year history lesson. It's a powerful message on video, but in a live setting the way he manipulates his audio, interacts with his string players and keeps in time with the video made for an emotionally satisfying conclusion the concert.

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