The ninth edition of the Toronto International Electroacoustic Symposium (TIES) was held in August 2015, with Nicolas Collins as Keynote Speaker. Participants from across Canada and around the world presented their work on topics such as algorithmic creation, pedagogy, cross-media, musicking and more, complemented by installations and performances.
Cross-Media Practices and the Body in Performance
One particularly prominent theme at the symposium this year was cross-media practice, as symposium guests presented recent work that has resulted out of the convergence of sound and visuals, sound and sculpture, sound and body. Although the exploration of new possibilities and new perspectives that arise out of such combinations provides a ripe, rich and inspiring artistic context in which to work, the issue of how to refer to the increasingly divergent and numerous practices encompassed by the broad, inclusive field we refer to as “electroacoustics” becomes proportionally more problematic as a result.
Ben Pott’s work is informed by earlier “acoustic sculpture” practices, Peter Bosch and Simone Simons create “music machines”, Ryan Olivier speaks of “intermedia” practices and Brian Garbet proposes the “musique documentaire”. A brief lexicon of terminology related to this situation can be found in James O’Callaghan’s “Cross-Media Transcription as Composition,” where he speaks of “[blurring] the boundaries of arrangement, transcription and composition,” translation or mimickery between mediums, and cross-pollination between acoustic and electroacoustic media. Referring to works by Canadian composers Philippe Leroux, Robert Normandeau and Gordon Fitzell, he positions his own practice of using the characteristics and formal structures of one work as a model for another in another medium. However, the relationships are complex enough that “it is not possible to describe one as a transcription of the other” in another medium. In order to “question and blur the line between sound and sculpture,” Ben Nigel Potts has created a live multi-channel performance that uses sound “to change or activate a space in new and unique ways.” He offers a discussion around the topic in “A Dialogue Between the Seen and the Heard: The use of sound as a sculptural material and sculpture as a sound instrument in ‘Cuboid’” that is also informed by historical practices such as Michael Brewster’s acoustic sculptures (which the artist himself has also referred to as “sonic drawings”).
Another theme at the symposium was the position of the body in presentations of sound-based work. Izzie Colpitts-Campbell’s investigates the intersection of the body and technology, but where Potts seeks to activate existing spaces with his work, she is interested in the creation of spaces that allow for “an expansion of the idea of body.” To this end, in “‘Costumes for Cyborgs_sound’: New body experience in sound and movement” she discusses “new forms of sound to be produced with the body through biofeedback” that can eventually “[foster] an experience of possible new identity.” For over a decade, Wendalyn Bartley has been exploring the use of the voice in live and improvised electroacoustic performance, complemented by her soundscape and Deep Listening practices. Her most recent work, Gliding Slowly Back to the Body of Origin, explores “The interrelationship between body, voice, listening and the environment” and has been deeply influenced by her reading of Susan Griffin and by her exposure to Roy Hart’s extended vocal practices, as well as by visits to ancient sites in Greece and Malta, which she explored with vocal improvisations “to connect into the deeper layers of memory held within the stones and within the earth itself.”
Sound, Visuals and Alternate Narratives
The combination of sound and visuals for performance is by no means a new practice but we are certainly in the midst of a period of incredible diversity in terms of both the ways they can be combined and æsthetic and artistic intention. 1[1. See issue 15.4 of eContact!for more on the topic of emerging and historic trends in videomusic, visual music, audiovisual art and more.] Earlier “music machines” created by Peter Bosch and Simone Simons between 1987–90 are related to their most recent installation work, exhibited during TIES 2015. Mirlitones is “A Fragile and Complex Sonorous System” consisting of suspended pipes that have vibrating membranes on one end of the tubes, driven by “[c]omplex and unpredictable processes [that] play an important role in its sonic output.” Sonic complexity in the context of Louise Harris’ “performance ecology” is a result of algorithmic processes that are used to “create audiovisual work in which there is no sense of media hierarchy,” as she describes in “Audiovisual Coherence and Physical Presence: I am there, therefore I am [?].” With these cross-media works — intended to be performed, rather than simply played back — she seeks to articulate the implicit “tension, conflict and resistance” that is found at the intersection of the performer, audience and the “visual and the auditory spaces.”
Tension, conflict and resistance in the socio-political sphere were important themes in Brian Garbet’s presentation at TIES 2015. Music has long been used as an effective political tool, and with this sonic-artistic protest he intends to help correct the misleading and even falsified narrative the corporate media built around the Occupy Wall Street movement in Vancouver. He proposes the term “musique documentaire” for his approach to the “abstracted aural documentary” presented in “‘Mockingbird’: Abstracted confessions through political music.”
Pedagogy and Programming
For several years at TIES we have seen an on-going preoccupation with the transmission of electroacoustic practices in pedagogical contexts: how do we learn about, learn to compose, listen to and share our appreciation of this broad field of sonic practices? Three distinct stages of the process were examined at TIES 2015: through initial contact in the classroom (Alexa Woloshyn) to the use of and definition of the topoi found in EA work as practiced by composers and performers (Ryan Olivier) to considerations of the audience’s own participation in the presentation of EA (Chris Mercer and Rodolfo Veiera). Alexa Woloshyn has developed teaching activities that help engage students in the learning and appreciation of music that they feel is somehow unfamiliar to them, despite the fact that they are constantly exposed to it in films, video games, online videos and more. In “Moving Beyond the Weird, Creepy and Indescribable: Pedagogical principles and practices for listening to electroacoustic music in the general education classroom,” she describes an approach that engenders “engagement with electroacoustic music through active learning that students consider both valuable and manageable” in order to demystify artistic work using abstract electronic sound.
The increased presence of multimedia on the concert stage is another important contributing factor in the audience’s increasing appreciation of EA works, according to Ryan Olivier. Using a work by Jarosław Kapuściński as an example, he speaks of “intermedial counterpoint” and “transference of meaning from one medium to another” in “Intermedial Cognition: Towards a method for analyzing electroacoustic intermedia through an interpretation of the topoi in Jarosław Kapuściński’s ‘Oli’s Dream’.” With the increased use of multimedia in concert situations there is the not only the possibility of “increased perception of musical discourse in electroacoustic composition through the use of visual representation” but also potentially “a new plane of cognition.” Despite the fact that “very few people outside the field of music technology associate digital media with Classical music,” this is exactly the approach proposed by Chris Mercer and Rodolfo Vieira to improve audience engagement in the concert hall. There is great potential for an improved concert hall experience to be gained through the integration of intuitive tablet controls for the audience. The interactive experience they propose in “Turning the Tables: The audience, the engineer and the virtual string orchestra” could, for example, help resolve the problem that “traditional concert hall experiences may be too passive for digitally connected audiences.”
The current situation for the application of algorithmic processes in electroacoustic composition is limited by the fact that commercial software is typically modelled on multi-track recording. Bruno Degazio proposes a “Desiderata For Algorithmic Composition In The Context Of Practical Composition” that lays out a context for the application of algorithmic processes during the compositional process such that processes based on shapes, number behaviours and time distortion, for example, can be applied locally instead of globally, not to mention transparently. In “Musical Behaviours: Algorithmic composition via plug-ins,” he describes the functionality of a number of “behaviours” that he has developed for use in the context of his Transformation Engine.
Since its first edition in 2007, TIES has run in tandem with the Sound Travels Festival of Sound Art, presented annually by New Adventures in Sound Art (NAISA), with their special invited artist also giving the Keynote Lecture at TIES each year. In summer 2015, several editions of the radio programme Making Waves were produced by NAISA that featured interviews with artists invited to the 17th edition of Sound Travels, and we are pleased to be able to include these interviews in this issue. Michael Palumbo speaks with Nicolas Collins (TIES Keynote Speaker), Wendalyn Bartley, Peter Bosch, Stephanie Moore and Matt Rogalsky about the work they would later present in the festival as well as earlier works by the artists. Additionally, we have an interview with acousmatic and composer Elizabeth Anderson on the topic of “Wilfulness vs. Creative Intuition.” Nicolas Marty speaks with Elizabeth on the influences her youth in Spain, an atypical early formal education and her studies in Cologne and Paris had on her work. And finally, James O’Callaghan offers a review of Norma Beecroft’s Conversations With Post World War II Pioneers of Electronic Music, an e-book of interviews Norma made in the 1970s with an impressive roster of composers such as Gustav Ciamaga, Pierre Schaeffer, Iannis Xenakis, François Bayle, John Cage, Vladimir Ussachevsky, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Hugh Davies, Luciano Berio and Barry Truax, to name but a few.
The 9th edition of TIES was another successful collaboration between the CEC, NAISA and the Canadian Music Centre (CMC). At the writing of this editorial, the schedule for the 10th edition of the Toronto International Electroacoustic Symposium is being worked out by the organizers, but you can already pencil in the dates. TIES 2016 will take place in Toronto from 10–13 August 2016 at Geary Lane and at the Canadian Music Centre — we are pleased to welcome multifaceted artist John Oswald as Keynote Speaker this year. Hope to see you there!
30 April 2016