Dutch duo Shackle has just released their USB music stick, which impresses with its high production values and design, typical of mainstream artists—Lady Gaga, for example, has produced USBs including video, music, and other enriched media. The Shackle Stick features audio and video of the duo—Anne La Berge on flute and electronics and Robert van Heumen on laptop, and encapsulates their ongoing creative and reflexive improvisation collaboration. Taking its name from a tether that restricts and determines movement, the duo improvises dialogically. Both their process (real-time digital manipulation of La Berge’s flute, piccolo, and voice) and their performance (symbiotic, with the electronics and the live instruments alternating leadership) are refreshingly responsive, especially within a milieu in which so many improvisers make music simultaneously but not together.

The Shackle Multiplayer Music Game that ships with the Shackle Stick does not reach its creative potential. The game uses a deck of cards and is based on the tradition of indeterminacy in composition, following also in the tradition of Brian Eno’s popular Oblique Strategies. One player shows the other(s) the cards, each displaying an illustrative word to which the players improvise (screw, bow, snap, etc.). The geometric background and repeated typeface designed by Isabelle Vigier are repetitive and somewhat uninspired, providing room for improvement in a second edition.