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Arts, Music

Circuit Music

Posted by Jer / February 14, 2007


The audio circuitry at the core of most electronic instruments is frequently taken for granted. Watching a great guitar solo, a superb synth riff, or an impressive vocal performance, we're prone to forget the very components that make these sounds possible. Jamie Allen not only recognizes the importance of these circuits, he's got a whole show devoted to them.

Allen is a New York-based sound artist who uses technology to alter people's traditional relationships to art and sound. His current show, Circuit Music, relies on improvised live audio circuit construction. Mixing raw noises like a DJ mixes records, Allen's work is an unpredictable experiment in electronic music. You can catch Allen and his Circuit Music at La Société des Arts Technologiques (SAT) on Saturday night, as part of the Montreal screening of the video game documentary 8 Bit (an event curated by Cindy Poremba, Concordia Humanities, among others, and featuring local DJ/art dude tobias c. van Veen).

I sat down with Jamie to ask him a few questions about his art. And by sat down, I mean we emailed back and forth. Here's what he had to say:

MP: Building and bending circuits? Whhhaaaa? Please explain.

JA: circuit music is a performance i do that consists of a bunch of breadboards and raw electrical components - TL082 operational amplifiers, resistors and capacitors, to be exact. during the performance i build, reconfigure, and re-wire circuits into and through one another. the result of all this mayhem is then presented to a set of hopefully very loud speakers. a full-body square-wave audio massage.

What should someone expect from the event at SAT on Saturday?

bleep! blorp! bloop!

Sound artist? Audio-Visual engineer? Musician? DJ? Where do you see yourself in that spectrum?

i spend an almost unhealthy amount of time thinking about technology "interfaces" - outside of my own artwork and music, i teach technology and interactivity at both and NYU and Pratt, as well as doing a lot of work in museum and exhibition technology design. when you design a piece of technology that creates some effect in reaction to, or better yet in conversation with, a human being, you are also necessarily designing the expressive potential and creative methods available.

you could, for example, simplify your pathway to music making by limiting the number of options available to a group of 'presets' or 'modes' - which seems to be the idea behind most, if not all, audio software. or you might purposefully frustrate your path to sound creation, by designing a situation you aren't always in full control of, that has complexity beyond your capacity to 'understand' it in the way you might come to understand a guitar or piano. this creates what is (perhaps uniquely) a pure improvisational experience, as it prevents a performer from relying on familiar licks and comfortable hooks. it's part chance, part agency, but its all happening right there, unrehearsed. it's kind of an anti-interface - it's the electronic music equivalent of banging two stones together.

these ideas have been addressed by people a lot smarter than myself in the past, perhaps most notably, by David Tudor. but you didn't ask me about any of this really, so now i'm just rambling. in any case, these issues are relevant to sound art, audio-visual work, musicianship and dj-ing so i suppose i think of myself as a designer, working across that entire spectrum.

oh, and i really like weird, loud noises.

circuitMusic1.jpg Do you use tricked-out circuits for other things in your life? I'm picturing your alarm clock and your electric toothbrush as the coolest things around...

a friend of mine recently called the the decor of my apartment in chelsea "patch chord chic." my girlfriend and i have electric toothbrushes named "alien" and "predator." they are not to be fucked with.

what's your favourite kind of poutine?

there are KINDS of poutine!?!?

Where can people find out more about the man that is Jamie Allen?

i have this new thing called a website:

i also should mention that i'm running a new performance series called 'tranzducer' here in NYC, if anyone from La Belle Province wants to come down and play, get in touch. hell, you can probably even stay at my place if you don't fuck with the toothbrushes.

**** To hear some of Jamie Allen's Circuit Music, check out this week's podcast for a soundclip or check out Saturday's SAT show for some mind-blowing bleeps and blorps.



Matthew / February 14, 2007 at 11:37 am
Awww... I really want to see this, but I'm going to be out of town Sat.
scott / February 14, 2007 at 11:54 am
very cool. he sounds a bit like DJ Spooky does when talking about sampling and such. sort of a highbrow perspective. this performance / doc loox cool tho.
Kareen Nachman / February 14, 2007 at 03:38 pm
Is there a fan club I can join?
tV / February 14, 2007 at 04:03 pm
For the record, I'm not curating this event: thanks be to Cindy Poremba & a bunch of organisations including Concordia Humanities for doing that. tV
Jer / February 14, 2007 at 05:16 pm
Ok. tV, my apologies for the error. I have fixed it with an ugly sentence.

Kareen, hopefully Jamie will be reading this and start some kind of "circuit heads" club. Hopefully it will involve free t-shirts.
T-bort / February 15, 2007 at 11:50 pm
Nevermind the fact that he is a genius...Jamie Allen is HOT!!
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