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Christian and Jim . . . UNLEASHED

Published on .

I've been thinking lately about what things were like before I was obsessed with details. Many of my friends and collaborators are in similar stages of their careers: they are excellent at what they do and can carry an idea from concept to precisely executed conclusion. As a result, many of us are asked to be involved in projects outside of work, whether it be writing a book, freelance design or public speaking. But these kinds of things, while providing some diversion, are generally not fundamentally different from what we do for a living. In my case, even the things I do after hours "for fun," like my band, Astronaut Wife, have an air of packaged professionalism. What I need, I'm thinking, is a real side project. Something that takes an unexpected turn every now and then.

So Jim Park comes into the office on a Monday morning and announces that he has discovered something that will "change everything." Jim is a longtime friend and professional collaborator, a top-notch software developer, and, like me, a home-recording geek from way back in the cassette four-track days. Jim is extremely passionate about technology and pop culture, and frequently makes audacious predictions about how emerging ideas will play out in the mainstream. His track record with such forecasting is surprisingly good, however, so, as usual, I'm all ears. Jim launches into one of his trademark acronym-laden technical explanations of a new software tool, which I will attempt to paraphrase here for the laypeople: FLOSC is a component that takes data from an audio tool called MaxMSP and transmits it over a network to Flash as XML. What this means, he says, is that we can take musical information from programs like Emagic's Logic and send it over the network to a Flash-based visualization tool in real time. And, because the new Flash 7 has dramatically improved performance in this area, we could create a live audio visualizer with an unprecedented level of detail.

Now this sounds like something we could have fun with. Later that day, as if on cue, I get a call from the local AIGA chapter. They are putting together a new event, the central component of which would be live performances by bands whose members are local designers/art directors. They are calling looking for Astronaut Wife, which is on brief hiatus, so I suggest that instead they allow Jim Park and me to do a set under the name JvC, incorporating not only music but also a new visualization tool we're working on. To my surprise, they agree. I sheepishly tell Jim he has two weeks to build the thing we were talking about in theory that morning. He, no stranger to working late hours, doesn't even bat an eye. The race is on.

The task is not easy. Jim needs to master new software, learn a new programming language, write the Flash-based visualizer, and we have to compose a half-hour's worth of music. Perhaps emboldened by my newfound experimental attitude, or maybe freaked out by our insane ambition, I talk Jim into adopting a simple credo: every performance we do will be a raw technological and aesthetic experiment, and a torture test for new features. If the whole thing crashes, it's all part of the show. Let's push the envelope.

Finally comes the night of the event, and indeed the performance is not without its problems. MIDI synchronization (easy in 1985) proves temperamental when computers are involved, and we learn that running a PowerBook on battery while performing is not a great idea. But it is when the projection screen tips over between songs that the truly unexpected happens. The small audience seizes the awkward silence to ask about the system, and our performance briefly morphs into a technology seminar. It's the most unusual thing that's ever happened to me on stage. And it feels great.


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