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Sound and Music Computing Conference 2008

5th Sound and Music Computing Conference
31 July – 3 August 2008
Berlin, Germany: Technische Universität Berlin

[See accompanying Inventionen / SMC08 Photo Essay by jef chippewa]

Coordinated by a consortium of European national computer music associations — Association Française d’Informatique Musicale (AFIM); Associazione di Informatica Musicale Italiana (AIMI); Deutsche Gesellschaft für elektroakustische Musik (DEGEM); της Ελληνικής Εταιρίας Μουσικής Πληροφορικής (HACI) — the Sound and Music Computing Conference is developing into an increasingly important annual European conference and festival. This year’s conference was organized by DEGEM in collaboration with the Audio Communication Group at the Berlin Institute of Technology (TUB — Technische Universität Berlin). The concert program was embedded, almost seamlessly, into the annual Inventionen festival of new music.

The papers committee had selected about three dozen papers for presentation, complemented by a trio of invited a keynote lectures presented by Bernhard Leitner, Hans Tutschku, and Trevor Wishart. To accommodate these papers in the two-and-a-half days available for the conference, two parallel sessions were run for most of the time. Of particular interest to this reviewer were papers by Simon Emmerson and Eric Lyon on “Memory Space” and “Spatial Orchestration”, respectively. Both of these papers featured musical work by the two composers. Most presentations were more focused on la science pour la science, for instance Emmanuel Jourdan’s “Zsa.Descriptors,” which implement a series of analytic methods for analyzing characteristics of audio data. These are currently implemented as external objects for Max/MSP (leading to an inevitable discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of the many competing platforms for audio processing).

The organizers are to be commended for making the entire Conference Proceedings available online. This is a benefit both for those who participated in the conference and those who were not able to attend.

The final day of the conference was dedicated to presentations of the diffusion technologies that had been used in the concerts and installations. These encompassed the Klangkugel developed at the Hochschule für Gestaltung at Karlsruhe, Germany; the Acousmonium developed by Groupe de Recherches Musicales, the Klangdom developed at the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnolgie, and the Wave Field Synthesis system installed in the TUB. The three latter systems were all installed in a single lecture hall, which was used for all the SMC concerts. Over and above the massive diffusion capabilities of the WFS system (approximately 2,700 loudspeakers organized as 832 independent channels), the Acousmonium and Klangdom added two dozen independent channels each, for an additional 62 loudspeakers. The “Composers’ Forum” (a mixture of technical presentation and concert) included a number of pieces conceived specifically for this mammoth diffusion system.

The music program of the SMC, as a whole, was massive, with seven concerts in three days, plus numerous installations spread around the city. Alone on Friday evening the concert program began at 7:00 p.m. and continued till well past midnight (I’m not sure when or where we were meant to eat this evening, but that is perhaps a mundane point). The concerts were a combination of juried concerts and curated programs. From 83 submissions in response to the Call for Works, the music jury selected 17 pieces to be presented in two concerts. An additional two dozen pieces were programmed into additional concerts. These latter were organized into two concerts themed on “From Mono to Wave Field,” a “GRM and Friends” program, and the opening concert.

The opening concert on Thursday began with the première performance of Gilles Gobeil’s Castalie. This is a work worth hearing more than once, and was composed especially for the Acousmonium/Klangdom/WFS combination — indeed, the program notes state that the piece was intended to “illustrate the differences between discrete loudspeakers, Acousmonium, and Wave Field Synthesis”. The concert continued with Ludger Brümmer’s Move, Zellen — Linien by Hans Tutschku, and Åke Parmerud’s Dreaming in Darkness — altogether a program of well-crafted works by well-known practitioners of electroacoustic composition.

The centerpiece of Friday’s trio of concerts was the first of the two “From Mono to Wave Field” retrospectives. This included such standards as Karel Goeyvaerts’ Compositie Nr. 5, the Octet I by Earle Brown, and a movement from Henri Pousseur’s Voix et vues planétaires, complemented by several newer works. The concert was kicked off with a repeat performance of Castalie by Mr. Gobeil. This concert was framed by the two concerts of festival submissions. Perhaps the highlight was the last piece of the night, an extract from Annette Vande Gorne’s opera Yawar Fiesta. This piece combined through-composed choral music for a trio of treble soloists, processed in the studio and presented with Ms. Vande Gorne’s exceptionally vivid live diffusion skills.

Saturday’s focus was on the second “Mono to Wave Field” concerts. Golden Oldies, like Trevor Wishart’s Vox-5 and John Chowning’s Turenas were juxtaposed against less well-known seminal works, such as Walter Ruttmann’s Weekend, and newer compositions, including Mark Applebaum’s Pre-Composition. Mr. Ruttmann’s composition is arguably the earliest extant piece of musique concrète, composed in 1929 — a good two decades before the term was coined by Schaeffer and Henri — also containing elements of soundscape. Mr. Applebaum’s work is remarkably simple in that it uses minimally processed speech, with speakers used as point sources. Aesthetically it is, however, a stinging satire on the compositional and æsthetic clichés of contemporary electroacoustic music-making. We were also treated to another performance of Castalie.

Billed as a “concert/demonstration/discussion”, Sunday afternoon’s Composers’ Forum was largely a showcase for music by students taking part in the ECMCT (European Course for Musical Composition and Technologies, a program coordinated by IRCAM and a consortium of European music academies), complemented with presentations of the diffusion technologies incarnated in the Acousmonium, Klangdom, and WFS systems.

The closing concert mirrored the opening, with a panorama of respected composers and (mostly) well-known works: these included Pentes by Denis Smalley and Jean-Claude Risset’s Sud. Hans Tutschku presented a compelling new work, Zwei Räume, with which the festival closed.

The SMC organizers — Michael Harenberg, Folkmar Hein, Martin Supper, and Stefan Weinzierl — as well as the Music and Papers committees and the SMC staff, are to be congratulated on orchestrating a well-run and enjoyable conference and festival.

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