The newest issue of eContact! shines the spotlight on presentations from the 2011 Toronto Electroacoustic Symposium (TES). With Keynote Speaker Jonty Harrison and sessions grouped around such themes as creation, algorithms, listening, analysis, space and curation, the 5th edition of TES was co-presented by the CEC and New Adventures in Sound Art (NAISA). Several interviews complete the issue.At the centre of TES 2011 was a Keynote Address by Jonty Harrison, Director of the Birmingham ElectroAcoustic Sound Theatre — or BEAST, as it is more commonly known. Housed within the University of Birmingham’s Music Department, this research, composition and performance institution been one of the mainstays of multi-channel diffusion of electroacoustic compositions for two-and-a-half decades. “The Final Frontier? Spatial strategies in acousmatic composition and performance” takes an intimate look at the BEAST system, which has been developed in tandem with the changing needs of the EA milieu over the years, and can include more than 100 speakers. Diffusion is seen here as an “enhancement of the [recorded] sound image” — i.e. the system is built for the creative content it serves. When multi-channel composition became more and more common, a research team developed the BEASTmulch software to assist composers in spatialization — at the compositional stage — of multi-channel works prior to their diffusion over a performance system. Harrison is not alone in maintaining that space is a crucial component of acousmatic composition and diffusion, but the topic is of course equally important in other genres and areas of electroacoustic creation and performance.
Analysis and Space
Alexa Woloshyn’s “Playing with the Voice and Blurring Boundaries in Hildegard Westerkamp’s ‘MotherVoiceTalk’” dissects and analyses Westerkamp’s complexly layered work around Canadian artist Roy Kiyooka, seeing it as an auto-biographical reflection on the creation and perception of self (identity) and environment (home). Through elements of her own environment and nature, Westerkamp reflects on the connections between herself and the artist, whom she had never had the chance to meet, inevitably provoking questions of the boundaries between “public and private, self and other, time and space.” Snippets of recordings both artists made of themselves and their mothers speaking are the fibres of a densely woven fabric that fuses disparate temporal and cultural spheres through common concerns.
Since the mid-1980s, Henry Gwiazda has employed an extraordinarily wide palette of sounds — from field recordings to everyday sounds — in the creation of works that present these sounds in a surreal, cinematic array. In “The Choreography of Noise: Analysis of Henry Gwiazda’s ‘buzzingreynold’sdreamland’,” Bijan Zelli explores how differing techniques contribute to the building of holophonic scenes, surreal collages and mosaics — choreographies of sound — in which highly contrasted sounds are tightly connected through timbre and pitch content, rather than associative semblances. Using the software Focal Point, Gwiazda creates stereo works that articulate a three-dimensional space using only two loudspeakers, the horizontal and vertical sound localization an intimate part of the collage-like work.
Where the localization of sound is composed into Gwiazda’s works, and achieved manually during performance in the typical electroacoustic concert using a multi-speaker presentation system, what is unique about Darren Copeland’s use of “The Audio Spotlight in Electroacoustic Performance Spatialization” is that the sound reproduction source itself is portable, and can be mobilized during performance. The Spotlight is mounted on a swivel stand or strapped on the body of the performer and then “aimed” at the reflective surfaces of the room, selectively “positioning” sounds throughout the space. Portable and affordable, and already used in such spaces as the Tate Modern and Centre Pompidou, a stimulating future for EA performance in such spaces with the Spotlight clearly exists…
Instruments and Performance
New instruments and controllers are perhaps one of the most commonly encountered topics at symposiums and conferences, reflecting the diverse range of needs and interests of the individual members of the international EA community. A combination “Electroacoustic and Computational Feedback Synthesis” instrument developed by Campbell Foster allows for the generation of complex sounds that emulate characteristics of naturally occurring systems in the world. The development of this instrument, based around a plate of sheet metal and speakers fed electroacoustic- and software-generated feedback loops, is informed by control theory, fractal mathematics and an analysis of iterative phenomena from the natural world.
The “Sonik Spring” is a hand-held performance instrument and controller designed by Tomás Henriques that is scaled to the human body. Sound generation, processing and playback are possible with this spring-based instrument, but it also has potential application in medical assessment of people with neurological challenges, by monitoring the patient’s movements. The length and shape of the instrument are altered by expanding and contracting the spring, and the movements are mapped to its various performance modes: play(back), processing and cognition.
Materials and Technologies
The acquisition — gathering or generation — of sound materials is another realm of activity that constantly occupies the hands and minds of the electroacoustic composer. Over a decade ago, Wiska Radkiewicz and Andrea Cohen began to build the “The Soundson Project,” which provides an interface via which several collaborators can collectively compose new works. As the project is web-based, users based anywhere in the world can participate, the project therefore unfettered by distances or language barriers dividing the contributors. Obviously, today’s digital technologies and the internet make such tasks immeasurably less cumbersome than the authors’ own experiences of mailing physical media back and forth on a collaboration years ago, which drove them to build this project.
Technologies developed by the Generative Electronica Research Project, on the other hand, are used to autonomously generate beats, patterns and even form for electronica pieces. Arne Eigenfeldt describes the system GERP has been developing in “Towards a Generative Electronica: A Progress Report.” Probabilities of instrument simultaneity and flow of time based on the analysis of many representative pieces from various strands of dance music are used to give the computer creative potential to generate works that are stylistically valid with the models they are inspired from.
As Eigenfeldt also hinted at, Ben Ramsay notes increasing similarities since the early 2000s in the IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) and acousmatic communities, not only in terms of the technologies and techniques used, but also even in the compositional approach, although the resulting music may differ to some degree. The ever-increasing exchanges and crossovers represent for him an auspicious opportunity. The academic and dance communities only stand to benefit from “Bridging Acousmatic and IDM” through greater emphasis on terrain that has in fact long been familiar to both “sides”, rather than focussing on their differences, as is customary.
One regrettable side effect of the omnipotence of technology in all facets of our lives today is that the artist and non-artist, young and old alike, are bombarded with ever more potent pressures to update, upgrade, modernize, renew… The hidden “threat” of refusing to acquiesce to this omnipresent and insatiable socio-technological peer pressure is the self-doubt and even fear that propagates in the individual about not being cutting edge, state of the art, progressive, avant-garde enough… Steven Naylor encourages artists to refuse to unquestioningly empower the different forms of “Electroacoustic Ageism” — chronological, technological and stylistic — and to fight to maintain focus on the work created with the tools rather than the fetishization of the tools themselves.
Interviews and Columns
In addition to articles presented at the Toronto Electroacoustic Symposium, this issue features an interview by Xenia Pestova with British pianist Philip Mead. Well known for his work with electronics since the 1980s, Mead has commissioned many important works for piano and tape (or electronics), including Jonathan Harvey’s Tombeau de Messiaen. As might be expected, any discussion of mixed works by a performer inevitably touches on issues of interpretation of not only the instrumental part, but also the electronic part, and this interview is no exception to that. 1[1. You are invited to explore much more on the topic published in a previous issue: eContact! 13.2 — Keyboard + Live Electronics: The Performer’s Perspective / Claviers + « live electronics » : La perspective de l’interprète (April 2011), with Guest Editor Sebastian Berweck.]
In 2005–06, Bob Gluck did a series of interviews with a number of composers from around the world — the Middle East, China, South America and Europe — who not only studied (for the most part) at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center during its Luening-Ussachevsky-Babbitt heyday, but would also later prove to be driving forces behind the development of EA and New Music in their own milieux. In this and upcoming issues, we will publish these interviews, which as a whole offer an excellent overview of the activities undertaken by these individuals, many of whom chose to work outside the ivory towers of the historical EA milieu (Paris, Cologne, New York). To start off the series, we are happy to feature Gluck’s interviews with two Columbia-Princeton classmates, Israeli composer Tzvi Avni (founder of the Jerusalem Academy’s studio) and Turkish composer İlhan Mimaroğlu (engineer on Ornette Coleman’s landmark recording Free Jazz), and Iranian composer Alireza Mashayekhi (founder of the Iranian Orchestra for New Music). You can expect, of course, a plethora of anecdotes about their time studying and working in New York…
And finally, returning to the theme of the Toronto Electroacoustic Symposium, the guests in this issue’s installations of Kevin Austin’s “6 Questions” column are past and present symposium Chairs David Ogborn and Emilie C. LeBel.
We hope you enjoy reading these TES 2011 articles, and the complementary interviews and columns. Stay tuned for an upcoming issue of articles presented at the 2012 edition of TES.
On behalf of the CEC, I extend warm thanks to everyone who planned, coordinated and presented or performed at TES 2011, but especially to New Adventures in Sound Art (NAISA) for their fantastic contributions helping make this event the success it has been since 2007! Keep your ears open for information and scheduling for the upcoming 2013 edition of TES in August.
21 March 2013