Double Blind (Love), an Online Collaboration

Right now, two blindfolded people are singing “love, love, love” a fragment from U2’s “Until the End of the World.” The woman, Annie Abrahams, is in Montpellier, France. The man, Curt Cloninger, is in Asheville, NC, USA and also playing a suitcase-model Rhodes piano. They’ve been at it for four hours, and will probably be at it for two hours more. When I checked out the live online broadcast of it at just before 2 p.m. Abrahams wasn’t in front of her web cam. Had she bailed? Or had she just taken a break? The two don’t have an “I’m done” signal, so any pauses in the singing could be just pauses or simply the end.

The performance is called Double Blind (Love) is being performed simultaneously in three spaces: the Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Centre, in Asheville, NC, USA; Living Room espace de création contemporaine, Montpellier, France; and online at The performance started at noon Eastern Standard time or 6 p.m. Central European time. The pair’s plan is to sing together for as long as they can. Yesterday, Cloninger figured the performance will go for close to five hours.

“Annie is hardcore,” he said.

Cloninger himself is quite hardcore. Not only does he have a background in punk and speed metal bands, but he’s sung a line from a pop song, for six hours, three times before. The Pop Mantras, as Cloninger calls them, involved “We ride tonight/ Ghost horses” from Radiohead’s “You and Whose Army”; “For a minute there/ I lost myself” from Radiohead’s “Karma Police” and ” and “Tonight/ Wait now” from the Ramones “I Just Want to have Something to Do.”

For Cloninger, these micro-focused music marathons, including Double Blind (Love), can be an attempt to communicate something to an audience.

“If there was a way to cause people feel what certain songs make me feel,” he said, “that would be valuable, but of course this is impossible. So then it’s this stupid brute force kind of Samuel Becket–inspired attempt to just continue to repeat that thing over and over and over as if that was going to do it. But of course it doesn’t. And something else happens.

“It’s a way to fail rigorously,” he adds. “You can’t just fail because it’s boring. Anybody can fail. But it’s valuable to try and achieve something that you know is not going to be achievable and just to push on that.”

The main challenge that Cloninger and Abrahams face is the delay inherent in sending audio/visual signals over the Web. Their improv is not in sync, and the time delay shifts because of buffering. Cloninger wrote about this challenge to their collaborating in an email to Abrahams:

We don’t have the luxury of being “in” the same time, and so much traditional composition is based on the assumption that the performers have the luxury of being in synchronized time. Our compositional variability (changes/differences) will have to be based on blunt phases (loud/soft, complex/simple, monotonous/erratic, a cappella/instrumentally-accompanied, etc.) Who knows what others we will develop. Each of these phase shifts can be initiated by either of us. We will just have to be attentive to the each other. And these phasings in and out will be sluggish and gradual, because we share a time with each other that is similar, but not exact.

We have given ourselves enough “time” to negotiate and explore this odd timescape. It is a time of “desire” (we only remain in it as long as we want to). And hopefully our changes will be motivated by desire rather than by mere “musical innovation.” In other words, we will change what we are doing not because we want to “entertain” anybody, but because we are personally bored and we desire to do something else, or because we are in communication with each other and we desire to connect, or because we are curious, or because we are following a flow to see where it leads, or whatever. And we can’t change the melody or the lyrics. We can only change the affective things that we can change. So we have taken most of the “elements” of music (rhythm, melody, harmony) and rigorously modified them. But I think the performance will still wind up functioning as a piece of music (at least in some sense, although that won’t be all it is doing).

And of course our faces will be doing whatever they are doing, but that will be a residual effect. We will be attentive to the audio and not as attentive to the video. Usually in new media art it is the other way around (visuals first, then audio as residual).

Over the past four hours the singing has shifted through various modes. The pair has just mumble sung, and other times, just drawn out phonemes from the word love. They’ve wailed and caterwauled. Sometimes it’s a dirge, other times it’s a fight.

Tomorrow I plan to speak with Cloninger to get his thoughts on this online collaboration. How did he feel in that moment when Abrahams disappeared. (She disappeared again as I was writing this.) I’m hoping Cloninger’s thoughts on online collaboration will give me some more insight into my search for LoK8Tr. Cloninger and Abrahams may be singing blind, but I’m writing in the dark with respect to my assignment.

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