Laptop: Visualization of the Musical Instrument in Digital Music Performance

Speaker: Dustin Morrow, Temple University. Moderator: Madeleine Clare Elish. Abstract: This multimedia project examines the artistic/expressive dimensions of the visualization of music in its exploration of the conscious and subconscious interpretations of live performance. Laptop musicians attempt to take something that most people regard as distinctly non-visual - digital music composition - and make it visual through recognizable conventions of live concert performance. Computers are now commonplace in the composition of music, but few people can conceptualize the computer as an instrument that can be played live. Audiences assume that any use of a computer in live performance must be automated and pre-determined. The artists in this project demonstrate that the music created on a laptop computer is every bit as adaptable as any instrument in an improvisational jazz ensemble. While many consider digital music to be cold and disconnected, the artists in this project bond with their audiences, engaging them intellectually and emotionally. This project questions the visual interpretation of music, the line between what we see and what we hear. It breaks down the relationship between the audience and the performer, and explores the expectations and limitations of visual aspects of live performance. It seeks to redefine our conceptions of traditional live instrumentation and composition; positions fragmentation and postmodernism in digital music; and demonstrates the potential for improvisation in live digital compositions. And it attempts to measure the role of the computer in contemporary music, as it comes out of the studio and onto the stage, transitioning from a behind-the-scenes tool to a visual instrument.