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Listening Through the Firewall: Semiotics of sound in networked improvisation

  • Roger Mills (a1) and Kirsty Beilharz (a2)

Maturation of network technologies and high-speed broadband has led to significant developments in multi-user platforms that enable synchronous networked improvisation across global distances. However sophisticated the interface, nuances of face-to-face communication such as gesture, facial expression, and body language are not available to the remote improviser. Sound artists and musicians must rely on listening and the semiotics of sound to mediate their interaction and the resulting collaboration. This paper examines two case studies of networked improvisatory performances by the inter-cultural tele-music ensemble Ethernet Orchestra.It focuses on qualities of sound (e.g. timbre, frequency, amplitude) in the group's networked improvisation, examining how they become arbiters of meaning in dialogical musical interactions without visual gestural signifiers. The evaluation is achieved through a framework of Distributed Cognition, highlighting the centrality of culture, artefact and environment in the analysis of dispersed musical perception. It contrasts salient qualities of sound in the groups’ collective improvisation, highlighting the interpretive challenges for cross-cultural musicians in a real-time ‘jam’ session. As network technologies provide unprecedented opportunities for diverse inter-cultural collaboration, it is sound as the carrier of meaning that mediates these new experiences.

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