biography of michel waisvisz

Volker Krefeld, revised march 2004

 
 

 

Michel Waisvisz is a creator of live-electronic music and electric theatre. He is the composer and also the performer of his music.

By making electronic sound tangible through the invention of instruments such as The Hands, The Crackle Box and The WEB, and staging the first theatre play ever entirely performed by real living robots ("The Slungels" Holland Festival 1981), Waisvisz is widely praised as an authentic creator and performer in the electronic performance arts. His approach is typically based on the re-animation of carefully deconstructed technology. As such the Crackle Box is a very early example of 'glitch'.

Michel Waisvisz has moved and worked independently; he is mainly self-taught; he has a reputation for being a forerunner; as a performer he can steer up ecstasy with clinical technology. One critic wrote, describing his impact: ‘Waisvisz’ performance causes an itch in a part of the brain where we cannot scratch’.

In the late seventies he choose exclusively for live performance; since than he did not publish any of his performances on CD or other media. Until very recently he wanted his electronic music only to exist in the reality of the concert hall.

Waisvisz toured internationally and played in a great variety of social entourages: from the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, various clubs and smaller venues in Europe, the Mutek festival in Montreal, the Philharmonie in Berlin, the Exploratorium in San Francisco, the inflatable Colourspace in London, The Kitchen in New York, big open air rock/jazz festivals in Rotterdam and Moers, church towers in Groningen and Utrecht to a subway station in Hannover and a dungeon in Bologna. In the summer of 1996 at the inauguration of the new tower of the IRCAM in Paris he performed on the square next to the Centre Beaubourg and created music with the sounds contributed by passing audiences and street musicians. He also performed in a packed 2500 seat hall at a Shinto sponsored festival in Nagoya in Japan. In the main auditorium of the Louvre in Paris Waisvisz performed a live film sound track to the original version of 'The Hunchback of the Notre Dame'

Over the years Waisvisz also collaborated with many artists: he worked together with amongst others: Najib Cheradi, Laurie Anderson, DJ Spooky, Truus de Groot, Shelley Hirsch, Maarten Altena, Lodewijk de Boer, Moniek Toebosch, Richard Teitelbaum, Fausto Senese, Steve Lacy, Shusaku, Peter Brotzman, Frans Zwartjes, Patrizia van Roessel, Willem Breuker, John Cameron, Misha Mengelberg and many others. He also performed 'Operation LiSa' a collaboration with the audience: this is a piece that is entirely based on sounds sampled live from the audience and turned into music on the spot.

He received commissions for compositions by The San Francisco Symphony, the IRCAM / Paris, WDR studio for electronic music in Köln, Art Rock Festival Frankfurt, Centro para la difusion de la musica contemporaneal in Madrid, Viitasaari festival Finland etc. Recently he made a music work collaborating with the audience. The piece was entirely based on sounds by the audience recorded and manipulated live by Waisvisz.

He is the founder of Physical Philosophy. In Physical Philosophy, instead of using spoken or written language, the phenomenon of the physical act of manipulation of instrumental objects is considered the shortest and most precise expression of the axiom’s of philosophy. 'The act is it’s metaphor; the act overrules its description’.

Besides his work as composer Waisvisz has created series of instrumental inventions. Amongst them The Crackle Box, The Hands and The WEB take a prominent place . The Hands is an instrument that consists of small multi-sensor keyboards attached to the hands. By moving arms, fingers and hands one can play an entire electronic 'orchestra'. The instrument was a breakthrough in a time when electronic music was still merely a studio-art. Waisvisz motivates the physical approach in the design of this electronic music instruments by stating that machines are precise with numbers, but the human hand is more precise with musical time. Before the World Wide Web existed on Internet Waisvisz developed The WEB as a musical instrument. Waisvisz envisioned the concept of a mechanical web, with each thread as a sensor, as a physical metaphor for handling the big quantity of information needed to manipulate electronic sound in an organic and human way. In Waisvisz' musical WEB an extended complex of wire-sensors that are inter-connected in a WEB-structure can be manipulated by a single finger movement. By feeding the many sensor signals to a computer music system one person can create and manipulate complex combinations of electronic sounds in an extremely spontaneous and intuitive way.

Many variations on the these instruments and other ideas have been bundled in the Touch exhibition. This exhibition entirely consists of instrumental objects that can be played by the audience. Since the seventies various incarnations of this successful exhibit have toured Europe and has proven to be a great inspiration for other initiatives in the field. It receives firm attention from school teachers, their pupils and researchers in education.

Waisvisz also developed - together with Frank Baldé - software for live electronic performance. The Lick Machine and LiSa (and recently also junXion) are widely known for their unconditional dedication to instantaneous musical en sonic exploration.

He initiated - together with Tom Demeyer and Steina Vasulka - the development of Image/ine, an image sampler/manipulator that has become the forerunner of VJ software's like Arkaos, Nato, Jitter and Isadora.

As an organiser Waisvisz has contributed to, or founded, many of the new music festivals and electric art manifestations in the Netherlands:

Claxon Sound Festival, Pandora’s Music Box, Rumori Festival, STEIM’s ‘Secret Concerts’ etc.

Waisvisz has lead the STEIM foundation in Amsterdam since the early eighties. Since than STEIM has become a major international research and development centre for new instruments for live electronic music and also the visual arts, and international meeting place for those who work in electronic performance and new media culture.

 

 

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