16 / 11 / 02 – 15 / 12 / 02
Exhibition / Films / Talks / Performance

Ruta Remake (2002)
Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas (LT)

Playing Ruta... and Listening
Otto Kränzler

"Women's Interviews" (Excerpts)
"Ruta Remake" Main Page


The “Theramidi’s” two sensors produce two MIDI signals, Note‑On‑Events conceived as vertical, and Volume values conceived as horizontal (controller 7). Since the light’s incidence and the sensitivity of the sensors are analog, these tend to be fluctuating and somewhat unstable values. A script for the Macromedia Director which was written by Steven Greenwood calibrates the Note On Events in 13 half-octave steps, corresponding to the 13 layers. The volume values are calibrated to correspond to the spots in the weaving pattern. Allowing for practice and careful attention to feedback, it creates the possibility to perform in a reliable and reproducible way.

Since the weaving pattern involves a plant’s representation, the 63 sound mixes are selected and arranged such that a movement along the plant produces what is perceptible as an auditive process of growth. By means of a dense layering of sounds from each of the 13 categories, the semantic content is suppressed or cancelled out, thus intensifying the phonetic and onomatopoetic mood. This can easily be appreciated in traversing the "empty" parts of the pattern, which correspond to the pure background texture.

The lowest layer consists of very breathy, consonant‑laden language. Layers 2 to 5 range from poetic language, recitation, bright and excited verbal sounds through to cries without recognisable verbalisation. Music is added from layer 6 upwards. The highest level of mixing is reached in layer 10, where the original sound already contains a considerable element of reverb. The final layers consist solely of music, for the most part songs sung by female voices with various accompaniments. After the middle layer’s incessant flood of stimuli, the ultimate layer 13 involves a return to a gentleness similar to that of the first. In this layer, something suggestive of a blossom, or of many small blossoms, becomes apparent.

The theme of "growth" is not so much handled associatively, or in terms of content, but formally, by means of condensing and loosening the fabric of sound. The term "ruta" echoes the French ROUTE (= road), the English ROOT, and also the German RUTE (= rod) – a further reference to the process of weaving. These conceptual associations become programmatic, especially the suggested method of interweaving. In contrast to the mixes of John Cage (Fontana Mix, Rozart Mix), the algorithm is in this case no longer used when it comes to performance. In the process of sound composition, the algorithm has exhausted its purpose; thus here is arguably a closer kinship with the simultaneous compositions of Charles Ives, despite various acoustic parallels to aleatoric currents in contemporary music. And isn't there something suggestive of sound mixing in Gustav Mahler's use of an off-stage orchestra?

The essential difference from reproduced musical works is, however, that in this case a visitor can individually attempt to make the plant grow by playing with the interactive arrangement. For experience, practice, communication? As a question, experiment, game? That is up to the individual. The sensors are hardly more difficult to handle than a computer mouse, but they give a clear sense of manually controllable malleability.

By gesticulating a sound sculpture in the air, one plays with the very same medium that carries the sounds to the ear. It is not a step towards the frequent dream of a music controlled by mind (whereby brain signals produce music from a computer). Rather, it is music making with both hands. Not IT plays, but I play.

The listener can either use skill and care in selecting, or remain satisfied with what is given by chance. One can ignore what comes across as too insistent, mistrust each unexpected treat and avoid all largesse. Far away and uninvolved, for periods one feels perfectly content, but still one fails to resist the urge to get involved. With luck one will provide parcels of precious virtuosity to others of one's ilk, parcels consisting of constantly fluctuating, changeable, partly anonymous, partly pseudonymous substance.

The person who merely listens is only passing through.

Unless the composer-demigod allows for it, who will otherwise listen to such sounds? The performers are our best audience.

The sound artist Otto Kränzler joins with the project to interpret the "ruta" pattern and translate it into a language of sound. He has devised a conceptual and technological system to weave samples of voices into the live mixes controlled through the Ableton Live software.