Array Spring 2000: Journal of the International Computer Music Association

ICMC'99 Reviews:

Installation: Cross-Talk:
Reviewed by John P. Young & Margaret Schedel (abridged)
Peabody Conservatory of Music, Baltimore, Maryland, USA

After being delayed so long in customs, it was a real victory to get Cross-Talk operating. Sculptor Carolyn Healy and electronic sound artist John Phillips, veteran collaborators on computer music installations, set up shop in a 30 foot by 24 foot concrete-walled room in the China World Trade Center with exposed ductwork and wiring. From outside, strains of American pop music drifted up from Beijing's only ice-skating rink. Inside, a handful of different stations were all driven by a PowerBook G3 in the corner running Max/MSP. Stepping through the door, one instantly departed the commerical atmosphere for something more futuristic and unfinished. Translucent plastic tubing embedded with lights spiralled around the floor in an eerie glow. A giant inverted stainless-steel funnel salvaged from a soup factory demanded to be struck by a felt mallet hanging from its lip, reverberating through the space and triggering a tiny black-and-white television set at the neck of a nearby upturned funnel to display images and static. Two tall, square translucent screens lit from the inside flickered on and off intermittently. Adorning the screens were historical Ham Radio calling cards from around the world— fascinating designs in muted colors seamlessly collaged together. A bucket of black and white styrofoam balls sat next to a large rectangular dish of water ominously lit by a single white overhead lamp. Tossing in a ball set off different kinds of cacophony, from wild laughter to cymbal crashes to scraps of overheard conversation. In the background, a low, subtly undulating frequency-modulated riff gave the aural sensation of floating underwater.
The installation was specifically commissioned by the International Computer Music Association with children in mind, and the artists created an environment that appealed to young and old. The audience seemed to be mostly Chinese children and their parents. Most kids spent time wandering around, whacking the funnel, peering at the TV, and throwing balls until the bucket was empty, while the adults offered encouragement. The sound environment coupled with the visuals created of a sense of immersion and wonder, and the lighting wa subtle and enhancing of the experience. As with so many things at ICMC '99, the fact that it worked at all was cause for congratulations, and the curious Chinese audience, for whom it was intended, obviously thought it was pretty cool.