A column about past, present and future ongoings in international electroacoustic and related communities [index].
Electroacoustic Music in Melbourne
Melbourne prides itself as an international arts hub and considers itself the cultural capital of Australia. The city abounds with activities across established and emergent disciplines. The state government has one of the most generous arts funding programs in Australia and this is augmented by the City of Melbourne’s funding. This attracts and retains a wide variety of practitioners from the other states and creates a dynamic and diverse tapestry of activities. This makes it difficult provide a succinct overview of the sound related activities without missing or offending someone. It is pretty much impossible for two people to be completely aware of everything sound related happening in this city. We apologise in advance for any omissions.
It’s also difficult to categorise people in terms of being electroacoustic composers. Even as we write this document, a debate rages on the <cec-conference> mailing list about what the term electroacoustic actually means/says/signifies. We have decided to avoid the term and give an overview of practitioners who use or have used electronic devices in the production of works which ostensibly lie outside of the popular and dance domains. Even this demarcation still causes problems and concerns for us as there are many who traverse these boundaries with ease and fluency. The range of titles include but are not limited to; computer musician, instrument builder, software developer, hardware hacker, sound designer, sound artist, composer, improviser, synthesist, performer, academic, installation artist, non-academic, theorist, activist etc…
History and Background
Percy Aldridge Grainger, one of Australia’s first composers to gain international recognition through his orchestral work also spent some time exploring his concept of “Free Music,” which challenged then current notions of pitch, rhythm and melody. In order to hear his ideas he needed to develop machines for realising his experiments as traditional performers and instruments were incapable of producing the necessary gestures required. He collaborated with Burnett Cross to develop various machines for exploring the realms of continuous pitch. Most of these machines are on display at the Grainger Museum at Melbourne University.
The CSIR Mk1, Australia’s first automatic computer was moved from Sydney to Melbourne and renamed CSIRAC in 1955. Mathematician and programmer Thomas Cherry developed a system for realising melodies on the computer from standard musical representation. These musical realisations were considered amongst the first examples of computer music. CSIRAC is the only intact first-generation computer surviving anywhere in the world and is now exhibited at the Melbourne Museum of Victoria.
In 1966 Keith Humble was appointed Senior Lecturer in Composition at the University of Melbourne and established an electronic music studio. The studio was the first academic studio in Melbourne and paved the way for Melbourne’s wealth of electronic music activity. The studios played host to Graeme Gerrard, David Worrall and Ros Bandt. The University of Melbourne also claims to have had the first undergraduate computer music course in Australia.
In 1974 Keith Humble established a Music Department at La Trobe University, electroacoustic music was an integral part of the curriculum. La Trobe was to become on of the most influential electronic studios in Australia. Staff at La Trobe included, Jeff Pressing, David Hirst and Jim Sosnin. La Trobe was renowned for staying at the leading edge of music technology and hosted one of the only NeXT ISPWs in Australia. La Trobe was included in the world’s top 23 computer music institutions by Japanese journal Intercommunication 6. Unfortunately funding cuts resulted in the closure of La Trobe Music department in 1999.
The Australian (now Australasian) Computer Music Association was formed in 1989 through the efforts of Graeme Gerrard and David Hirst. In the early nineties there were a number of computer music performances held at Elm St Hall in North Melbourne under the auspices of ACMA. In 1993 ACMA had the first Australasian Computer Music Conference and while it was in Sydney it owes much of its organisation to the work of David and Graeme. ACMA, while never exclusive, was focussed more on academic pursuits rather than the experimental side of music.
Established by Ron Nagorcka, The Clifton Hill Music Centre ran from 1976-1983 and while not specific to electronic/music it hosted events by people active in the late seventies and early eighties. The CHMC provided non-exclusive access for performers in various experimental music genres. Warren Burt, David Chesworth, Philip Brophy, Rainer Linz and Ernie Althoff were all closely associated with this scene. The La Trobe music department also had strong links to this venue.
Rainer Linz established NMA Publications (New Music Articles) with Richard Vella. For ten years NMA magazine was a forum for musicians, composers and sound artist to write about their work.
From the late 90s until its closure in 2007, Synaesthesia, a record store run by Mark Harwood, provided a hub with in-store performances and an extensive range of obscure experimental music recordings. Synaesthesia provided a nexus for noise, experimental, and fringe pop artists.
Festivals, Concert Series and Supporting Venues
The Melbourne International Arts Festival is held annually with a concurrent Fringe Festival. From time to time these events incorporate electroacoustic works. However, the main annual festival for experimental and electronic music is Liquid Architecture, now in its tenth year, and touring to all east coast capital cities and a number of regional centres. In addition to many Australian artists, Liquid Architecture has presented a number of luminaries including Bernard Parmegiani, Francisco Lopez and Robert Normandeau. From 1994 to 2000, What Is Music? presented an annual concert series in Melbourne and Sydney showcasing experimental music and incorporating sound artists. The Next Wave festival is a biennial festival presenting the work of young and emerging artists. It has hosted major electroacoustic events such as in 1998 when Lawrence Harvey and guest artist Curtis Roads curated a series of concerts for a large-scale acousmonium. Recently, the Quiet Music Festival has presented electroacoustic and hybrid electronic works.
Undue Noise collective presents regular concerts of electronic music in regional satellites Bendigo and Castlemaine. Lawrence Harvey has been presenting concert series of classic Electroacoustic works on the SIAL acousmonium at The Meat Market Arts Centre, and more recently at the Melbourne Recital Centre. The Bent Leather Band have been presenting monthly improvised electroacoustic concerts at the Victorian College for the Arts. The Footscray Community Arts Centre has hosted a number of concert series including Articulating Space, organised by Anthony Pateras and other’s by James Hullick. The Astra chamber music society presents an annual concert series, primarily of early and 20th century chamber music. Prior to the closure of the La Trobe University music studios, Astra maintained a close relationship to composers working there and presented a number of electroacoustic concerts including tape and live processing.
Melbourne is well-known for its vibrant bar scene. A number of bar venues host regular nights of electronic and improvised music. Current performance nights include: Stutter at Horse Bazaar usually presenting a mix of improvised and experimental noise music; Make it Up Club at Bar Open an improvised music night favouring visceral instrumental improvisation but at times conducive to laptop performance; Plug and Play at Kent Street present ambient computer generated visuals and sound by local and visiting artists; Share Outpost at Bar Open, previously at Horse Bazaar, is a monthly night of laptop jamming with a featured artists set, you can usually find ten or more laptop musicians performing along side a few VJs at Outpost. In addition to these regular nights, other bars including Loop, Glitch and the Toff in Town host one-off electroacoustic performances.
Performances and sound art installations are often presented in a range of gallery spaces in the CBD. Some notable inclusions are West Space, Blindside, Bus Projects (formerly Bus Gallery) and Forty Five Downstairs. The Linden Gallery in St Kilda also played host to some seminal performances/installations from Warren Burt, Brigid Burke, Chris Mann and many others.
The Melbourne City Council runs an annual public art commissions for works to be installed in Melbourne’s many laneways. Sound art works are often included.
Electronic music practice is fostered by a number of collectives who organise performances, workshops and talks:
Clan Analogue organise parties, concerts, CDs and in 2009 year have run the Institute of Sound a monthly talk covering subjects related to electronic music production.
Melbourne Dorkbot (currently in recess) runs (ran) monthly artists talks which often feature presentations of electronic music related projects.
Share Outpost run workshop nights and perform interstate and at local festivals, in addition to the monthly laptop jam night mentioned above.
VICMOD is a monthly meeting of analogue synthesizer builders.
The city of Melbourne has housed a number of permanent and semi-permanent large-scale sound installations, such as the South Gate sound scape (1992–2006), and William Barrack Bridge (2006–present). A number of key international Sound Design practitioners are based here:
Ros Bandt is a composer/sound artist/performer/instrument maker who has maintained a steady output of works of international acclaim. She is also the director of The Australian Sound Design Project.
David Chesworth & Sonia Leber develop sound and multimedia works in a range of cultural contexts, including museums, galleries and public sites. David has also been a permanent fixture in the experimental music scene since the mid 70s.
Nigel Frayne is an Acoustic Designer and Soundscape composer and is involved in large scale installations for public areas including museums and galleries. Nigel is currently the President of the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology.
Les Gilbert and his associates at Sound Design Studio and more recently Magian Design Studio produce large scale architectural sound installations for museums, science centres, zoos, aquariums and other interpretive institutions.
The Australian Sound Design Project web site documents Australian sound designs and designers.
Melbourne is home to a number of instrument builders and musical inventors.
Ernie Althoff has been building music machines since the 70s. His instruments usually make use of low-cost re-appropriated materials such as old turntables and bamboo resonators.
Ross Bencina develops the AudioMulch sound synthesis and processing software.
Rod Cooper constructs sculptural instruments from scrap metal which he performs in concert using bows, motors and hand-wound exciters, usually amplified with contact microphones.
Rohan Drape and Neil Kelly (Slave Pianos) work with computer controlled pianos and bespoke automatic pipe organs, among other resources.
Stuart Favilla and Joanne Cannon (The Bent Leather Band) build and play a variety of electronic and hybrid electronic-acoustic instruments. Recently they have been developing electronic instrument extensions for local instrumental performers.
Rainer Linz’s work ranges from software based computer systems to hardware interface devices and collaborative installations. Rainer has close associations with Stelarc and other notable visual artists.
Paul Perry produces analogue and digital hardware sound processing boxes under the Frostwave moniker.
Since the 80s, Robin Whittle’s Real World Interfaces has provided hardware and software modifications for commercial electronic musical instruments.
In addition to the instrument builders mentioned here, many of the artists listed at the end of the article engage in software and/or hardware development to facilitate the realisation of their works. Two useful resources for Australian instrument building are Clatterbox directory of new musical instruments and instrument builders, and Australia Adlib a “guide to the wild, the weird and the vernacular in Australian music.”
Melbourne is home to a number of contemporary music publishing houses and recording labels, including:
Cajid Media, run by Jacques Soddell, releases Australian experimental music and sound art. Red House Editions publish contemporary music scores, writings and CDs. NMA Publications, run by Rainer Linz, features writings and CDs from prominent experimental music people.
The Australasian Computer Music Association publish proceedings and compilation CDs featuring works from ACMA members which provide a great snapshot of Australian computer musicians.
Shame File Music Features fringe pop, noise, and many experimental artists. Synaesthesia is home to Robin Fox and Anthony Pateras, and is run by Mark Harwood. Dorobro is a label run by Darrin Verhagen, features Darrin, Phil Samartzis and Shinjuku Thief.
Box Hill Institute’s Bachelor degree includes music technology courses. Tim Opie (the current president of ACMA) teaches here.
Monash University School of Music have electronic music studios as part of the Composition department. These studios were initially set up by Steve Adam and are now run by Peter Mcilwain. The activities at Monash are centred around more traditional composition and performance practices.
School of Music, Melbourne University runs one of the oldest composition courses in Australia and while not as dominant in electronic music as it was in the seventies and eighties it still caters for those wanting a more traditional grounding in compositional practice.
NMIT runs industry based course in Music Technology. Myles Mumford, Roger Alsop and Adrian Sherriff teach here. While industry based, the teachers here come in part from experimental music practices.
RMIT SIAL Sound Studios is directed by Lawrence Harvey and focuses on sound spatialisation and auditory awareness with a view to Acoustic Design and Urban Soundscapes. The studios are well equipped for developing spatial sound works and have portable multi-speaker projection systems for off-site performance.
RMIT School of Art, Sound Department is home to Philip Samartzis and Darrin Verhagen. Their focus is on the conceptual and social context of sound-related activities. Darrin and Phillip have strong connections with visual arts, theatre and dance.
Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne University has a production department which has a strand focussing on Theatre based sound arts. Roger Alsop leads up research and teaching of sound subjects in this department.
Swinburne University of Technology teaches a Radio and Multimedia course. Jim Barbour teaches spatial sound as part of this.
Below is an incomplete list of established Melbourne-based musicians actively involved in electronic-based performance and/or composition.
Scott Baker (Abre Ojos)
Ross Bencina / AudioMulch
Stuart Favilla and Joanne Cannon (Bent Leather Band)
Madeline Flynn and Tim Humphrey
Mark Groves (Absoluten Calfeutrail)
Sean Healy (Jean Poole)
Ross Healy (Cray)
Sonia Leber and David Chesworth (Wax Sound Media)
James Rushford and Joe Talia
Simulus: Ross Bencina, Steve Adam and Tim Kreger
Snawklor: Dylan Martorell and Nathan Gray
Eamon Sprod (Tarab)
Françios Tétaz / Moose Mastering
Althoff, Ernie. “The Clifton Hill Community Music Centre: 1976–1983.” NMA 7 (1989). Available online at http://www.rainerlinz.net/NMA/repr/Clifton_Hill.html
Hirst, David. “An Echo from Closed Doors.” Organised Sound 6/1 (April 2001), pp. 39–45
Linz, Rainer. “The Free Music Machines of Percy Grainger.” Experimental Music Instruments 12/4 (1997), pp. 10–12. The online version includes links and photographs that did not appear in the original. http://www.rainerlinz.net/NMA/articles/FreeMusic.html
Museum Victoria Australia. “CSIRAC: Australia’s First Computer.” Online. http://museumvictoria.com.au/csirac
Thanks to Ben Byrne, Lawrence Harvey, David Hirst and Jacques Soddell for providing additional information.