Sounds of a Transcendental Universe: Interview with Matthias Schneiderbanger from Benoît and the Mandelbrots
In the darkness of the HayArt exhibition space, a dim light shines on three motionless figures. Only their fingers are moving and, as we close our eyes, so is our imagination, carried out by mysterious sounds to a transcendental universe. The figures we see are those of Benoît and the Mandelbrots, a live coding laptop band formed in 2009 by four students of the Institute for Musicology and Music Informatics in Karlsruhe, Germany. We talked with Matthias Schneiderbanger, one of the members of the band (this time performing as a trio), to find out more about this innovative art form, and their performance at the ARé Performing Arts Festival.
What is live coding music and how do you perform it?
Matthias Schneiderbanger – In live coding music, the laptop is the main instrument. What we basically do is we write source code, which is interpreted by the computer and expressed through sound structures. The outcome varies from electronica and ambient to experimental, noise or avant-garde music. As a band, it’s important for us to be in the same network, so we can communicate through chat during the performance. In order to exchange ideas when we need to figure which direction to go, we started to use simple adjectives – such as noisy, beaty, etc. Each of the members is responsible for its own sound layers, but we also have the possibility to change global parameters, such as the tonality and the tempo.
The source code of the performance is projected live
Since coding is a very abstract practice, how do you picture how the code you wrote is going to come out?
M. S. – It has a lot to do with imagination. I mostly try to anticipate what my code will sound like. It’s like a feedback loop in a way. We try to imagine the sound in terms of algorithms, evaluate the answer of the computer, and then adjust it… or get surprised by something we were not expecting! If I knew exactly what I was doing, it would not be as interesting. There’s always a part of experimenting.
What was special about your performances at HayArt?
M. S. – What was very interesting was the round space, with a lot of reverb. From an acoustic perspective, it can be difficult to deal with. But in those situations, live coding is very “grateful”. Since we generally start from a blank page, we can really react to the room. This is what I enjoyed most in the HayArt space: to listen how the sounds unfold in the room reverb. The other special thing was the lineup. It was the first time that Patrick, Holger and I were performing as a trio. Normally we play the four of us, or as duets or with other artists. With this lineup we went places we had never been before, even during rehearsals.
Holger, Matthias and Patrick performing at ARé Festival
Your performance at HayArt seemed to have broken away from the loop-based approach which is prevalent in electronic music. How do you make your music sounds organic?
M. S. – It’s the result of us working on multiple sound layers at the same time. We don’t have to think in terms of loops or patterns, especially when we’re producing atmospheric or noise-based layers. Each of us is creating a sound and changing its parameters in the process. It’s like creating an automate that you leave running while working on another one, and then come back to modify later. I sometimes create very long sounds that go through so many phases that you can’t really identify the pattern.
You mainly do improvisation, but do you sometimes feel that you came across something unique that you would like to turn into a composition?
M. S. – Since we started, we have been so hooked on making unique performances that we never really thought of recording or documenting it. For our LP “Benoît and the Mandelbrots”, we recorded several improvisation sessions and edited different parts of it to create new compositions. Besides that, we have also been involved in cinema projects, doing live music for two black-and-white movies from the 1920s and 1930s. Unlike usual, we implemented exactly what you mentioned in your question. Sounds and structures that we improvised during our rehearsals were incorporated into the final piece. At the same time, we left enough parameters open for us to be able to play with them during the performance.
Interview by Achod Papasian