In Kilgore, composed in 2017/18, the activities of two performers are divided between playing their respective instrument and navigating an avatar in a virtual 3D environment. Each performer thus has a twofold presence: on one hand, a physical presence standing and playing on stage, and on the other hand a virtual presence represented by an avatar in virtual space. The version documented for this release is for amplified violin, performed by Barbara Lüneburg, and live electronics, performed by myself.
The work is divided into five sections. The two main sections are juxtaposed with three shorter sections that function as a prelude, intermediate segment and postlude called Preludus, Interpaidia, and Postludus. This incorporates the terms ‘ludus’ and ‘paidia’ into the titles, alluding to two different types of playing: “[P]aidia represents wild, free-form improvisational play, whereas ludus represents rule-bound, regulated, formalized play” (Salen and Zimmerman 2004, p. 308). Thus the titles already imply the way that the two musicians interact with one another in those sections: in Preludus and Postludus, they competitively construct melodic phrases according to specific rules and are interrupted by the opponent whenever they make a mistake. By contrast, Interpaidia connects the two main sections and allows the violinist to freely improvise with controlled feedbacks on top of a harmonic texture, while the other performer remains idle.
In the two main sections, the musicians operate gamepads in order to control avatars in virtual 3D environments. Certain assignments have to be fulfilled using the avatars, while each action along the path entails musical consequences. As the performers carry out their tasks, interacting with the virtual environment and the objects found within it, the audiovisual composition evolves. Since the topology of the environment provides a spatial distribution of sound sources and sonic affordances, and the distances in the virtual landscape take time to traverse, the environment can be compared to a score in the sense that it provides a visualized order of sounds and durations. At the same time, it can also be understood as an extended instrument, as it offers the musicians sonic and musical possibilities that they can control and manipulate.
To go into detail: in the first main section, the activities take place in a barren landscape, while in the second main section, the avatars cross a bridge to an island in order enter a house which later collapses during the course of the piece. The two performers compete against each other. There is a winner and a loser for each assignment, and at the end of the piece there is a champion who escapes the collapsing building while the other one remains locked inside.
At different times the avatars encounter objects that display excerpts from two historic movies: David Wark Griffith’s film Birth of a Nation of 1915, and the edition of the propaganda newsreel Deutsche Wochenschau of May 30, 1941. I find it interesting that both of these excerpts use the “Ride of the Valkyries” by Richard Wagner as film music and place it in the context of armed struggle with explicitly racist contexts. Both movies are also referenced in a striking scene in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 Apocalypse Now when the fictitious character Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore—whose name I borrowed as the title of this work—attacks a Vietnamese village with a flock of helicopters while blasting Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” through loudspeakers. Due to this frame of reference, in Kilgore I also use processed and camouflaged excerpts of the “Ride of the Valkyries” at various points. Kilgore’s Resort is an installation adaptation of the concert version that was commissioned in 2018 by the Hafnarborg Museum in Iceland for an exhibition curated by Thráinn Hjálmarsson.
Kilgore’s Resort is based on the same virtual environment as the concert version Kilgore, but can be explored by various visitors at the same time by navigating avatars through the landscape with a joystick. No specific tasks need to be accomplished and there are no competitions with winners or losers. However, various sound-producing objects can be encountered while meandering through the virtual landscape that allow for interaction and thereby change the overall sonic state. While in Kilgore each performer navigates in their own version of the same environment, in Kilgore’s Resort the avatars are present in the same environment. They therefore are able to meet and interact with one another.
Salen, Katie and Eric Zimmerman. Rules of Play. Cambridge, MA, 2004.
GAPPP is funded by the Austrian Science Fund FWF as project PEEK AR 364-G24.