by L A I W A N
with LORI FREEDMAN on clarinets

Quartet for the year 4698 or 5760 is a multi media gallery installation that uses film with audio, live performance, music improvisation, computer media and the internet. It is a celebration of the improvisational musical body, spontaneous time and space, and the presence/absence of cultural histories within a critique of the limitations of machines.

This is a continuation of my exploration into our present, seeming cultural, epistemological shift in which we are moving from analogue to digital information systems and from industrial to information-based economies. The work consists of

1. a gallery installation with four 16mm film projectors, audio and a circular screen
2. live performance of improvisation played by Lori Freedman (on clarinets) accompanied by the four projectors
3. two computers with a digital translation of the QUARTET written in music notation, printed by dot matrix printer onto paper and displayed in the gallery
4. a web version on the Internet
5. a CD-Rom publication

Installation and live performance

Playing with the idea of the millennial year (4698 and 5760 are the Chinese and Jewish calendar years respectively for the year 2000), QUARTET is a gallery installation using four, 16mm film projectors that play four film loops simultaneously. On these four loops, one sees musician Lori Freedman performing. On each loop, she plays a different musical improvisation, in a different location, at a different time of day, dressed in a different set of clothes, and from four points of view (right side, front, back, and left side). I imagined that this film installation would simulate an “improvising machine,” to reconstruct a “4-dimensional improvising body” with four machines that project the images towards a central, circular screen.

Each film loop is between 30 and 150 feet in length and plays between 38 seconds and 4 minutes of music improvisation. Because each loop is of different lengths, the QUARTET that the four projectors are playing will never be the same. The composition was neither premeditated nor controlled. It is open to chance, but at some time will come to a point of repetition.

The musician was asked to freely improvise. As a result, sub-themes of the work may surface: contemplation/spontaneity; contingency/history; what has passed/what is to come; temporality/duration; bodily presence (live music)/mediated absence (on film); emotional intelligence/artificial intelligence; and body/machine.

Lori Freedman is one of Canada’s most widely acclaimed clarinet virtuosos. I proposed this project to Freedman because her abilities at improvisation are perfect for these explorations. Her music embodies many of the issues I explore in this work, in particular: the temporality and fleeting nature of improvisation; issues of body memory and cultural/musical histories; the demand in improvisation for bodily presence; issues of bodily absence and/or disembodied presence in relation to mediating technologies.

There are daily performances by Freedman accompanying the four projectors (to form a quintet) at the Morris and Helen Belkin Gallery from 12:30 to 1:30 pm. During the course of the installation, the film loops, the audio quality, the projector mechanisms and the computers will be subject to deterioration, break down and/or information overload. These are intentional for the composition.

New media components

The QUARTET improvisations are fed digitally into a computer for translation into musical notation, and then printed by a dot matrix printer onto paper. A number of microphones will pick up the sounds of the film projectors, improvisations, and ambient sounds in the gallery. Another microphone will pick up the sounds of the rotating door at the entrance to the Belkin Gallery. Freedman’s daily performances and all of these sounds will be translated into musical notation. Although the sound feeds are in real-time, the computers may slow down or stop at some point because they will have too much information to process.

The reams of notation displayed in the gallery reference a composed, musical score. The computer and printing process challenges the abilities of artificial intelligence to comprehend and accurately interpret real-time improvisation and music. With this, I am exploring commonly held assumptions and expectations for computer technology to interpret into textual form, a meaningful translation of that which is subtle and felt subjectively (such as music). During the course of the installation, musicians and students are invited to bring an instrument to attempt to play the QUARTET from the computer’s printed score.

A virtual version of QUARTET is available on the internet at This is a complementary site to the gallery installation. I am working with what I see as characteristics of these virtual formats, particularly the ability for the user to “play” or “compose” her/his own “interactive” version of the QUARTET. I hope to explore how the virtual reinterprets and reshapes the QUARTET temporally, spatially, musically and bodily.

A CD-Rom publication with accompanying essays and interactive versions of the QUARTET is to be released after the exhibition.

Quartet for the year 4698 or 5760 will travel to the Sound Symposium 2000 Festival in Newfoundland, July 5-15, 2000.