Martin Parker's Shackle Stick text
Dear Backers. The Shackle Stick is on it's way!
We need the last bit of donations to fund production and the video that will be filmed on 8 May in Amsterdam during the Zaal 100 concert series.
This is the text that will appear with the Shackle Stick, written by Martin Parker and freshly revised on 18 April. We're very excited about it. So is he:
To be shackled is to be tethered, restricted, to have limited freedom of movement. To be shackled to another performer as La Berge and van Heumen are in this live electronic music means that forwards, backwards or sideways progress cannot be made without playful negotiation, some tussle and perhaps an uncomfortable consensus. Shackle are bound via messages that are sent to each other's electronics and tell them what to do next: they are obliged to recognise these commands, and this provides a trajectory for the music that, whilst made in the moment, is coerced into being through the friction that their bonds create.
What are the sonic consequences of this approach to improvising and performing? The openings of many of the tracks on this memory stick explode with an energy that implies individuality, freedom and autonomy. However, as the pieces and live sets here progress, what at first seems like exuberance is actually work, a struggle to spit the music out, or to find it, or a race to get there. You'll hear this clearly in the opening of the Edinburgh set from 2010. This live performance lasts nearly 37 minutes without a break and has La Berge literally gasping for air within 4 minutes. From this point on, the duo negotiate the double-edged benefits and constraints of being musically tied together.
Other shackles however have been deliberately cast off. The legacy of the classical flute for example has been abandoned; listen to “Twist” – flutes just aren’t supposed to sound like this are they? La Berge’s rigorously tested electronics are discrete and used so organically that they behave like extensions of her musical intentions rather than bolted-on 21st century extras. As La Berge leaves the flute's polite character at the door, van Heumen has liberated himself from the magnetic pull of his computer screen. On the videos here, you'll notice his laptop lid down just far enough that the computer doesn't go to sleep, but there is no chance he can glance across to check the status of his software. Instead, he interfaces with his instrument by listening and by touch.
Van Heumen has developed a sophisticated relationship between game controller and instrumental agency. His joystick sounds incredibly well armed and he continually plays a game with the flute, grabbing tiny samples of live sound and firing them back into the room. Here, we see Shackle bound to some well-tested rules of acoustic sound production: if the interface isn’t being used, van Heumen doesn’t make a sound.
Aside from the musical risks this duo take when performing live, releasing music on memory stick may seem especially dangerous as you can erase and repurpose the data-space for other things. Copying to your media collection is very simple and with no DRM, you could pass this stick around to your friends, even remix some of the music and add that to the stick before you hand it over and pretend that your remix is one of Shackle's pieces. Are Shackle being flagrantly irresponsible with a fast and loose attitude to their copyrights and authorship? No, this is a healthy and pragmatic response to the way things are now in music publishing and in a consumer society such as ours. Releasing on memory stick saves landfill, and you get something useful once you've imported the music to your media collection.
This duo of flute with electronics and joystick-controlled laptop make unusual and highly driven music that fits their name. Wriggle, squirm, rub, coerce, jam, rupture, giggle, slip, roll, flap are other words that go some way to conjure a sense of what this music must be like to make and certainly what it is like to listen to.
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