“Quantum Fantasy: What Gets Measured Gets” is a concert performance work and installation for live improvising performer and an intelligent computer system that is capable of making music on its own but its flow of musical decisions are disrupted by hand motions by the performer, seen by a camera. Rather than giving the performer control over the computer system, this forces a delicate and playful relationship between the performer and the system, shifting the performer’s mindset from commanding to listening intently and only interacting with careful strategy, ready to interact again if needed to re-steer the musical flow in case the first interaction resulted in flowing in a less desirable direction.
This precarious position of the conductor in the “hot seat” was inspired by my experience studying and performing under Lawrence D. “Butch” Morris (no relation), whose Conduction system involved giving hand signs to improvising performers to shape their performance. However, in contrast to Walter Thompson’s Soundpainting system, which employs an extensive vocabulary for very specific instructions, Conduction uses a very small set of instructions that shape the music rather than dictate it. Whereas the conductor normally seems in full control, a Conduction performance is more like a crucible for the conductor to roll with unforeseen events.
Whereas Curtis Bahn’s and Tomie Hahn’s PikaPika performances used dance as the main performance genre, with sensors and speakers mounted on the body, as if providing musical Foley art directly connected to the dancer’s movements, “Quantum Fantasy” uses chamber music as its performance genre (or alternatively, that of a musician playing in a public walkway, when presented as an installation). Similar to David Rokeby’s Very Nervous System (VNS), “Quantum Fantasy” makes use of frame differencing in the video, but whereas, with VNS, the tendency is toward deterministic mappings of many zones, “Quantum Fantasy” employs very few zones in the video feed, allowing more influence by intermediary kinetics—that is motions of body parts connected to the main moving body part. For example, consider the performer moving a hand while keeping the arm still (and therefore invisible), compared to employing the forearm or upper arm in a hand movement: while the performer might think of both simply as a hand movement, the varying degrees of intermediary kinetics allow many graduated variations of that same gesture. This helps the performer to stay mindful of the body: In contrast, many-zone systems encourage the performer to think of affecting pixels on the 2D video screen, and gesture recognition systems merely classify complex movements as one known gesture or another.
In contrast to PikaPika and many uses of VNS, which used the full body (or most of it) for input, “Quantum Fantasy” focuses on hand movements for a more detailed, nuanced, complex expressive control, often leveraging movements that come naturally for a music conductor or a performer of a sensitive acoustic instrument, in which the way something is pressed has as much control over musical expression as the choice of what pitch-controlling area of the instrument is pressed. Also in contrast to these works, in addition to most works that use Kinect or Magic Leap controllers, in which the tendency is to give the performer more control by making more mappings, “Quantum Fantasy” focuses on the sacrifice of control. The performer must listen carefully for delightful musical results and, when they have been set in motion, take care not to interfere and disrupt them. Each attempt to control the system forces it to slip away from control and change the ways in which its parameters respond to input. This aspect is inspired by the phenomenon in quantum mechanics that the act of measuring some aspect of a particle is also an interaction with it, which results in making it impossible to capture its state without affecting the outcome.
This elusivity of knowability permeates quantum mechanics, and I have found, while working with colleagues in the field to use music to elucidate first lessons in the science, that, rather than enumerating the accounts of “quantum weirdness” that fill popular science and science fiction discourses, one of the first lessons should address this sacrifice that comes with knowing and the need to let go. It is pervasive in the science, whether considering how measurements change outcomes, how all possibilities must be taken into account simultaneously until interaction forces a system into a definite state, how high precision in one measurement requires low precision in other measurements, and most broadly, how we can navigate the quantum world reliably with the formulas we have discovered but those discoveries offer no explanation or deeper understanding of why the universe works in this way. Such implications inspire fanciful suggestions, but they lie outside the realm of science and ultimately distract from what truth we can gather scientifically. With this in mind, the subtitle “What Gets Measured Gets” is a take on Peter Drucker’s saying about management in business, except reversed, in the sense that, in this piece, interaction (via being detected by the computer vision system) gives up some control rather fully seizing it, interaction occurs when the system measures the performer (rather than the performer measuring an experiment); attempts to take control of the system to slip away.
Although this particular work has not been performed publicly, predecessors of this version have been presented at ICMC (International Computer Music Conference), GenArt (Generative Art international conference), SEAMUS (Society for Electroacoustic Music in the United States), and public events at my university. A video demo performance is viewable at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VgiBRcd6kvg
Jeff Morris creates musical experiences that engage audiences’ minds with their surroundings. His performances, installations, lectures, and writings appear in international venues known for cutting-edge arts and deep questions in the arts. He has won awards for making art emerge from unusual situations, and his music is on the Ravello and Petrichor labels.
Quantum Fantasy: What Gets Measured Gets is a concert performance work and installation for live improvising vperformer and an intelligent computer system that is capable of making music on its own, but its flow of musical decisions is disrupted by hand motions by the performer, seen by a camera. Rather than giving the performer control over the computer system, this forces a delicate and playful relationship between the performer and the system, shifting the performer’s mindset from commanding to listening intently and only interacting with careful strategy, ready to interact again if needed to re-steer the musical flow in case the first interaction resulted in flowing in a less desirable direction. The subtitle “What gets measured gets” is a take on Peter Ducker’s saying about management in business, except reversed, in the sense that, interaction (via being detected by the computer vision system) give up some control rather than fully seizing it. Attempts to take control of the system cause it to slip away.
Podium, table, or stand to hold a laptop computer
Video projection from the laptop onstage, via HDMI or mini DisplayPort
Audio cable to connect the onstage laptop (via stereo 3.5 mm phone connector) to house PA
Monitor speaker from the house audio system
Power to the laptop onstage
Stereo house PA
This work would best fit the AI Concert, since it is sound-focused.
However, it can also be run as an Installation (which I have done with a predecessor to this version, at ICMC, SEAMUS, GenArt, and iPark).
Alternatively, since the concert version does include a live performer, it could also be put on the AI Music Theatre concert.
To increase the live performative element, I can perform with a free improving musician if you can help me find someone (and I have done this with a predecessor to this version in a concert at my university).
I can also add a sound-sensitive live video sampling component if it is desired to include it in the AI Music Theatre concert. A sample of that sound-responsive, autonomous live video sampling engine is at https://youtube.com/watch?v=TtsdN3NQL14