Bassist Mark Dresser has been at the forefront of a new merger of music and technology, working closely with the University of California in the pioneering field of Telematic performance, which combines players improvising live in real time, from different geographical locations, communicating through the Internet 2 (available only to research universities) and utilizing super-bandwidth capabilities and audio-video connections, and operated by a virtual army of highly trained technicians.
The latest local use of this technology combined a group of musicians from UCSD with three Korean masters streaming from the Seoul Institute of the Arts: Bae Il Dong on pansori vocals, Young Dong Kim on daegum (Korean bamboo flute) and Lee Jungyo’s gayageum (Korean zither). At UCSD, Dresser employed the piano of Myra Melford, the flute of Nicole Mitchell and the trombone of Michael Dessen. The Koreans could be seen via three large video screens inside the Experimental Theater. Imagine Skype on steroids, and you have the idea.
On Dresser’s “Tidings and Sediments,” Melford initiated a string of solos with low-end rumblings in a super-resonant environment, followed by the grainy acrobatics of Dong’s vocals. Mitchell always focuses a gorgeous tone with lithe and graceful logic, yielding to the pensive, harplike structures from Jungpyo, followed by the mournful braying of Dessen, the hissing flute of Kim and, finally, the fierce, pulsing arco of the bassist, whose solo signaled a slow dance of intricate and intimate interplay between the players -- with a heavy emphasis on dynamics and close listening.
Mitchell’s sinewy “Swivel and Swerve” began with the sound of two flutes quavering over the dark pizzicato of Dresser and the "Twilight Zone" harmonies of Jungpyo, weaving through extremes of pitch and vibrato, and an intoxicating melange of distinctive voices enjoined in a consciously decisive stream of ideas.
Especially beautiful was Jungpyo’s “Se Ya Se Ya,” which translates to “Birdy, Birdy.” She also sang on the piece, which featured sweeping arpeggios and a loping bass unison.
Dessen’s “Far Cries” closed the session, toggling between relentless glissandi and a piercing wail that seemed to me the very definition of pathos. Inside the tune lived a stirring duet between Dresser’s plucked bass and Jungpyo’s scraped-stringed gayageum.
Telematic performances are the future, and everyone involved in this emergent art form are virtual pioneers, staking out the benchmarks for the rest of us.