Third Space In Conversation With very long cat
THIRD SHIFT 2020
very long cat is an online music duo formed by tabla player Shawn Mativetsky and live coder David Ogborn. Based in Montreal, QC and Hamilton, ON, the duo rehearses and performs over the internet, improvising and exploring the realms of sound and image. The tabla is a versatile pair of drums from the North of India, played with the fingers, and features a colourful sonic palette. Through live coding, the art of programming live in the moment, David is able to create a wide variety of digital musical and visual elements that converse with Shawn’s tabla playing. The code is displayed throughout the performance, revealing the process behind the music.
What brought you together as a team?
Shawn Mativetsky: As a musician with a dual background in both Indian classical and Western classical music, I have often been looking for creative ways to bring the two together, and for over 20 years have been commissioning composers to write new / contemporary music for tabla. If I remember right, David and I connected over Twitter around 8 years ago. Our discussions eventually led to a concerto for tabla with laptop orchestra. This was performed and recorded with the McMaster Cybernetic Orchestra, which is the live coding laptop orchestra that he directs in Hamilton. That project went really well, and we discussed other ways that we might continue to collaborate. very long cat is the result!
David Ogborn: I’ve been making music and programming since I was a child in the early 1980s, with a TRS-80 Color Computer 2, and over time, the two interests became more and more closely intertwined. We met on Twitter and collaborated on a composition/recording with the Cybernetic Orchestra – after that collaboration we wanted to keep working together, and the challenge of finding a way to do it between our different locations (roughly at opposite ends of Lake Ontario) just made it even more interesting.
What is the most challenging part of performing together live from different locations?
SM: very long cat is all about connecting and making music over the internet. While it might seem that this project was conceived for COVID times, it really wasn’t; we were just looking for ways to rehearse from our respective cities, Hamilton and Montreal. Since we rehearse regularly over the internet, performing over the internet is no different. It’s the normal mode of operation for very long cat! While we have done a number of performances in-person from the same location, we have also done numerous performances telematically, where one of us has been in one city, with the other elsewhere, projecting the performance to a local audience. Though I have to say that as a musician, I do prefer the interaction of face to face, when we are able to be in the same space. Even though we do see each other when we rehearse and perform online, there’s just something more immediate in the communication, more human about being together in the same physical space.
DO: The software and techniques we use to be able to do tightly synchronized beats (despite being in different places and thus in avoidably different temporal frames of reference) is always changing, and so some rehearsals involve a lot of technical troubleshooting.
SM: Over the last few years, we’ve tried different solutions for syncing up remotely, and while there have been days where our computers weren’t cooperating as intended, overall the process has been really smooth. This is absolutely due to David’s amazing technical abilities!
What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?
SM: I really enjoy the aspect of improvisation and exploration. Our two traditions of tabla and live coding are quite different, but yet there are also many similarities, especially in how our two traditions centre around improvisation. The search for new possibilities, new intersections is very rewarding. Whether our performances are in person, or online, it’s amazing to be able to share our music for new audiences. There is something very special about being able to make music from two different locations, two different physical spaces, and somehow still connect and create something unified. Lately, David has been exploring more on the visual side of things, and to bring together sound and image, to have them interact with each other, sometimes in very direct ways, forces one to re-evaluate one’s practice and perception. I find it very enriching to work in this sort of interdisciplinary environment.
DO: Well it’s always rewarding when we get through the technical update phase and just start making music/visuals again! More broadly, it’s rewarding to be able to have long musical conversations with the same person, over years. Network music technique certainly makes that easier.
SM: When we started very long cat, we never could have anticipated that our ability to make music remotely, connecting from different cities, could be an asset in the future, with respect to what has now become necessary during these times of social distancing. It would seem that this project was conceived specifically for this situation we are now in, but it wasn’t. We are very fortunate that we are able to continue as usual, which is definitely not the case for most. That being said, it makes one think about the significance that this distanced music making may have, and what it might mean for creative music making in the future.