THroNG is a collective music and art-making project–we are composers, improvisers, audio fanatics, and performers, but above all, we are part of the musical community. We are audio fanatics, obsessively looking to improve the sound of our music; we are performers, who want to offer people something they have never experienced before.
The group itself consists of people who play a variety of electronic musical instruments–including electric guitar equipped with a TransPerformance tuning system, Akai EWI’s and EVI’s, electric basses, keyboards, etc. At a THroNG session, musicians arrive, plug in their instruments, tune, and put headsets on. These headsets each have a microphone built into them so that the musicians can communicate with each other while wearing headphones. Each musician is able to hear a unique mix in their headphones. In each player’s headphones, a click will begin to mark time, and a separate recording of a conductor giving instructions will begin playing back in each performer’s headphones. The performer will react to these instructions with specific musical gestures; these gestures will then be heard only by a subset of the larger group. This technique, wherein each person in the ensemble is only heard by a subset of the ensemble, is called ‘Limited Feedback Interaction,’ and we invented it to overcome one of the problems inherent in electronic music. Typically, when electronic musicians play together, it is very easy for one or two of them to completely overwhelm a mix, with pitch-shift, reverb, echoes, broad-spectrum instruments, and so on. This is problematic as a good mix consists of parts that work well together, not simply an aggregation of tracks, each of which sounds completely full on its own. However, when working with electronic instruments, often the tendency is to create vast, lush soundscapes that do not leave much room for collaborators. What to do? Obviously, the first reaction is ‘remove some of the people from the group.’ But we have found that collaborating with a bigger group is a bigger experience–so there was not much support for that. “What if,” we asked, “each person could only hear, and be heard by, a subset of the entire group?”
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