Musical tradition is, by definition, often “multi-player.” From people playing in bands and strin quartets to families getting together to sing, live performance is often shared. But while you can drop a computer player into an ensemble, the computer interface itself is largely focused around one user. The “personal computer” is just that – one person, one interface.
So, why not extend that performance to more than one person?
Having championed the term “controllerism,” artist Moldover is now back with a video and site launch that celebrates the term “jamboxes.” By that, he means interactive instruments specifically designed to be used by multiple people. Most of the video focuses around Moldover’s own creations, variations on his original Octamasher. That installation construction, used at festivals and the like, plugged an array of controllers into a custom Ableton Live set, dividing up samples and loops so different people could play them. If you’ve seen this in person, this reasonably simple idea can have powerful results: festival or otherwise, adults faced with buttons to push can be just as gleeful as kids. And perhaps that’s the point: interactive installations let everyone, not just the performer, have a bit of fun for a change. (Everybody gets to “push play.”)
This is about more than just these particular Moldover creations, though. As Matt explains to CDM:
You’ve seen the instruments involved, but this video is the first opportunity I’ve had to tie them all together into a bigger picture. On a personal note, my hope is that this video and the compilation of instruments at jamboxes.net, catalyzes general acceptance of the word and the concept.
Whether the category “jamboxes” is itself useful is to me a question worth asking. There are certainly some sympathetic examples here, multiuser musical creations that seem to belong together as a group. As you get further through the video, Moldover gets to some of those other case studies. (Warning in advance: the vid does get a bit goofy, which will likely either amuse or annoy you, depending on your mood.) Now, none of these is terribly affordable or portable; quite a few resemble nothing so much as the console of the TARDIS, as in the machine pictured here at top. But they do all in their size allow several people to get in on the fun.
Whether “jamboxes” apply more to these bigger physical creations, or whether we need a different word, I think this question of making music multi-player is a broad one. Beyond jamboxes, it may make sense to finally disconnect computer music from the assumption that it must always be “solo.”
Check out more of the installation-style jamboxes, meanwhile, at Moldover’s new site. They definitely look like a lot of fun.