Monday, March 13, 2006

Warren Burt

What do you say about a guy with a huge bushy beard and coke bottle glasses that comes into your classroom, is introduced as somebody that knows everything and quite clearly, after a few minutes, knows everything? Some people might call that person God. If you're a sound fanatic, you might just call that person Warren Burt. Not only does he know a lot, but he's a suprisingly approachable, eager and enthusiastic personality who doesn't have his head in the clouds.

Looking over three pages of notes gathered from a talk Burt gave recently for EMU students, it is indeed hard to know where begin. The beginning is probably as good a place as any, however, at the risk of simply writing a a complete personal history and bio that could go on for ever, i will attempt to abbreviate and keep to a few of the major strains of Burt's work. Speciifically, this will focus on Burt's concerns with randomness, interface and interaction.

Randomness is a major preoccupation for Burt's work. Among the many criticisms of contemporary music technology is the popular conception that computers and technology are making music stale. A casual conversation about this might include conceptions that computers make music formulaic, too easy for bad musicians to produce etc, etc. I'm sure we've all heard it before.

From an early age then, Burt has seemed committed to embracing the random. From pounding the notes and pedals of his Hammond organ while sliding the controls faders up and down to creating analogue synthesisers and banging components with hammers to induce/enforce randominity into the circuitry - it seams to be in his blood. Indeed, upon further research, the idea of randomness has been an important and influential area in many of the physical sciences, most obviously in mathematics, but also in biology and others.

More recently we have seen the advertising campaign for the iPod Shuffle. Here we see a celebration of the random and finally a product which can bring randomness to the everyday reality of our lives. I say that tongue in cheek of course, but it goes to show that Burt has been switched on to an emerging current, regardless of how supercilious a 'shuffle' button might ultimately be.

Another area which has interested Burt is the area of interface and interaction between sound/music and other areas. His work with 3DIS, a video to MIDI interface, and Chaos, a pitch to MIDI interface, evidence this area of interest and recently he as used the software application Plogue Bidule to use everyday computer hardware, such as game controllers, as the means of data input.

The idea of information cycles and loops has been yet another important area of interest for Burt. One of the ways he has been able to do this is by working with dancers. An example of this was a piece where a dancer used parabolic reflectors to record sounds on location at a beach. Burt then treated the sounds ever so slightly and these sounds, based on the dancers first movements, became the score.

Warren Burt's program for Street Theatre (part of Project 3), linked together audio and visual random processes.

Warren Burt,
I wonder what's in your yurt?
No doubt random,
Tea pots on the roof
and few hammers lying around.
I wouldn't like to wager,
on where you'll venture next


Blogger Pocket said...

If you'd like to find out more about Warren Burt, below is a list of websites that may be of use:

Warren Burt and Catherine Schieve website

Precis of a talk given in October 2004

1988 Biography from "22 Contemporary Australian Composers"

Australian Sound Design Project

Autralian Music Centre - biog and books, CDs, available

World Literature Today Article and MP3s

Austrian Radio ORF with a biog and an mp3 of "Radio Namings"
High Quality Mp3 here:

Spineless Books - two scores by WB with mp3 file electronic parts

Miss Furr and Miss Skene - computer opera on Gertrude Stein text - mp3 from

CEC SONUS SITE = Canadian site with mp3s of three pieces available
"Drawn Out Sounds" (1999)
"The Eco-Crimes of the General Electric Corporation" (2001)
"Soundtrack for Scrapbook" (2003)

Processed Reprocessed - Collaboration with Eli Jones - mp3 files

2002 Cathedral Band performances in MP3 with WB in the band

March 13, 2006 3:29 PM  
Blogger Jodie O'Regan said...

i like the teapots on the roof.

March 24, 2006 3:08 PM  

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