It’s the next logical step after televised Madden tournaments instead of real football games, and concerts by people playing Rock Band instead of musical instruments: Live music performed with Nintendo Wii.
The difference is that, unlike the former examples, The Wiitles aren’t simply playing a video game for your benefit. They are creating actual music — albeit with Wii remotes, which are used to control their software of choice.
A performance by The Wiitles is just that: They take the stage as regular musicians do, brandishing their Wii remotes, counting the song off, and playing and singing. The sound is surprisingly thick, and the presence of rock–style lead vocals and harmonies, animated stage presence and triggered percussion means that you pretty much get the full concert experience.
(If you’re thinking Devo, you’re not that far off the mark.)
The Wiitles – who perform Saturday, Jan. 30 at the Jepson Center as part of the Telfair’s Pulse Festival – are Ryan Peoples, Nick Kneece, Steven LeGrand, Ian Vargo.
Lead vocalist Peoples, who graduated with a master’s from the SCAD Sound Design department just last year, now works as a professor in the Audio Production department at the Art Institute of Atlanta. We had an e–mail exchange with him last week.
Is the Wii hardware itself actually vital, or could you theoretically have built open–source trigger mechanisms for the audio?
Ryan Peoples: I should begin by pointing out that the actual Wii console does not come into play for The Wiitles. I think that is often the assumption. We only use the Wii controllers, and we use them to manipulate other software (and hardware) outside of the Wii. The way that the controllers are used has evolved along with the band.
At first we used the controllers to trigger samples and synthesis inside of a program called Max/MSP, a graphical development environment for creating music and manipulating video. More recently we have implemented other programs such as Ableton Live, Osculator, and several drum and sound samplers, and control all of them with the Wii remotes.
My understanding is that WAV files are triggered by the Wii remotes. Does this mean you have a limited number of chords/notes/ sounds available at any given time through the remotes? Or are you capable of modulating tone/pitch during performance?
Ryan Peoples: Triggering WAV files is just one of the things we can do with the Wii controllers. We also trigger loops and can control the way that the samples and loops are modulated in an infinite number of ways. It may be that when the only function of the Wii controllers was to trigger samples that The Wiitles were a bit of a gimmick.
These days, however, with the ability to modulate our audio with the accelerometer (the device inside the Wii controller that can be used to sense orientation, vibration and shock), the way we perform is totally unique.
The Wii controllers allow us to manipulate audio in ways that could not be done with more traditional MIDI controllers. They also allow us to move around during a performance, anywhere within 50 feet of the computer running our programs. Not being tied to cables or a keyboard is another example of how the Wii remotes allow for a different kind of performance.
Is it wrong of me to say that the chief musical skill involved would actually be percussive in nature, because of the rhythmic triggers of the remotes?
Ryan Peoples: On some songs you would be absolutely correct. We play the Wii remotes just like any other band would play their instruments where every note is played in real–time by triggering the samples. For other numbers, where modulation becomes the criteria, that would be incorrect to say.
The songs we play are often times a combination of triggering loops and samples, and manipulating those loops and samples. Maybe one person will do the triggering and the other three will perform modulations or vice versa.
Is each band member evolving a musical persona, i.e., is the one who takes most of the “leads” beginning to mimic the persona of a lead guitarist, etc?
Ryan Peoples: We’re all pretty nerdy guys. I’m not sure that any of us have any stereotypical “rock star” traits in us... although Ian Vargo (drummer) certainly tries.
How do you decide who plays what when?
Ryan Peoples: We always had roles before: I did the vocals, Ian did the drums, Stephen LeGrand played the bass sounds, and Nick Kneece played guitar sounds. This is no longer so straightforward, since often times one of us will modulate several sounds or loops in one song. These days we just have a discussion during rehearsals and discuss who will play what.
Tell me how the Wiitles advance the concept of sound design through their performance art.
Ryan Peoples: I’m not sure The Wiitles are doing anything groundbreaking as far as designing sounds, but the use of the Wii remote allows for motions during a performance that are different for live musicians.
Whether or not the way the Wii remotes interact with sound will lead to new sonic discoveries remains to be seen, but I do believe that potential for these types of breakthroughs exist in the Wii remotes.
When: At 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 30
Where: Jepson Center, 121 Barnard St.
Pulse Festival Full Schedule:
http://telfair.org/upcoming–exhibitions/shih–chieh–huang/, Shih Chieh Huang
Body Beats, Thomas Chan and Si Cho
Virtual Ground, Andrew Hieronymi
Illumination Station, Timothy Jackson .
Organic Constructions, Kenneth A. Huff
The Legislation Visualizer, Chito Lapena
Wed., Jan. 20 11 am – Lecture and Discussion by Thomas Chan, Si Cho, and Shih Chieh Huang, “Body Beats”
4 pm – Inflatable Sculpture Workshop with Shih Chieh Huang, Telfair’s Eckburg Atrium
Thu., Jan. 21 6 pm – Lecture by Shih Chieh Huang, “Counterillumination”
Fri., Jan. 22 6 pm – Performance by L.E.M.U.R. (League of Electronic Musical Urban Robots) with Zemi 17 and the GamelaTron
Sat., Jan. 23 11 am – Lecture on Physical Game Design by Andrew Hieronymi1–6 pm – Designing Casual Games Workshop with Andrew Hieronymi, Part I at SCAD (specific location TBA)
Sun., Jan. 24 10 am–6 pm – Designing Casual Games Workshop with Andrew Hieronymi, Part II
Mon., Jan. 25 12:30 pm – Lecture by Timothy Jackson: “The Case of Liberation Aesthetics Versus Digital Identit(ies)” Demonstration of interactive work to follow.
Wed., Jan. 27 4 pm – Workshop: “Sewing with Conductive Threads to make a Light–up Garment” with Diana Eng* (Ages 15 and up)
Thu., Jan. 28 6 pm – Lecture by Diana Eng: “Fashion Geek”
Fri., Jan. 29 11 am – Solar Robot Workshop with Christian Cerrito, Royce Learning Center, 4 Oglethorpe Professional Blvd.
6 pm – Film: Copyright Criminals
6–8 pm – Interactive Installation by the Medeology Collective:Going Now(here)
6–9 pm – Matt Hebermehl Projection
7 pm – Bikes! Art! Technology!
Sat., January 30 2–5 pm – Art and Technology Expo/Family Day