Convolving Signals: Thinking the performance of computational processes

Andrew Murphie


In contemporary performance, “action” seems to include acts, emergent action and the potential for action—even sometimes non-action. Performers include the human and nonhuman, the living and the nonliving. Through all this runs a complexity of technics—technologies and techniques—and these increasingly involve computational processes. How do we think the last of these—computational processes in performance? This article gives some answers to this question by engaging with four different but overlapping examples of the way that computational processes are brought into performance: the digital signal processing technique of convolution, live coding as performance, the electronic music of Loscil and Stephan Mathieu, and Sher Doruff’s work with the collaborative network performance software, Keyworx. It suggests the necessity of understanding the imperceptible aspects of computational processes, such as signal processing, as performing, even if not always directly presented. This in turn suggests a more subtle understanding of the micro-dynamics of performance in general. Part of this might require that more attention is paid to the transformation of signals of all kinds, in and perhaps even as performance. The article concludes by proposing that we now live, at least in part, in a culture of ongoing “convolution” of signals. This is a culture working with the ongoing differentiation (and integration) of intensities. The article therefore raises questions about the general performativity of a culture and technics increasingly enmeshed with computational processes.

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