The MegaFaces pavilion at Sochi was another Olympic collaboration between architect Asif Khan and the 27-year-old musician and music informatics whizz kid
Getting to work with Asif Khan must have been a big break?
I was doing stuff for digital artist Hellicar + Lewis, and when Asif wanted a programmer, they recommended me. Producer Mark Ronson had sampled sounds for the interactive ETFE panels at the 2012 Games’ Coca-Cola Beatbox and I programmed them to create their rhythmic loops. For Sochi’s MegaFaces pavilion we’ve been working with Swiss interactive designer iart and digital sculptor Scott Eaton, who manipulates the faces to stop them looking like giant death masks! I worked on the software that links iart’s input with his.
How much do you have to consider spaces when you are creating sound installations?
Talking Heads’ David Byrne said that spaces compose music, and I’d agree. Cathedrals, with their 10 second reverberation time, demanded a certain kind of sound. Chamber music, for smaller churches, was more complex and refined. And listening to music through headphones allows it to be very subtle and complex but different: you hear in great detail but can’t feel it. So when I’m working out how interactive a piece is, whether it needs to be touched or activated by proximity is based on the nature of the space and who’s using it.
What’s a great auditory space for you?
I’m always amazed how classical concerts don’t need amplification: it was wonderful to hear Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring at the Royal Festival Hall. Jazz pianist Keith Jarrett refuses amplification and sounds fine there, although I sense a difference between the main stalls area and under the balcony at the back.
With all that interactivity of yours, do you think a crowd can create good music collectively?
That’s philosophically interesting. The Coca-Cola Beatbox was about creating a balance between the user’s freedom of expression and the quality of musical output. I looked at it as taking on the role of a composer who has a structure but hasn’t set the notes in stone. But the best crowd effects are generated by great artists like French singer Camille, who can use an audience as an improvisational tool.
So what was it like at Sochi?
I was there to help get the pavilion up and running so didn’t attend the opening; I just saw it on TV. Having been to London 2012 too, what I found interesting was how, despite being in different countries, Olympic parks feel the same – vast, huge buildings and mediocre, overpriced food. My highlight was meeting a girl in the queue for the Moscow flight who’s dad’s a famous cosmonaut – she showed me his space pics!
One of the quirkier developments in electronic music is the ‘algorave’, led by programmers, where people dance to music generated by algorithms. Rather than the DJ the focus is a large screen projecting real-time code written by the programmer. They are generally attended by crowds crossing the worlds of ‘cyber hacking, geek culture and clubbing’. ‘It’s a completely different way of thinking about music,’ says Carabott. ‘As a guitarist, if I’m playing free jazz I’ll think of a sound and play it immediately. With code, you write the programme, hear the output and adjust it. The time lag makes it hard.’ Carabott adds that: ‘The best proponents are musicians too. Impromptu’s Andrew Sorensen plays trumpet and Durham University’s Dr Nick Collins is a pianist and violinist. Writing live code is adrenalin charged – and they’ve got it down pat!’