Randy Adams with Jim Andrews about Nio
Randy Adams: Online Studio, Jim Andrews: Vispo.com
Session Start: Thu Mar 22 22:58:45 2001 [22:58]
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<Adams> Apart from its technical considerations, what is Nio?
<Andrews> The particular content in it now is a two part interactive audio piece for the Web that combines sound poetry, music, and visual poetry of my animations and vocals. I hope people see it suggests a new form of music. Though, since the audio and the visuals are pretty tightly conjoined, it might be described as a multimedia form rather than solely a musical form. The underlying program, which I wrote in Lingo, is a player, like the Real Player is a player, of synchronized, interactive layers and sequences of audio and animations for the Web. You interactively construct these layers and sequences of sound/animation. It synchronizes multiple layers of rhythmic sound and provides uninterrupted audio between sequenced sound files, and synchronizes the animations with the sound.
<Adams> I see Nio as a playful work. It is fun to interact with. Was this intentional?
<Andrews> Yes. In making 'interactive' works, whether they're interactive in the ways we associate with computer/person interaction or in the ways we associate with poetry on a page—which of course is also interactive—or email or IRC, say—which are totally interactive—you seek to engage and to be engaged meaningfully, deeply, intensely. And of course this also implies 'playfully' as in any good relationship. The poet Michael Ondaatje said 'Seduction is the natural progression of curiosity', or something like that.
<Adams> I find the same element of 'play' in much of your work. Such as Seattle Drift and Enigma n.
<Andrews> Those were the first, uh, 'interactive' pieces I made for the Web in DHTML (Nio is in Shockwave). Yes, in Seattle Drift, you can 'Do the text' or 'Stop the text' or 'Discipline the text'. I wanted the actions that you could take to be personally and literarillllllly meaningful.
<Adams> Much of your work is interactive. Nio is particularly so. What makes interactivity so attractive to you?
<Andrews> Good question. I think it's probably a few things. I like driving a computer—I mean, we sorta drive the thing, it isn't going anywhere unless we drive it—and I like interesting drives. Sex drives, beauty drives. Actions taken, consequences discovered. Also, I'm drawn to programming, making executables. You know, execute the jig. I like to watch the ways letters and words hang out together.
<Adams> Are you a compulsive programmer?
<Andrews> Compulsive? I would say I am no more compulsive a programmer than I am a writer. There's compulsion and then there's obsession, I think they should be distinguished. I do feel a need to write and program and do visual work, yes. Obsession is out of control. I guess we border on these things from time to time, or fall over the border sometimes. You know yourself how that goes.
<Adams> In a way, Nio is a program that writes itself. In other interactive sound works I have seen on the web, it is the music that is primary. In Nio, you have integrated the visuals. People can create 'songs' as well as 'visual poetry'. How did you arrive at the mix of audio and visual?
<Andrews> Yes, it is compositional for the player. That interests me greatly, and is strongly related to what I was talking about with the new form of music/the new form of multimedia. I would love to create beautiful compositional possibilities. Yet not make the thing be like an instrument that requires such study. Sort of between being a fixed musical piece and a musical instrument in its combinatorial complexity. What types of music do this? That's a big question to me now. My work is all about synthesis of arts and media. I really wanted Nio to integrally involve sound and visuals. The audio was done first, there's a piece on the web with the same audio. The visuals, well, I composed those in Flash to be in rhythm with the music. The visuals are a kind of visual poem—that's what I've been doing for ten years is visual poetry. Often the animations are partial phoneticizations of the sounds. At other times, they are simply in visual rhythm with the sounds. Since the sounds are synchronized with the animations, Nio is, in part, an exploration of the tone of motion of language, of sound, a kind of lettristic dance, vortex of letters, an odd visual/sound poem.
<Adams> Nio is a very complex work, but also very human and approachable. I am curious about the sounds. How did you arrive at them? Do you have a background in music?
<Andrews> I was a drummer in a couple of bands (uh, does that count?), but mostly my background is in radio and sound poetry and writing. I'm not really out to be a rock star. I'm primarily a writer. I used Cakewalk to record the sounds and Sound Forge to edit them. I sat in front of a microphone and first recorded the finger snapping and then recorded further tracks, improvising over top. And then further tracks over top of those. Then mixed what sounded good together to my ear. And each of the recordings was the same length. You can do that in Cakewalk. So it's a type of writing, if you see what I mean, inscription, studio work, going back over what was previously 'written'.
<Adams> Were you thinking of sounds as lettristic from the beginning?
<Andrews> No, the sounds came first and I just tried to make interesting noises that could layer. But I knew I wanted to incorporate visuals from the time I called my whole approach to interactive audio Vismu (visual music) which was quite early on.
<Adams> How long has Nio taken to develop? And what did you learn?
<Andrews> I wrote a couple of essays that are part of the Nio project. One's called 'Nio and the Art of Interactive Audio for the Web'. And in that essay, among other things, I talk about the development process involved in Nio. In short, it took about a year to write Nio.
<Andrews> What have I learned, well, of course I've learned a lot of Lingo, digital recording, and Flash stuff. But I think you mean something else. Um, it has been quite a year, actually. I was working in Seattle (had been for the last four years) in the .com biz when I started the Turbulence.org commission, which I knew was going to be interactive audio. But then my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
<Andrews> I felt I was needed back home in Canada, so I quit my .com job. But I also wanted to quit it to pursue the interactive audio work full time, was smitten with such work by the time the decision point arrived as to whether to stay in Seattle or head home. Also, you know, when someone close to you is terminally ill, it tends to makes you re-dedicate yourself to doing what you really love since we don't live forever.
<Andrews> Losing my father was a hard thing for me but especially for my mother. It has been great to see her work through that and re-surface with strength. And it has been great to do this work that reconnects with my past in sound (I produced radio for six years in the eighties) and combines my love of the visual, the literary, and programming.
<Andrews> And it has been encouraging to return home to Canada and discover that there's some interest in my work here. I don't know whether this describes what I have learned so much as some of the experiences of this last year.
<Adams> Why two versions/verses of Nio?
<Andrews> That's kind of funny, actually. Nio was only verse two for the longest time. But then it came time to make the thing stream nicely to 56k modems. And I found that it would be a lot of work to make verse two stream like Nio does. So I introduced verse one, which is a lot like a previous work called Oppen Do Down, only a bit more deluxe in some ways. That's how verse one came about. The funny thing is that many prefer verse one to verse two.
<Adams> Then it was a concern about accessibility? For us sorry folks with 56K modems?
<Andrews> I had a 56k modem for a long time. And many people have them. It's a bit of work to get things to stream nicely, but it makes you think more carefully about each little stage of the piece and what you are sending people. The piece reveals itself gradually, grows more possibilities (forwards and aft) as it streams in.
<Adams> Verse one loads very nice. In manageable bits. For someone with a 56K modem, there is something to play with immediately. Do you view Nio as more than a visual/sound toy? What other applications might it have?
<Andrews> One of the things about Nio is that it can deal with layers of rhythmic music. So you can take songs and chop them up into loops (even better if you have different recordings of the vocals, drums, etc) and then allow people to rearrange the music arbitrarily or with constraints. And you can associate one or more animations (which themselves may be interactive) with each of the pieces of the song, so that you end up with a very different sort of music video for the Web than we have seen so far and perhaps a different song than you started out with. Very interactive and engagingly compositional both sonically and visually, hopefully. So, for instance, I'd like to produce such alternative music videos for commercial sites and work with bands who would like to push it in such ways.
<Andrews> There are also biz possibilities for working with companies that sell music online and would like to be able to provide their customers with ways of mixing the music online.
<Andrews> Also, it would be nice to be able to record your own sounds in Nio or similar pieces and also introduce sounds from your hard drive. And there are also possibilities for online jamming that I talk about in one of the essays. And also performative possibilities. There's a multi-user server for Shockwave that permits multiple people to communicate simultaneously. So there are lots of possibilities artistically, technically, and in business, I think, concerning interactive audio for the Web.
<Adams> This sounds like quite a step up from the music video.
<Andrews> Music videos are from a different medium. I'm very interested in developing both 'the tools' and 'the art' of interactive audio for the Web. I don't see any progressive reason to separate the two.
<Adams> Do you think that the web is particularly suited to tools of this nature?
<Andrews> Well, yeah. I mean, the computer itself is a very interactive thing, and the Web is also very interactive—between people and also between people and works/apps. It's a communications thang, yes? As the Web gets more broadband and also as compression and streaming technology are marshalled to provide more sound, animation, and video, the question arises whether the Web just turns into some commercial variant of the telephone, TV, radio, etc. I'm sure there will be a lot of passive and conventional uses of the media/um. But one of the things that attracts me to the Web and to the computer more generally is that you drive the thing quite actively or it doesn't go anywhere.
<Adams> So, you are also interested in breaking down some barriers, between creative people and the delivery of their work?
<Andrews> It is always already a highly interactive thing where we engage and are engaged with others and with works. I would really like to see interactive forms of music, new forms of music integrated with other arts and media, arise from the Web. And I would really like to see artists taking meaningful roles in the creation of the tools/art forms involved in the creation (and creation of creation) of art and other activities on the Web. Both as makers of tools and makers of art/other good things, and exploring the border blur between those two, which Nio and some of my other work does.
<Adams> One of the interesting possibilities that I foresee with something like Nio is the ways in which visual artists will be able to work with musicians and technicians.
<Andrews> Yes, I think that's exciting also, really. Web.art is so much about the lovely dissolve of such borders, it really is exciting.
<Adams> Do you feel like things are just getting revved up in Web.art?
<Andrews> Yes, I do. Sound has just come of age on the Web, via sound compression, streaming, and tools like Shockwave and Beatnik. And also broadband, though that is far from ubiquitous. Video is next, I guess. So then we have quite a broth. I called my site Vispo ~ Langu(im)age—language and image—but that was a few years ago. Now there are several other media involved, not least of which is sound.
<Adams> How much of a role did Turbulence.org play in the creation of Nio? Did the commission help to put a fire under you?
<Andrews> O yes. Money helps. It was great to be taken seriously. But you know I've been pursuing my folly for some time anyway.
<Adams> One other thing that is interesting in many of your works, the code is visible to anyone who want to look. But plugins such as shockwave don't allow for such snooping. No one can steal Nio.
<Andrews> Yes, very true. Although you can hide code if you want to with Javascript. Well, I have written two essays with the Nio project, one of which is called 'Nio and Audio Programming with Director 8' which pretty much reveals the main ideas behind verse one of Nio.
<Adams> Yes, I saw that and wondered about your sanity.
<Andrews> I think it's important to let people snoop as much as possible. That is a part of furthering the art, which is important to me. I think the real substance of works is not really so much in the source code as in the juice. And the juice is what it is. Tough to make off with the mojo, ya know.
<Adams> OK, that's a (w)rap. Thanks Jim.
<Andrews> Cool. Thanks Randy.
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Session Close: Fri Mar 23 00:57:43 2001

March 23/2001
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