— Commentary —

A New Artistic Landscape

Joel Chadabe
Electronic Music Foundation
Albany, NY

Art may imitate life, but traditional art, at least, is not a part of it. Traditional art objects, like any objects of any time, are separated from the rest of the world by their boundaries. A musical object, as in a Beethoven symphony, has time boundaries of beginning and end, between which time passes in a way that is separate from the way time passes in the rest of the world. A visual object, as in a Rembrandt painting, may represent some aspect of the natural world, but it is based on an internal structure that functions within boundaries of dimension and closure to keep it complete and apart from our view of its real-life surroundings. In their content and in their structures, traditional art objects may occasionally reflect the quotidian life of their times. But they exist apart from life.

A major paradigm shift has been taking place through the last several decades in the mainstream of music and art. Art processes, different from art objects, are defined as much by the way they function as by the way they are heard or seen. Their boundaries are permeable because they are linked to the real world by their subject matter, or by interactive controls, or by interactive reception, or by their ongoing existence in a normal environment. By subject matter, I mean the sounds and images of the world (as in Annea Lockwood's A Sound Map of the Hudson River). By interactive controls, I mean a performer's or the public's control of the functioning of the process (as in Thomas Gerwin's Acoustic World Atlas). By interactive reception, I mean that a process is viewed in a rhythm determined by the public (as in David Tudor's Rainforest, where the public wanders through a space). By normal ongoing existence, I mean that a process can become part of the rhythm of the world rather than remain an object isolated from it (as in Max Neuhaus's Suspended Sound Line). Music and art, in other words, are moving closer to life.

To take the thought further, a new artistic landscape, based on involvement, participation, and a new role for art, is emerging. Technology, to be sure, is the enabler, but it is not the goal. The goal is to articulate the new artistic landscape in creative works of sound, image and process that involve people and invite participation and interaction. Crossings is going to help us understand that new landscape. And yes, we might even hope to reach a point where our lives imitate art.

About the Author

Joel Chadabe is the chairman and founder of the Electronic Music Foundation. He is also a composer and the author of Electric Sound. Mr. Chadabe is known for his pioneering work in interactive systems. He is currently Professor Emeritus at State University of New York (Albany) and Director of Electronic Music at Bennington College.

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