Networking

AE interviews Phil Stone
October 23, 2006

The Hub is soon to make a rare appearance in New York City at NYU's Frederick Loewe Theater, presented by Electronic Music Foundation and the NYU Interactive Arts Series. The Hub pioneered networking as an approach to group performance in the 1980s. We asked Phil Stone, one of the members of the group, about what's happened since then.

AE How has The Hub changed over the years since the 1980s?

PS We've always had similar beliefs about musical socialization and how it can take advantage of electronics and computer processes. We tend to hold in common a delight in the capability of complexity to surprise. We try not to be technology-driven, and we've avoided the imposition of standard operating systems, languages, tools or specific ways of making sound. That said, we've gone through three fairly distinct phases, influenced by the technology we've used to exchange data. The first Hubs (the name refers both to the band and to whatever it is we're currently using to connect - I'm using the second meaning here) were single-board 6502 computers (KIMs and SYMs) to which we added RS-232 interfaces and shared memory spaces. This was around 1987. There was no real synchronization, as it was a "pull" data model, but we could still influence each other in complex ways. Piece specifications of that time reflect a wonderfully open conception of musical data and meaning.

Our second-generation Hub, from around 1989 or so, was an Opcode Studio 5 with an anti-MIDI star topology forced onto the channel-remapping capabilities of the interface. Suddenly, we were able to write to each other directly, and for better or worse, the music's character changed along with this new "push" capability. Also, though we did not give in completely, the very design of MIDI encouraged a note-based way of thinking about music. Pieces from this time (our second CD "Wreckin' Ball", e.g.) reflect this.

The Hub (the group) took an 8-year hiatus between 1997 and 2005, so our current incarnation benefits from extensive hindsight and the magical working of Moore's law. We're using an off-the-shelf router with standard wired or wireless connections, and an OSC-based protocol. We have the best of both worlds now: a wide-open way of digitally exchanging musical information, and instantaneous random access to each other. We're having more fun than ever, because the capabilities of our instruments - the pure computing horsepower combined with wonderful music languages like SuperCollider, PD and Max - have caught up to our needs. It's not so tortuous to develop these pieces anymore, because we don't have to design everything from scratch.

AE In what way is it a model for today's laptop improvisations?

PS I don't think we've ever thought of ourselves that way, really. We're just one example of what can be done with instantaneous and invisible sharing of musical information. It seems like an obvious idea to us, and we're happy to see others experimenting with it as the technology has made it more accessible. But like any kind of music, it takes development and practice for it to sound good. On the other hand, if it isn't fun, it isn't worth doing, and we've been having a great deal of fun playing together.

© 2006