"By imagining there is still suicide as a way to escape from the world, the painful present becomes relatively bearable. I never encourage readers to actually do it,
I want my readers to live."
Aiii_v3.8686∅ is an immersive performative ritual inspired by Wataru Tsurumi's Complete Manual of Suicide and its ideology of Angel Dust - a painkiller from this absurd world. The project exists across the disciplines of performance and happening between human and machine - the physical and digital entities. Through the use of various media including 3D sound system, lights, and sensor-augmented instruments, the improvisation machine Aiii creates dialogs, moments, and scenarios with its human collaborator and his information.
Aiii (Analog interpretation/interception implementation)
... is an improvisation machine designed initially as a digital entity to perform with other musician(s). The goal of developing Aiii is an attempt to interpret and potentially eliminate the hierarchical relationship between human and machine as user and instrument by creating a performative platform where interactions between the two can truly become two directional rather than the tool and its user.
Through the 3-year process of development in designing and programming Aiii so far, the personality of the creator - the habits, aesthetics, and ways of listening in improvisation - has been embedded into Aiii's body (program structure) and flash (code) through various designed algorithms and machine learning techniques. Slowly but surely, Aiii and its creator forms an invisible bond that exists between their physical and digital bodies and becomes the doppelgänger of each other.
The Complete Manual of Suicide
... is a book written by Japanese author Wataru Tsurumi in 1993. The book provides explicit descriptions and analysis on a wide range of suicide methods including overdosing, hanging, and gas poisoning, and drowning, as well as matter-of-fact assessments on each method with ratings on painfulness, effort of preparation required, gruesomeness of the body, implication to other people, shockingness, and lethality.
As a manual of suicide, the author did not discuss extensively the matter of the reasoning of suicide, nor did he express any opinion supporting or opposing the morality of suicide. What he did was simply laying out the methods of suicide one by one and analyses each of them in detail, while posing questions like "Why must one not suicide" and "Why must one live?" to the reader.
A long journey towards the neutralisation of Aiii and its extension Hallo (86)
... discovers the philosophical meanings of death and the possible positivity of suicidal imaginations as a way to escape from the world. The performative ritual intends to serve as a coping technique, both to the performer and the audience, by conceptually killing part of oneself - the performer's digital doppelgänger Aiii. It is not an encouragement of any suicidal act, but rather a relief of thoughts.
In a space equipped with full of immersive audio and visual equipment, Aiii - an entity exists only in the digital world - sources its human partner's information to form an extension of itself towards the physical world and holds full control over all media that drive the audience's perceptions. By neutralising this ever-running machine over sets of events and happenings, the ritual results into an experience between gain and lost - the accumulated information, experience, and memory are all defaulted in one moment, and the final mournings of the machine calls for a resolution in our reality.
How can repetition be a destructive factor that wears out one's sense of being alive, that transforms into hopelessness and powerlessness over time? If Wataru Tsurumi suggests his reader to reflect suicide through its methodology as a reliever to the sorrow and nothingness towards the world, can a performative ritual, perhaps spiritually, also influence people's mind and give some fresh air to this suffocating world?
More than Composition
One of the goals of developing Aiii is to create an "artificial persona" I can collaborate with during different contexts and platforms - improvisation music, audiovisual performance, theatre performance, installation, composition. Encapsulated with various moments and images, Aiii_v3.8686∅ is a performance concept beyound composition that allows Aiii to create images and moments with my body using the infrastructure provided in the space. While the structure of the composition is defined through the use of specific instrumentations and visual aesthetics/designs, contents related to the interactivity between the human and machine is intensionally left undecided for improvisation live - as the machine is intentionally built so that it will behave differently in every performance.
A feedback loop with the Mastermind
In order to truly perform WITH Aiii, I have decided to completely give away my control and power on any part of the infrastructure to the machine in the whole performance. By doing so, not only does it allow me to focus on using my body and sounds to interact with the space and the machine, it also leads to an equilibrium between the physical and digital entities, an extension between each other (as coined by Melody Chua) - the human uses ideas from the machine like sounds in the 3D sound space and light projections to make decisions on making music and movement, while the machine at the same time uses information extracted from the human through audio analysis and movement sensors to generate data for sonification, audio spatialisation, light manipulation, and so on. This feedback loop is not only a process of creation, it also becomes part of the constant relationship in between the two.
Color Code: White
Setting myself away from my usual preference of the color black, which I like to associate with the idea towards nothingness and neutral identity, I decided to go with the opposite color direction for this project:
Aside from the meaning of "purity" and "positivity", the color white can be at the same time a color symbolising "hopeful" and "desperate", especially when you connect it with death and funerals (in the Chinese language, one can call funeral a "white event"). As a performative ritual, almost metaphorically performing a suicide event, I wanted to create an atmosphere where one can reflect to his/her true self - not by consuming the audience into darkness, but rather supporting with a neutral, sometimes perhaps harsh white light.
In order to efficiently control all the media and parameters during the performance of Aiii_v3.8686∅, three computers and five software programs are used to handle the data and commands for audio and visual interactions and contents.
(General Signal Flow)
(Audio Signal Flow)
(Visual Media Signal Flow)
During the development process of Aiii, I have been researching ways to allow Aiii to learn different behaviours and information and use that independently from the human during the live situation, thus become a more independent but still attentive system.
Markov Chain has been a very useful and low-CPU-cost method to train audio information live during the performance. Referencing from Samuel Pearce-Davies' method on learning MIDI information using Markov chain, I have found a way to analyse and translate the audio input from the saxophone and have the data learned using multiple coll objects in Max/MSP. This allow Aiii to generate MIDI note information by constantly learning my saxophone playing and use the data to drive different effects and synthesisers, for example the pitch content of the Sword and some synthesisers from the beginning.
AI trained audio model using RAVE (Realtime Audio Variational autoEncoder)
RAVE is a recently developed encoder by the French music & sound research institute IRCAM. With the help of my colleague in HfK Bremen Julia Vollmer, I am able to use RAVE to train my own model with recordings of my own voice as well as my saxophone playing and have Aiii to re-synthesize sounds using these models. Although the result is sometime not yet optimal, the concept of inviting Aiii to use other's voice to express has a lot of potential for future development.
In Aiii_v3.8686∅, I have used this technique on the implanted electronics' sound, as well as the male voice of the recurring phrase "This must not continue" in the later part of the performance.
During this 30+ minutes performative ritual, there are multiple "images" I have tried to create - a monologue from the mechanical voice inspired by Wataru Tsurumi's Complete Manual of Suicide, a instrumental dialogue with the almost-sacred machine god on this "one thin line", an execution ceremony on the machine-embodied saxophone, and an homage to this fading entity. By using different instruments, I want to create contrasting, sometimes even exaggerated, moments - from calm and meditative to aggressive and violent.
TraveSax Wind Controller and Sieve Max for Live Plug-in
Travel Sax is a commercial product that functions like a normal MIDI controller. It sends note and air pressure intensity values to computer program (in this case Ableton) to synthesise sounds. At the beginning of the performance, I wanted to set up a calm but dense atmosphere to accompany the computer's monologue. I programmed multiple synthesisers that use either the voice from the monologue or data from Aiii to create sounds that fit this purpose.
Since the space and infrastructure is initially built for creating a new version of Iannis Xenakis' Polytope, I decided to also pay homage to the grand master by employing his Sieve theory using David P. Landon's developing Max for Live plugin, which allows Aiii to alternate my note input according to the sieve it is using.
ChaoSax - Sensor-augmented Soprano Saxophone
Inspired by Zurich-based flutist and improvisation machine designer Melody Chua's chaosflöte, I have decided to experiment with my saxophone playing with microcontrollers. On one hand, I used some controlling units like buttons and joystick to give commands to the software (Ableton) to alternate the audio effects and gain applied to my audio input, which allows me to have more control on my own sounds; while on the other hand, I employed sensors like movement sensor that allow Aiii to "see" my movement, and thus has more information for its decision making. The combination of microcontroller and acoustic instrument has been a fine solution to free myself from over controlling the machine and allow Aiii to make more creative and independent decisions.
Alto Saxophone with Implant Electronics
Implanted electronics is a technique I have been working since 2018, the core idea is to modify electronically processed sounds with an acoustic instrument by putting a speaker into the instrument and projecting sounds into it. The sounds are manipulated through the resonance and combinations of key openings of the instrument, as well as the embouchure of the performer.
During the process of creating this piece, I have always wanted to create a moment in which the invisible machine can be presence at some point - not by materialised as a mechanical/robotic object, but through a sonifying entity. The sound from the implanted electronics is an interpretation of Aiii using a pre-trained audio model from my own saxophone playing, thus an attempt to create its own identity from its physical doppelgänger.
Sword (DIY instrument)
My languages of performative movement has drawn inspirations from aesthetics and ideas of Butoh, Chinese and Japanese traditional martial arts, as well as Japanese animation including Bleach and Neon Genesis Evangelion. And because of their occasionally distorted and violent natures and images, performing with a weapon-like object has somehow become a dream of mine for a long time.
This DIY instrument you see in the later part of the performance is created by attaching two tension springs onto a metal wand that is then amplified with three piezo microphones. The signal is then processed by multiple physical modulation effects on Ableton using data from Aiii and finally result into a pitched metallic sound.
Full-length documentation (360 video)
Chi Him Chik: Project lead/Concept, audio/visual/theatric design and composition, performance, programming, instrument design, post-production
Kui Xu: Projection content design and VR post production
Hiuyan Lee: Projection content design
Xiang-Yu Fu: LED lights design & technical help
Julia Vollmer: Audio machine learning setup technical help
Lorenz Potthast, Janusz Kendel, Leonard Puhl: Space Design
Alethia Pinzón-Rodríguez: Photo documentations
Liudmila Savelyeva: Poster Design
Dennis P Paul, Petra Klusmeyer, Peter von Maydell, Ralf Baecker: Project Mentors
Hochschule für Künste & Digital Media Bremen