YouTube has been a driving force in the communication era, providing a platform for diverse material whilst overcoming notions of censorship and popular acceptance. Unlike the highly selective process of creating content for major broadcasters, the DIY ethos of YouTube’s community has allowed virtually anyone with a rudimentary computer and webcam to publicise views, ideas, and news from parts of the globe that had little previous exposure. The statistics are truly staggering; in 2011, YouTube had more than 1 trillion views or around 140 views for every person on Earth, with 72 hours of content uploaded every minute.
This vast depository of data sparked the inspiration for “Tube Ensemble”, an interactive installation presenting a set of virtual performers able to create ambient soundscapes by manipulating YouTube streams.
The timbre and dynamics resulting from each performer are designed to be complementary and form what has been described as an industrial free-jazz sextet. Four of the performers form the rhythm section, with their respective processing chains existing on an interconnected network, allowing each “performer” to affect and guide the others. And as with most jazz ensembles, the two further soloists are left to their own devices, and will often dominate and overpower the rhythm section.
The installation is arranged over six web access points, allowing the audience to select YouTube videos for each of the virtual performers. Whilst the main speakers broadcast the whole ensemble’s output, a further set of monitors on on each access point make it possible for the participant to audition the individual sound outputs, and also the original video’s audio. This format provides a great insight on how the installation processes the YouTube stream, and allows the visitor to either act as an observer/listener of the sonic environment, or become an active participant by contributing sonic material, via youTube, for manipulation by each performer.
The final output is an abstract digital soundscape with evident organic textures. Due to the manner the performers interact between them, and for YouTube’s virtually infinite variety of content, each performance is unique, with arrangement depending purely on the participants’ input.