The 2012 Toronto Electroacoustic Symposium (TES) is the focus of the latest issue of eContact! Co-presented by the CEC and New Adventures in Sound Art (NAISA), the 6th edition of TES featured Trevor Wishart as Keynote Speaker. A selection of the creative and theoretical practices, collaborations and research of members of the international EA milieu is accompanied by several interviews and columns.
The 2012 edition of TES featured a Keynote Address by English composer Trevor Wishart, author of the books On Sonic Art: The æsthetics of composition in a digital age and Audible Design. His interest in the voice as sound source for both live improvisation and composition extends back into the 1970s, and his rich exploration of transformation of the vocal sources is probably most familiar to listeners through works such as Red Bird (1978) and The Vox Cycle (1980s). For Globalalia (2004), he gathered voice recordings from around the world in 26 different languages and set about extracting individual syllables and categorizing them by speech characteristics: the resulting library for the half-hour work contained well over 8000 source sounds! In his most recent composition, “Encounters in the Republic of Heaven,” while exploring discoveries in the tempo of speech, phrasing and contour typical to persons living in industrial Northern England, one of the questions was whether it would be possible to “extract and musically distil the essence of an individual human voice.” From the recordings he made in the region, the characteristics of “the sound of a unique human being” were extracted and applied to the large-scale compositional development and used to compose individual “portraits” of speakers who appear in the work.
Gathering, collecting, accumulating… this type of activity would seem to be a leitmotif in the life of the EA composer. In “Information Asphyxiation: Procrastination, distraction and the digital artist,” Steven Naylor reflects on the impact that these and other related activities can have on the EA composer. Indeed, as can be seen in this issue, inherent to the gamut of practices in the field are such activities as collecting and organizing sounds for new works (Wishart, Hall), commissioning new compositions (Hron), creating new instruments (Jarvis) and developing new software (Ogborn, Degazio) to create new pieces, gathering research data (Basanta, Çamcı)… not to mention the CEC’s own contribution to this phenomenon: this issue of eContact! contains 12 articles, 3 interviews, 5 columns, this editorial (in two languages), a table of contents, and of course a few dozen audio support materials and many images to complement these new digital objects!
Collaboration and Creative Practice
Keen to build on the experience of her first CD release, Terri Hron explored the process of collaboration to an even greater extent with composers who she commissioned to write new works for recorder and live electronics for Bird on a Wire II. “Creation Through Collaboration: An ‘idiomatic’ performer’s perspective” describes the different types of working process and artistic exchanges that resulted, which, as a whole, represent the “wide range of æsthetics, genres and technologies” that is found in the EA milieu. Such collaborations offer project members the opportunity to exchange ideas and experiences, and foster individual artistic development.
An inclusive artistic context is also one of the pillars of The Cybernetic Orchestra, founded and coordinated by David Ogborn at McMaster University, in Hamilton. This laptop orchestra actively encourages the participation of musicians and non-musicians alike, with each member’s own individual experiences, stylistic background and interests feeding into and informing other members of the orchestra. As Ogborn emphasizes in “Scalable, Collective Traditions of Electronic Sound Performance: A Progress Report,” unique to such an approach is that it inherently allows for a much larger “scale of public participation in electroacoustic and media art” performance than traditional music groups are able to do.
The constitution of the Cybernetic Orchestra is such that the members themselves naturally explore many of the ideas described by Ogborn and create works intended for performance by the group. This pervading character of “research-creation” (Ogborn) is indeed one of the essential facets of this laptop orchestra. In addition to DIY instruments, whose reductive design allows for greater flexibility in performance, Ian Jarvis has incorporated live coding, guided improvisation and network links into the performance protocol of his own works for the orchestra. A recent four-part process (or action research), reflected in four individual works, culminated in the creation of “Orbit, a Scalable Laptop Composition.” Instruments, process and the creative and technical challenges of his works are described here.
Using complex MIDI particles as the basis to build “A Particle System for Musical Composition,” Bruno Degazio describes recent applications of his software particle system. In contrast to conventional particle systems (e.g., granulation), in which many simple and similar structures are used to simulate more complex and varied textures and musical events, here the individual particles exhibit a much greater range of character. Therefore, due to the design of the system, a smaller number of particles are needed to simulate complex natural processes. Several audio examples show different types of results and how they can be transformed from one state, or character, into another.
Three models characterized by different types and degrees of integration of culture-specific sounds — including Indonesian gamelan and folk music — in live electro-instrumental contexts are presented in Lawton Hall’s “The End of Digital Tourism: Aesthetics of globalization and live electro-instrumental performance.” Technologies typical to EA practice allow artists to not only capture or document musical practices that were traditionally transmitted orally but also to create — with incredible ease — previously unthinkable cultural combinations and juxtapositions. The degree of “extramusical significance” of such sources is influenced by, among other things, the level of abstraction of the source materials, not to mention the impact these have in return on the new context into which they have been transplanted.
Individual experiences and degrees of familiarity forge a unique vantage point from which the individual listener perceives and comprehends culture-specific samples and their relation to the artistic context in which they are encountered. The perception of location-specific sounds is affected by similar factors but also further by the way they are presented, “performed” or “discovered”. Eric Powell speaks of a “cognitive map” into which new perceptive experiences are integrated by the listener. In “Under Living Skies: Aural character in creative practice,” he describes a recent mixed work which uses a live ensemble to explore the “rhythmic, harmonic or melodic structures that were drawn out of the original field recordings” of Swede Lake in Northern Saskatchewan.
As the listener discovers and experiences installation works such as Max Neuhaus’ Times Square, or Bruce Naumann’s Performance Corridor, a shift in perception of the site occurs even when there is no change to the vantage point. As Sean Peuquet observes in “Between the Two: A Re-address of the listener in situated musical practice,” the performing listener establishes relations between disparate parts of a composition during the experience, and the perception of the site evolves from literal (its pure existence) to functional. Reflections on such situated installation works informed and influenced the author during the composition of Windows Left Open, a work for chamber ensemble and electronics.
Contributions by Adam Basanta and Anıl Çamcı further explore questions of the perceptual and cognitive experiences of the listener. The manner in which we listen to, perceive and categorize aspects of EA works is at the base of Adam Basanta’s recent research. “Tracing Conceptual Structures in Listener Response Studies” reveals concepts related to the subject position of the listener, metaphors of place or space, cultural and environmental references, as well as bodily responses as being common to the majority of listeners. This précis of listening tendencies encountered in listeners — both familiar and unfamiliar with EA — should be of particular interest to composers curious to examine how the actual perception of the works they create might diverge from their initial artistic intentions.
Music, as a time-based art form, perhaps inevitably produces in the listener the need to digest and comprehend it as a narrative. Positioned as listening-self, the listener “completes the picture” the composer proposes, and this junction is precisely where presentation (mimesis) transforms into representation (diegesis). Encountering new materials offered by electronic means of production, the listener cross-references her or his personal “grid” of perception to ascribe meaning to the hitherto unknown. Anıl Çamcı proposes “Diegesis as a Semantic Paradigm for Electronic Music” and explores the relationship between the listener and the work, the place where “narratological perspectives… [delineate] relationships between the artist, the artistic material and the audience,” and where the coexistence of the mimetic and diegetic aspects of electronic music has a role in “actively shaping our experience of electronic music.”
Composers, for their part, are in a unique position to help stimulate greater comprehension of new works amongst listeners, as they are the sole witnesses to the entire creative process in their work — from conceptual germination through growth and development to maturity and presentation. Matthew Peters Warne calls for more open dialogue about the intimate aspects of composers’ artistic practices, and for the sharing of these personal ruminations in public venues. The goal of encouraging composers to move “Toward ‘Compositional Reflection’” is not to develop fixed models of listening, but rather “to proliferate the options available for the experience of the work.”
Interviews and Columns
In eContact! 14.4, we published the first group from a series of interviews made in 2005–06 by Bob Gluck with several composers from the Middle East, China, South America and Europe who, following studies at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center under Luening and Ussachevsky, would later become key contributors in EA and New Music milieux in their respective countries of origin as well as abroad. Continuing in the current issue, we feature interviews with the eclectic Iranian-American composer and artist Dariush Dolat-Shahi (tasked with the founding of an electronic music centre in pre-Revolution Iran) and Egyptian composer Halim El-Dabh (whose many years of recording traditional music in Africa heavily influenced his own compositional activities), as well as an interview with Israeli composer Josef Tal (“enfant terrible” who founded the first electronic music centre in Israel) by Gluck and Shlomo Dubnov.
Kevin Austin helps us complete this issue with a new batch of contributions in his “6 Questions” column, this time around featuring sound artist Ian Jarvis as well as composers and video / media artists Freida Abtan, Joseph Hyde, Pierre Paré-Blais and Jean Piché. A little bit of an appetizer for the upcoming issue on videomusic practices… stay tuned for the main course!
The planning and coordination of the next edition of TES is already well under way as we launch this issue. We invite you to peruse the articles in this latest issue of eContact! to get an idea of what to expect at this annual event and to hopefully interest you in coming out in person to attend the presentations, concerts and more at TES 2013 (14–17 August). New Adventures in Sound Art (NAISA) has been an essential part of the planning, development and execution of TES since its first edition, so in closing, on behalf of the CEC, I would like to thank them for their immense help in mounting TES year after year, and also to congratulate them on their many successful years of crucial contributions to the EA scene in Toronto.
28 May 2013