John Keston examples of work in sound and electronic imagery Tue, 29 Aug 2017 20:59:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 79677494 45 Delusions with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company Mon, 07 Aug 2017 21:21:01 +0000 Continue reading 45 Delusions with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company ]]>

45 Delusions was commissioned by the Walker Art Center for an event with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company (MCDC) as part of the Common Time exhibit and performance series. The piece was performed and recorded with the dancers on March 30, 2017 in the Perlman Gallery at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. My setup included Rhodes, Moog Sub 37, PreenFM2, Korg KP3+, and a Moog Minifooger Delay. Graham O’Brien performed on percussion and electronics triggered from his drums.

John Keston's Setup for the Common Time Event
My Setup for the Common Time Event

The score is two pages. The first page (pictured at top) is the timeline for both performers. The timeline is vertical and made up of cells that last between one and five minutes each. Frequently the cells correspond with each player, but they are arranged so that at times they overflow. Rests are also included as cells. Each cell includes brief instructions and/or graphics that give suggestions to the musicians. Some of the instructions are expanded on the second page of the score.

Graham O'Brien's Setup for Common Time
Graham O’Brien’s Setup for Common Time

The second page also includes a list of forty five delusions. These include terms such as alternative facts, capitalism, corporate culture, equality, freedom, fossil fuels, greed, justice, and so on. There are also a few technical delusions such as erotomania (belief that a celebrity is in love with you) and lycanthropy (belief that one can turn into an animal). The second page explains the delusions and what to do with them:

Anything that might be considered or is delusional. These are not necessarily medical or technical examples of delusions and may involve individuals, societies, or organizations. Prior to performing the piece, each musician chooses one “delusion” applied to each cell within the score.

Take a look at the PDF at the end of this article to see the complete list of delusions as well as expanded instructions for some of the cells. Obviously this is an improvised piece of music, but this approach steers the improvisation in directions that would be unlikely to occur freely. Particularly the timing. As one performs or listens to the piece it is possible to discern distinct variations as the musicians transition from one cell to the next. If you are inclined to listen to the piece in full, try following along with the score and placing a SoundCloud comment where you hear the cells change. The timing on the recording doesn’t exactly match the score, but it’s pretty close.

The reasons I took this approach are multi-faceted: (1) It keeps the piece moving. Often free improv tends to stagnate as ideas are repeated and refined. With this approach the challenge is to express ideas with concision and then move on to the next (this is possible, albeit rare, in free improv – we call it channel surfing). (2) It is possible to strictly define the length. We used a timer that counted up to 30 minutes. One quick glance at the timer illustrates the need to move on to “High Speed Arps” for example. (3) Mood, dynamics, and theatrics can be injected to create a narrative with scope and meaning. It is a way to ask questions, discover sounds, explore, and experiment. (4) It enhances my musical engagement. I am influenced by my collaborators and surroundings, but I’m also interpreting the language of the score, and hopefully to the benefit of the musical output.

45 Delusions by John C.S. Keston (148K PDF)

Un:heard Resonance at Northern Spark, June 10, 2017 Mon, 07 Aug 2017 21:16:23 +0000 Continue reading Un:heard Resonance at Northern Spark, June 10, 2017 ]]>

Saturday, June10, 2017 I participated for the sixth time in Northern Spark. The project I directed was called Un:heard Resonance. Also involved were artists Mike Hodnick AKA Kindohm (music), Chris LeBlanc (visuals), Lucas Melchior AKA MKR (music), and Aaron Marx (design). I was also fortunate to have the help of several student / former student volunteers inlcuding: Mike Miller, Meg Gauthier, and Justin Maki. The piece was be performed at the Weisman Art Museum from 8:59pm to 5:26am.

The piece was comprised of a series of electronic sonatas composed in real time with micro-sonic signals crowdsourced from the audience. A variety of microphones and sensors were used to capture rarely heard vibrations emitted by geological, biological, and technological processes. Three movements chronicled the stages of the planet’s evolution: Geology, Biology, and Technology. The project brought awareness to sonic activity rarely experienced within the environments we live in and exploit. The combination of micro-sonics and accompaniment non-verbally stressed hidden geological processes, the fragility and jeopardy of the ecosystem as it faces climate change, and the rapid, global expansion of technology.

It also implied that technology may eventually replace the geological and biological states of the world. A precedent for this idea resides in the concept of “Computronium” theorized by Norman Margolus and Tommaso Toffoli at MIT, a hypothetical state of matter that would yield the most efficient and powerful atomic arrangement for computer processing. The Geology and Biology sonatas represented the first two sequential stages in the evolution of the planet, while Technology suggested the dystopian possibility of the world becoming a giant computer that no longer supports life as we know it.

Northern Spark attracts more than 100,000 visitors to experience hundreds of interactive art, music, and performance projects throughout the Nuit Blanche. In 2017 the overall theme was Climate Chaos | People Rising. All the projects were shown along the Green Line, a light rail line that stretches from downtown Minneapolis to downtown St. Paul, Minnesota. A brief video documentary about the performance is currently in production.

Moogfest 2016 Workshops Sat, 30 Apr 2016 17:31:43 +0000 Continue reading Moogfest 2016 Workshops ]]> Moogfest 2016

I’m pleased to announce that I will be giving two workshops at Moogfest 2016. Audiovisual Scores for Electronic Music is on May 19 from 5 to 7pm and Sound Art and Sonification is on Friday from 2 to 4pm. The location for both workshops is 21c Museum Hotel, Gallery 6 111 N. Corcoran St, Durham, NC 27701. Details are on the Moogfest schedule site.

Instant Composer: Mad-libbed Music Thu, 14 Jan 2016 00:54:16 +0000 Continue reading Instant Composer: Mad-libbed Music ]]>

On June 13, 2015 I collaborated with a team of nine students and nine musicians on a project I directed for Northern Spark, an annual, all-night, art festival In Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. We titled the project, Instant Composer: Mad-libbed Music and the intent was to engage the audience into instantly writing musical compositions for an ensemble of improvising musicians.

I discussed the concept here in-depth and also announced the project last June. I had no idea what to expect, but was thrilled with the outcome. Around 115 crowdsourced scores were entered into a database via our mobile application. During the nine hour performance we interpreted nearly 70 of those pieces for the audience.

ICMLM Sandwich Board

This video should give you a sense of what went on that night, but no media can fully represent an event like this. I can say that it wouldn’t have happened without the student collaborators, our collective of excellent musicians, the Northern Spark organizers, Art Institutes Minnesota, and the hundreds of people in our audience willing to engage in the process. Please see the video for the full project credits.

Vocalise Sintetica at Echofluxx 14, Prague Tue, 30 Jun 2015 15:16:54 +0000 Continue reading Vocalise Sintetica at Echofluxx 14, Prague ]]>

On May 7, 2014 I performed Vocalise Sintetica at the Echofluxx Festival in Prague. The piece is made up of four movements: I. Machines (00:00), II. Liquid (18:43), III. Vocalise (28:55), and, IV. Sintetica (38:41). Each movement is a playlist of five audiovisual objects that are instantly available to be projected and amplified while being granulated in real-time by a performer using a multitouch interface. The performer may loop their gestures applied to the audiovisual objects in order to bring in additional synthesized sound layers that contrast or mimic the audiovisual objects. My performance at Echofluxx was made possible by a grant from the American Composers Forum with funds provided by the Jerome Foundation.


I am very pleased with the result of the performance and quality of the audio recording in the video. The documentation produced by Dan Senn contains the entire 45 minute performance. Trafačka Arena, the venue for the performance, was originally a decommissioned power station. The room was a reverberant cement rectangle with incredible acoustics. You may recognize some of the video used in the performance from other projects. The majority of the video was recorded specifically for Vocalise Sintetica, but I also used video from Machine Machine and Voice Lessons as well as two short clips of found video in the first movement.

Echofluxx Setup

Technically the piece centers around a Max patch that handles the audiovisual granular synthesis. The patch is controlled by an iPad running MIRA by Cycling 74. MIRA allows Max developers to create iPad interfaces within the Max patch using standard Max objects. One of the key functions new to this patch is the ability to record and loop gestures. This feature allows the performer to let a sequence of audiovisual content loop while adding layers from other instruments. In this example I used a Novation Bass Station II running through a Moog Minifooger Delay and a Korg Volca Keys. I modified the Volca Keys with a MIDI out jack to provide synched clock to the Bass Station II.

New Spectral Tablature Collaborations Exhibited in Tokyo Tue, 31 Mar 2015 00:02:36 +0000 Continue reading New Spectral Tablature Collaborations Exhibited in Tokyo ]]>

I am pleased to be participating in an exhibition of work by Jasio Stefanski at Print Gallery in Tokyo, Japan. Jasio is showing a variety of his work including two pieces that we collaborated on together fron the series Spectral Tablature. The first piece is Synthetic Skyline previously exhibited for the Audible Edge sound art exhibition at the Katherine Nash Gallery in Minneapolis. The second piece is a new work in the series titled Synthetic Transitions.

Synthetic Transitions

To create the work I started by composing a simple sequence of notes that speed up and then slow down. Jasio requested that we included diagonal lines in the piece so I used linear portamento on the Moog Sub 37 to create the “transitions” he was interested in seeing. The video shows the plotter rendering Jasio’s Reprise of the work shown/heard in the image/audio below.

Synthetic Transitions Reprise

Jasio’s Reprise is based on form and color values as opposed to acoustic accuracy. The visuals were composed to place emphasis on the “transitions” or portamento. The output visually reinterprets the angles informed by the gliding notes without connecting them in the composition. When sonified the plotted design singles out the portamento, isolating it from the context of the sustained frequencies.

Duets with the Singing Ringing Tree Fri, 20 Mar 2015 22:44:12 +0000 Continue reading Duets with the Singing Ringing Tree ]]>

In May, 2014 I performed Duets with the Singing Ringing Tree (SRT) in Northern England. The SRT is a permanent, wind-activated sculpture by London-based architects, Tonkin Liu. For five days I documented dozens of analogue synthesizer improvisations with the SRT using a binaural-head microphone. After returning to Minneapolis I produced and published a series of six of these pieces as video documentation on YouTube. These works, in the words of Peter Kirn from, evoke an “eerie resonance.” The synthesizer accompaniment alternates between contrasting and mimicking the haunting tones of the cold, metal structure. Read on for a series of photos from the project.

NOTE: These are binaural recordings combined with synthesizer accompaniment. Although it sounds great through speakers, circumaural headphones must be used to experience the binaural effect.

The Singing Ringing Tree on Day One of my Five Day Session

Day Two Before Teardown Due to Persistent Rain

Day Two Persistent Rain

Day 5

A Shadow Cast by the SRT

Vincent (My Custom Binaural Head Microphone) on Day Three

Moog Minifooger, Zoom H6, Bass Station 2, and DT770s

Ewe with her Lamb near the Singing Ringing Tree

Synthetic Skyline Mon, 01 Sep 2014 18:40:54 +0000 Continue reading Synthetic Skyline ]]> <em>Synthetic Skyline</em>

From May 27 to July 26, 2014 I participated in The Audible Edge, a group exhibition that “explores intersections of architecture and sound, inside and outside the gallery space.”

The Audible Edge includes With Hidden Noise, a traveling exhibition of sound art projects, including works by Taylor Deupree, Jennie C. Jones, Pauline Oliveros, Andrea Parkins, Steve Peters, Steve Roden, Michael J. Schumacher, and Stephen Vitiello. With Hidden Noise is part of ICI’s Exhibitions in a Box series. Produced by Independent Curators International (ICI), New York, this exhibition is curated by Stephen Vitiello. The Audible Edge includes artists invited by the organizing team to participate in the exhibition, including J. Anthony Allen, Philip Blackburn, Mary Ellen Childs, Douglas Ewart, Douglas Geers, Beatrix*JAR, John Keston, Abinadi Meza, Ryan Wurst and Patrick Beseda.

<em>Synthetic Skyline</em> Installation

At the opening reception during Northern Spark 2014, I performed an updated version of my piece Vocalise Sintetica (also performed recently at Echofluxx in Prague).

The exhibit is a new piece in the series Spectral Tablature called Synthetic Skyline in collaboration with designer Jasio Stefanski.

<em>Synthetic Skyline</em> Spectral Analysis

A touch optimized iPad application was included with the installation. The app allows the visitor to listen to each print. The corresponding audio for the first print (Synthetic Skyline) is an original microtrack; a short composition performed using a vintage, analog, polyphonic synthesizer. The piece was composed deliberately to generate specific visual as well as sonic characteristics.

<em>Synthetic Skyline</em> Reprise

The corresponding audio file for Synthetic Skyline Reprise highlights the transformation that takes place when sound is visualized in two dimensions, re-interpreted by designer Jasio Stefanski, physically plotted in four colors, photographed, inverted, and then re-rendered back into its sonic form.

The contrasts between the two audio files were surprisingly subtle for this particular example within the Spectral Tablature series. This is likely because the original waveforms were synthesized using techniques that generate clean, linear spectography, similar to the rigid lines rendered by the plotter. For more, please visit the touch optimized application which can be viewed on a tablet, mobile device, or laptop/desktop.

<em>Synthetic Skyline</em> Reprise Inverted

Presenting at Moogfest 2014 Wed, 12 Mar 2014 16:04:32 +0000 Continue reading Presenting at Moogfest 2014 ]]>

I am very excited to announce that I will be presenting at Moogfest on April 24, 2014. I will stand along side Yuri Suzuki, Felix Faire, Yoon Chung Han, and Scott Snibbe participating in “an afternoon exploring alternative interfaces for sound generation and manipulation, and the future of visual music” programmed by Eyeo Festival organizers including industry visionary Dave Schroeder. Please visit the Moogfest site for more details.

Particle Playground Sat, 22 Feb 2014 18:41:49 +0000 Continue reading Particle Playground ]]> Particle Playground

Particle Playground is an interactive HTML5 canvas, JavaScript, and Processing JS experiment. The web application includes a collapsible GUI (dat.gui) providing a variety of controls. These parameters allow the user to manipulate the behavior of a particle system.

This project was created as a demonstration for a class that I teach titled Interactive Motion Scripting. In the class students start by learning how to script simple animations and progress to developing complex object oriented interactions. Visit Particle Playground.