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[Festival Report]

25 Years of BEAST

25 Years of BEAST (Birmingham ElectroAcoustic Sound Theatre)
7–10 January and 8–9 March 2008, Birmingham UK: University of Birmingham.

Celebrations were kicking off this year as 2007 saw BEAST reach its twenty-fifth anniversary. Founded in 1982 by Jonty Harrison, the BEAST (Birmingham Electroacoustic Sound Theatre) system was designed specifically for the performance of electroacoustic music. The system uses multiple channels of separately amplified loudspeakers, which are controlled by the performer from a custom-built diffusion desk. Undergoing constant development, BEAST is continually expanding and adapting to meet the needs of music and composers and can now install systems of around 100 loudspeakers.

Calibrating the loudspeakers
Calibrating the loudspeakers. Photo by Annie Mahtani.
The celebrations took shape in the form of six concerts which were spread over two weekends in early 2008. The pieces programmed were a combination of “classics” and newly composed works from BEAST composers, old and new. The first four concerts took place from 7–10 January 2008 at the George Cadbury Hall in Birmingham. A new venue for BEAST and somewhat smaller than the usual venue, the system consisted of 60 channels encompassing different loudspeaker arrays for the performance of stereo and various multi-channel configurations. Concert 1 was presented in conjunction with the RNIB (Royal National Institute for the Blind), the sponsors of David Hindmarch who is a current postgraduate at the university. The programme comprised music by Hindmarch and works by current BEAST composers Annie Mahtani and James Carpenter.

Concert 2 represented the current BEAST contingent and included Martin Clarke’s Lapse (from Slides), Sonja Froebel’s Frame Resonant and Julien Guillamt’s Voyage en terre confuse, all UK premieres. This concert also introduced some newer members of BEAST, Serena Alexander and Zlatko Baracskai. A late addition to this program was Stockhausen’s Gesang der Jünglinge, added after the sad news of his passing.

Concert 3 welcomed the return of some of BEAST past with Pippa Murphy, Pete Stollery, Robert Dow, Peter Batchelor, Elaine Lillios and Adrian Moore all returning for the celebrations. The concert opened with Harrison’s classic, Klang composed, coincidentally, in BEAST’s birth year.

Adding the final touches
Adding the final touches (in March). Photo by Julien Guillamat.

The final concert of this session was curated by the guest composer Gilles Gobiel in which he presented pieces from his new album Trois songes.

The next two concerts of the series took place in March at the regular venue for BEAST concerts: the CBSO Centre in Birmingham City Centre. A system of 70 channels was erected ready to immerse the audience in sonic wonderment.

Concert 5 took place on March 8th 2008 and was curated by Jonty Harrison. It combined old and new composers related to BEAST and included works by Alistair MacDonald, Anup Paul, Andrew Lewis and Tom Cahill Jones. The concert also included a piece by Chris Tarren, winner of the University’s undergraduate electroacoustic composition prize.

Finally, the last concert of the series was curated by BEAST the following evening. The concert showcased pieces by current beasties and recent graduates including Iain Armstrong, Helena Gough and Shelley Knotts.

The six concerts highlighted the diversity of the composers that have been related to BEAST; one can only hope that this vibrant and exciting community continues to thrive for another 25 years! Further information about these concerts and other activities of BEAST can be found aton the BEAST website.

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