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Cross-disciplinary Tacit Group a profound ‘laptop orchestra’

The South Korean-based Tacit Group performs Museum Contemporary Art Nov. 30 | PHOTO BY SeongOuk Kim

The South Korean-based Tacit Group performs at the Museum of Contemporary Art on Nov. 30 | PHOTO BY SeongOuk Kim

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Tacit Group

♦ 7:30 p.m. Nov. 30

♦ Edlis Neeson Theater, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, 220 E. Chicago

♦ Tickets, $10-$28

♦ (312) 397-4010;

When the co-founders of the South Korean-based Tacit Group began writing and performing their updated take on electroacoustic music inspired by avant-garde composers like Terry Riley, they knew right away that there was a problem.

“The music is not like pop music or opera,” said composer Jinwon Lee from Seoul. “It’s kind of difficult sometimes to understand.”

The solution? Add visuals. Not just random flashes of color and patterns but imagery directly tied to the synthesized music through complex algorithms based in part on video games and on-line chatting.

This high-tech melding of sight and sound caught the attention of Yolanda Cesta Cursach, associate director of performance programs at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, who saw the group in Seoul in 2010. Through her efforts, the Tacit Group is making its debut in the United States with a three-city tour that continues Nov. 30 in the MCA Chicago’s Edlis Neeson Theater. “They blew me away,” Yolanda said, “because they have a very, very strong visual component, and the music is all-encompassing and very immersive. And they’re using really advanced technology but in a very transparent, simple, understandable way.”

What started with a meeting between two students at the Korean National University of the Arts — Lee and Jaeho Chang, a composer and media artist who now teaches at the school — has evolved into a seven-member ensemble of like-minded performers.

A performance by the group, which made its debut in 2008 in the Nam June Paik Art Center in Korea is not easy describe. YouTube videos and the like don’t really do it justice.

“The paradox is that they work with technology,” Cursach said, “but to experience it live really fulfills the idea. It sounds dead when I have sampled DVDs that they have sent me or when I’ve looked on-line for the material. To be in the room is for them really important.”

A Tacit Group concert consists of the six performers (the other is offstage mixing the sound) in front of a giant screen on which the accompanying visuals are projected. Each sits at a desk or table with a laptop, and, indeed, the group has called itself a “laptop orchestra.”

While its compositions have a basic structure, each performance is different, because the music and visuals progress based on improvisation and algorithms or principles drawn in large part from video games.

Lee compares this approach to “Imaginary Landscape No. 4,” a 1951 work by one of the group’s heroes — John Cage, a groundbreaking American composer who completely rethought how music could be made and understood. In that piece, performers manipulate 12 shortwave radios, with the composer carefully specifying the volume and tuning settings. But, of course, he could not control what would actually be heard, and that randomness was the whole point.

The Tacit Group used Pong, a pioneering 1970s video ping pong game, in some of its early performances, and it has since drawn on a range of other well-known video games, such as Tetris.

In addition to several original compositions, the MCA program will also include the group’s take on Riley’s milestone minimalist 1964 work, “In C,” consisting of 53 short, overlapping musical phrases.

“We’re kind of a little bit scared to play ‘In C’ in front of an American audience,” Lee said, “Not many people know about him here in Korea.”

Cursach expects the MCA performance to draw a mixed audience of contemporary music fans and practitioners, video-gaming devotees and anyone who enjoys cross-disciplinary experiences. “If you like puzzles, if you are fascinated by rules and how they develop,” she said, “this really happens before your eyes at the concert.”

Kyle MacMillan is a local free-lance writer.

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