A column about past, present and future ongoings in international electroacoustic and related communities [index].
Electroacoustic Music in Edinburgh
Edinburgh, a city famous for its (many) arts festivals, is lucky enough to be large enough to support a varied population of practitioners and institutions yet small enough for people to be able to be aware of another. It has a very well-established local culture of traditional and jazz musicians, and a comparatively small, but well-rooted and active electroacoustic community.
The University of Edinburgh is the dominant institution in the city for research into electroacoustic music. Peter Nelson, now head of the Department of Music, set up its first (tape-based) studio in 1978, which was then significantly expanded, including the addition of a Sun computer to run CSound, when Nelson returned to Edinburgh in 1986.
Key recent developments have included the offering of new master’s degrees in Sound Design and Digital Composition and Performance, alongside more traditional courses. The first of these new degrees, run initially by Pedro Rebelo (now of SARC, in Belfast), and now under the guidance of Martin Parker, is closely allied with other courses around digital design, and provides a space those areas of sonic practice that intersect the concerns of music, sound art and design. The Digital Composition and Performance course, supervised by Michael Edwards, is geared towards electroacoustically orientated musicians whose background and concerns might lie outside “concert music”. This makes for an extremely lively and varied post-graduate population, further helped by close working links with the informatics, psychology and physics departments.
Significant fruits of these interdisciplinary ties have been a long-running seminar series in Music, Informatics and Cognition (since 2005), and the recent formation of a working group on Sound, Performance, Technology and Design.
Edinburgh’s Napier University also has studio facilities, and, an hour to the west, both RSAMD and the University of Glasgow conduct electroacoustic research. Meanwhile, Edinburgh College of Art and Queen Margaret University (which has a renowned specialism in theatre) provide fertile ground for collaborative relationships and a rich wider community.
Edinburgh enjoys a large number of venues, a number of which are sympathetic (variably) to experimental work, such as The Bongo Club, Henry’s Cellar Bar, The Forest Café, Cabaret Voltaire and The GRV.
Also based in the city is Seven Things I Daren’t Express, an experimental podcast label, run by John Harris, that has released a number of recordings by, among others, sonic artists based in Scotland, including Bill Thompson, Zoë Irvine, David Fennessy, Max Richter and Pete Dowling.
The University of Edinburgh’s Department of Music enjoys the talents of an extremely diverse and accomplished group of electroacoustic practitioners, with Robert Dow, Michael Edwards and Martin Parker working alongside Peter Nelson. Significant university alumni have included Steven R. Holtzman, Eduardo Reck Miranda and Nick Rothwell, David Murray-Rust, and Mike Cullen, whilst a number of current students are highly active within the city and wider world, notably Paul Keene, Jules Rawlinson, Sean Williams and Lauren Hayes.
In nearby Glasgow, Stephen Arnold and Janet Beat were both hugely significant in early electroacoustic practice in Scotland, and the city is currently home to Alastair MacDonald, Nick Fells, and Pete Dowling.
Early important events included a conference in 1978 to conduct a wide survey of electroacoustic practice at that time, accompanied by a week of concerts, and a concert series in 1983–84 that featured visits from Charles Dodge, Jean-Claude Risset, Paul Lansky and Iannis Xenakis.
There are currently a number of recurring events: Robert Dow runs Soundings…, a twice-yearly festival of acousmatic concerts in the department’s Reid Hall, and Martin Parker organises Dialogues (since 1999), an annual sonic arts festival at the Queen’s Hall. Additionally, the U of Edinburgh’s music department has started putting on occasional less formal concerts in its atrium, and there is a regular night of experimental music, Grind Sight Open Eye, organised by Lin Zhang, that takes place at the Forest Café.
Trends and Summary
A conspicuous and encouraging trend in Edinburgh’s electroacoustic community at present is its diversity; a set of exciting collaborations between local artists like Sileni, Kresch, Asthmatic Astronaut and The Chemical Poets is yielding an idiosyncratic strain of improvised hip-hop with a strong electroacoustic element. Meanwhile, artists from varied backgrounds, such as traditional musician Simon Thoumire, and pop group Found explore the possibilities of electroacoustic experimentation in their own work.
Whilst the normal range of difficulties of operating in a wider culture primarily fixated on exchange-value continue to apply (as they do everywhere), with shortages of funding, venues and additional scope for community engagement, Edinburgh has an energetic, vibrant and committed electroacoustic community.