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Themesicon: navigation pathSound and Imageicon: navigation pathMusic as a model
«My music is a model for music»
Markus Popp
Wohnton (Popp, Markus), 1993

«Oval Process» is a document of my work on several levels. It offers a software interface, terminals in a public space, an interactive sound object, and audio CDs released on different labels. The central statement [1] expressed by «Oval Process» is that electronic music is irrevocably characterized and limited by the software it uses. As the producer of «Oval Process,» I’m mainly concerned with the option of critically intervening in the simulation of music on the level of productivity software. First of all, this means that I position myself among conditions in which music, as a category and cultural container, appears as merely a sound effect or unusually effective piece of compression technology. I experience this as a zone entirely free of criteria, insofar as the last defining criterium of electronic music is the data format: MP3s or audio files are not defined as text files, but compressed with a particular bit rate and that’s that. For this reason, in the age of PowerBook authoring, electronic music seems to me more like a general business strategy rather than the beta test of an extremely productive, all-inclusive authoring process: whenever we purchase an IBook,we also get two to three recording artists, three new alter egos, and a new label. In my opinion, what conceals the relevant problems is handling electronic music as music with a capital M – that is, as music in the way that we know it and with nothing changed. Of course, commercially speaking, the continual launching of electronic music as a product is indispensable. But, in my opinion, this is useless for analyzing the underlying division of power. What I find more relevant than every new form of musical experimentation or hacker ethics is a subjective intervening in the standards and specifications behind the workflow. The intervening possibility meant here is not found on the level of musical content, meaning on the cultural or artifact level, but first and foremost on the level of interface design, work ergonomics and functionality. All of the updates of recent years have treated generic networks or music as frequency phenomena, toolboxes, shells or supercollider scripts. For me, however, the problem doesn’t exist on the level of script languages or producing toolboxes, but rather where it involves making a decided effort to clarify and solve matters in the areas of design and ergonomics.

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Oval Process Public Beta (Popp, Markus), 2000

One has to carefully consider accesses, in order to transfer statements on the levels of the user’s guide, work ergonomics, usability, software functionality, and interface design.

What I make available with «Oval Process» is an exemplary, temporary work environment. I leave this open to criticism and invite evaluations of what one sees. My goal is to create a communicative situation between the public and those interested, and facilitate an access that demands involving oneself with «Oval Process». In doing so, a certain competence should be transferred to another level. Nowadays the users bring to situations their own corresponding background, which, technically or music-historically speaking, need not be established in advance, but rather appear while working with software on a daily basis. «Oval Process» should serve to develop a few criteria and link them to the music, as opposed to seeing only the musical result. Correspondingly, «Oval Process» is not first and foremost a statement that sees itself in connection with art or installation, but more so a document that expands on my own work in the areas of interaction and usability. The startingpoint is, of course, my status as a recording artist who also makes «audio only» CDs. My preliminary considerations for «Oval Process» as a document for linking an interactive software environment and sound installation in a public space were as follows: To begin with, I didn’t assume the role of a creative Self. Instead, I wanted only to suggest the generative processes. This meant generating several standards and interfaces and making them available. Apart from that, I wanted the work on the interface developed thematically: not to play out the tricks, but to name the conditions of the tricks. And most important, if also trivial, I didn’t plan to have consumers at the receiving end, but rather an active user – which wasn’t trivial at all, as working on software fundamentally differs from producing audio CDs. In conclusion: as opposed to a product-oriented definition of my own work, I pursued a process-oriented one. I wasn’t interested in keeping everything sellable in some form. «Oval Process» is, therefore, a sketch for an interactive authors’ environment. This means that one has a manipulative, iconic, and easily accessible user’s surface. The accompanying idea is to suggest the tools

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and their semantics, and to code the usability and software ergonomics in a user-centralized model. The work done on the interface is spread out between a subjective, aesthetic decision and a coordinative execution of the implemented functions. This is why a statement with software is not only addressed on principle, but already mapped out in the function imperatives of the software. One inevitably becomes the user or beta tester of the customary productivity software used for saving, coding and copying MP3 files and editing tracks. The authors’ perspective always remains problematic, but when interactively related to the software, it becomes expanded by a few decisive aspects. My music is a model for music in the sense that it’s not really made or generated, but rather assembled from existing music, namely from files, which I developed during a specific phase, thus making it very personal. In each case, I could have burned a CD; only I chose not to do so. I preferred having the people make the music themselves.

As an installation «Oval Process» requires a public space. Within this installation the «Oval Process» software is the engine. This is a simple computer inside a box, a prototype, built according to specificprinciples. The collected installation objects, software, interfaces, public situation, and spatial context are not meant to decisively expand electronic music. The intention here is to put my approach at one’s disposal and make it accessible, so that one can decide whether or not it functions at all – that being the most important criterium from the user’s perspective: the ability to decide whether or not something functions. «Oval Process» is an intermediary result. What’s needed now is to develop the new distinctions that can be suggested in this context, or introduced into it, since the discourse on electronic music – in the way that I would prefer it – has been overlooked so far.


DD: I read in an interview that the Oval Process software isn’t what you used to produce your music with, but rather a software which didactically shows how music is made. It’s not the equipment that you produce music with yourself. Did I understand that correctly?

MP: The question of whether I use it myself, or whether everyone could write a CD with it, is

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irrelevant for me. Of course, with «Oval Process,» all the rules for sensibly guiding the user are taken into account in the same way that these questions were solved earlier, musically, in dealing with the available software at the moment of production. But now these questions would be solved on the levels of both interface design and the user ergonomics of a temporary work environment. With «Oval Process» you can speak in great detail about every nuance, but not necessarily in the sense of discussing software innovation or professional audio software; more so in the sense of asking, What do I find unimportant in all of this? / What should not be included here? For me, this means working in the blind spot of usability studies, and relying on totally different resources – other than merely the ‹right› software. On today’s computers one finds everything needed to transport files with real time character into musical environments. In the computer, this environment implies all of the program-related or technical criteria, and every modus of execution culture, including the option to decide whether one plans to generate the material as a sound installation, a live concert, an improvisation, or as adocument that behaves like an archive. Which has terribly little do with music! This is that zone entirely free of criteria, and while certain people experience it as being an amazing explosion of creative potential, others have perhaps exploited it rather lucratively over the last years. Yet the decisive questions are these: Who listens to this? Who do I play it for? Who would give me a cent for it? And that’s more interesting than asking what it represents musically. «Oval Process» is my own personal option, which I planned to leave open, in order to see it more as a practical than historical process, and in order to build on the progress of my own work as I observe it myself. Naturally this is something also marked in advance: it’s obvious that analog metaphors made of software will emulsify, and that they repeatedly restrict or limit the user to the point where the maximum result is predetermined. In between, you have a minimum of variability, and one might be able to sort or optimize according to frequencies. Then it simply becomes a question of one’s own personal, basic outlook: whether one sees himself as an artist, engineer or beta tester. I think that for Cage it was easier then to break

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the musical barriers and try something new. Today everything is already there. I find it more interesting simulating a work environment down to the last control field – like the one I worked with in 1994 – and experimenting with only that, instead of always having the latest techniques. «Oval Process» should create new criteria and expand on the existing criteria. But it shouldn’t expand on the field of music theory under any circumstances, certainly never write history, and certainly be quickly forgotten. All of this was understood and went without saying for me – how to position myself in the situation, what to use when entering the discourse. In my opinion, «Oval Process» is much closer to Tetris than it is to music. Interactive media and video games are important to me as background material.

Audience: And the future of Oval? What themes will matter in the future?

MP: «Oval Process» completes Oval, and that puts the software entirely in the public domain. Oval exists as a model for music, but there’s also a theoretical model, one without music. What’s finished, though, is the generative principle that replaced terms likecreativity over the years. All that I need to do now is drag both huge crates out of my basement in Berlin, and «Oval Process» is over. You have to know when it’s time to stop.

DD: How will the software be publicized? Through the «Oval Process» CD? MP: That’s not completed yet – it’s just on hold. The software might be put on an audio CD. Audio CDs can present material in stages, and they’re always built differently. You’ll hear the music played on the objects at that moment. The CD for the software alone is separate. DD: In the statements that I read, the cultural economic conditions were also criticized for a moment. Are there any differences in the economic pressures in the areas of art and music, meaning for someone who makes objects for museums and produces audio CDs? Are the expectations and limitations one faces any different?

MP: That’s hard to say. For a long time I hoped that SEGA would buy me out. Then I would still make small sounds for video games, and spend a long time developing each one. The possibilities are all there, and if you hurry, maybe you really can live from doing that. But that’s not the point anymore. The point is

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that user interfaces suggest specific working conditions, which, in turn, determine working methods. I can’t form a basic criticism of this kind of optimizing logic. In any case, it would be totally useless to program software that didn’t function economically and effectively. In this field you should quickly forget about any thoughts of sabotage. You have to keep in mind that you’re the one optimizing the interface to the height of misuse.

Each statement stays in the optimizing logic and is represented by only another entertainment character. At times it was more interesting to simply freeze certain processes, or slow them down until only a small structure or surface was left for a period of time. Since the music is processed with software and caused through the simulation of software, it should also be evaluated, at least in part, in accordance to software criteria. In less interesting cases, these are work environments that act time-based, meaning from left to right, and use as many music metaphors as possible from the analog world; or generative networks, or even toolboxes – but one thing is clear: the music is stimulated, and what I called a mission is capturing themusic at all, without simply leaving it up to the programming.

Translation: Karl Edward Johnson

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