Ping Melody is a comprehensive musical performance intercepting and sonifying various types of data, mainly related to the structure of information exchange in global communication networks. It is a sense allowing the perception of the data itself – which a man lacks – based on the possibilities offered by music and sonification.
Over the many years of Ping Melody’s mutations and development (since its premiere at the WRO 03 GLOBALICA 10th Media Art Biennale in 2003), the nature of the performance has changed: it has evolved from a musical form utilizing the dynamics and structure of planetary electronic communication to the form that combines communication, environmental and satellite data, serving as a kind of global sonar that enables the audience to feel the continuous and autonomous stream of information produced by human civilization.
The most important element of the performance is still the musician playing the acoustic instrument: the sound of the acoustic instrument is a sonic material and a basis for all musical forms and structures that emerge during the performance of Ping Melody thanks to the intuition of the musician experiencing the data and their patterns. In addition, the musician, as an individual, sets their own mastery in playing the instrument against the final informational representation of the sum of all the techno- and dataspheres to which we have access.
The sound of the instrument is sampled in real time, sent via the internet to the tested locations and servers, modulated with the data and played again. The musician can treat it as an echo (hence the sonar analogy: the data shapes the sound as the shape of the sea bottom forms the reflections of the sonar), a partner, or a disturbing noise of civilization-induced excess and overload.
Ping Melody is a music-net-performance. The temporary and unique state of all actions of internet users has an influence on the form of the musical composition. The musician (instrumentalist or singer) is playing an acoustic instrument/singing, and the sounds produced by the instrument/voice are shared in packets of data information (granulated), then transmitted to the selected internet locations (as a Unix “ping” command). The order of the packets’ return, packets’ delays, and transmission errors alerts are incorporated, and the information coming from these actions controls in real time transformations of the sound being played. The performance will be accompanied by visualizations, showing tracks of data and error information, etc. The dedicated software is a kind of sampler (granular synthesizer) and a pitch tracker, which uses the internet to transform and create sound construction. The musician is improvising, treating software, which transforms the sound coming from his instrument, as a partner – another musician.
Most of net artists utilize some specific possibilities of the internet: they work with WWW, streaming, etc. In Ping Melody, I treat the internet not so much as a tool which functions in given way, but as a space that can be observed. I am especially interested in some sub-possibilities of the internet that grow out of the simultaneous activity of a huge count of its users.
In various philosophical and theological schools and traditions, there is an idea which describes the universe as a composition of an ideal component (which is not subject to scrutiny) and a material component (examining which we can conclude about the former). This kind of probe has had a long tradition in the history of philosophy. By sending the sampled sound across the internet and receiving the signal returning from one server or another in Ping Melody, I can conclude about processing on the basis of the audible differences between the source and resulting signals.
In the performance, I use a single instrumentalist and the sound of an acoustic instrument in opposition to the collective character of the scanned dataspace. The mastery of an acoustic instrument in connected on one hand with technical perfection and, on the other, with the ability to give the produced sound an individual tone. In case of improvising musicians, it is also connected with the ability to respond to changes as they occur and to compose them into one’s own sound form. This ability is particularly important in Ping Melody: the musical improvisation is created here in relation to the unique, temporary entirety of the world’s information exchange. That is why it is only if the musician consciously captures its characteristic points (or rather characteristics of processes at a given moment) that sound forms can be created which involve something more than just a mechanical reproduction of the net-caused distortions affecting the source sound material.