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quaternion actions: the Amazon comes to Burien

The Burien/Interim Arts Space is an installation space by and for the current DIY/guerrilla generation. As far as I can tell, Kathy Justin and Dane Johnson, the project’s artist-instigators, sidled up to the city of Burien (directly next door to SeaTac airport) and said “hey, if you’re not using that empty city block, do you mind if we do?” They have successfully recruited sculptors to transform the wasteland into an urban sculpture park, with unapologetic emphasis on the grittiness of the site and the temporary nature of the installation, and have then hosted a series of live events in this open space.

“Pieces of Eight,” a B/IAS event that will occur on 15 and 16 August, highlights their DIY spirit: a sound installation that features 8 independent speaker stacks, driven by 10,000 watts of amplification. These formidable resources are being made freely available to local composers and performers – 18 at last count. There will be pre-recorded octophonic pieces played during the day, and on Saturday night a smaller number of artists will perform live.

The quaternion group

The quaternion group

Participating in this event was a foregone conclusion for me, since I love experimental public sound art and music. For the pre-recorded portion of the program, I have remixed Mascheroni Circles for eight channels, adding a low drone and some klang in the form of percussive metallic highlights to the voices of Linda, Melissa, and Rebekah. It sounds great in the studio – I can’t wait to hear it outdoors.

For the live performance, I have selected samples from Perri Lynch’s Amazon field recordings, which I will combine using Ableton Live into an 8 channel ambient mix according to the rules of the Quaternion group. (See the illustration, which shows this group’s multiplication table, which I lifted from the very useful open source software tool called Group Explorer.) The quaternion group is useful in this context since it has an order of 8, and its combination of non-abelian complexity and abelian subgroups make for interesting kaleidoscopic combinations of elements. The group action of these quaternions is to trigger samples; I begin by iterating through Cayley and cycle graphs for the group, and follow with algebraic manipulations that seem appropriate for the setting. Although this sounds as though it might be dry and lifeless, no one will know that there is abstract algebra involved! The aural experience is a slowly shifting juxtaposition of the intense sound of the Amazon rain forest set against the desolate urban performance setting of concrete, asphalt, and rusting metal.

As a side-note: quaternions, used as tools for rotational calculations, and the geometry behind Mascheroni Circles are both featured in Neal Stephenson’s Anathem, which is up for the Hugo award this weekend in Montreal. Good luck, Neal!

[Edit: No joy for Neal, but as suspected, the giant sculptures of rusting metal, bonfires, torn-up parking lot, power generators, hulked trucks and buses, and the overall desolate feel of the site made a great foil for electronic noise and loudly amplified insects. Below is a panoramic shot of the site.]

The Burien Interim Art Space

The Burien Interim Art Space