Prolific media artist, composer and saxophonist John Oswald was the Keynote Speaker for the tenth edition of the Toronto International Electroacoustic Symposium (TIES), where presentations questioning the nature of the performance space and the roles of those involved in articulating works within these spheres featured prominently.
The 2016 edition of the annual symposium ran from 10–13 August 2016 and was co-presented by New Adventures in Sound Art (NAISA) and the Canadian Electroacoustic Community (CEC) in collaboration with the Canadian Music Centre (CMC). In addition to Oswald’s Keynote, composers, performers and researchers from across Canada and around the world presented their work in five concerts, five lecture-recitals and seven paper sessions. As TIES 2016 was held in parallel with the 18th edition of Sound Travels, NAISA’s annual Festival of Sound Art, a further two concerts topped off the week.
The symposium was a fantastic success thanks to the contributions and participation of a passionate group of attendees, and we are pleased to be able to share a selection of TIES 2016 presentations with you in this issue of eContact! In addition to the articles featured here, we invite you to check out the CEC’s website for a full listing of the events and papers presented at TIES 2016.
Foregoing the classic format of slides and talk supported by diagrammes and perhaps a little friendly off-topic banter, John Oswald’s Keynote was crafted as a narrative exploring his personal collection of some 1200-plus albums. He acquired this treasure trove of vinyls mostly between 1964 and 1972, and it would prove to be immensely influential to his personal chronology as an artist. His library consists of contemporary instrumental and electronic music, pop and experimental music, spoken word and much more. The variety of styles represented in his record bin — local and regional Canadian as well as international artists, some very familiar, some quite obscure — nourished his own musical development. The range and diversity found in his “Personal Long-Playing History of the LP” exemplifies the kind of background and experience we would expect from such a multifarious artist as Oswald. This sets the tone for the following reflections on composers and sound artists, on their relation to the audience and stage and on musical perception.
Expanding the Stage or Performance Space
A plethora of experimental practices and developments have offered “new vantage points for listening” (Sannicandro) since as early as the 19th century — acousmatic listening contexts via sunken orchestra pits, darkened concert halls and veiled performances, and, of course, the advent of radio. However, even today many available presentation formats are linked less to the actual experiential nature of the work than to the established socio-economic factors of its performance. Work that is firstly aural in nature is strangely, perhaps, still performed in a context that privileges the visual experience over its sonic aspects. Here we re-examine and extend not only the stage but also the venue for the presentation of sound-based work, and challenge the status quo of its presentation through radiophonic art (Sannicandro), the acousmatic documentary (Campion/Côté) and Internet-assisted performances (Bargrizan).
Addressing the topics of “Radiophonic Arts and the Problem of the Stage,” Joseph Sannicandro points out that many presentation venues “are still constrained largely by tradition and by the paradigm of performance,” itself to a large extent predetermined by the physical performance area and the public seated in front of it. Even the practice of fixed, electronic composition without live performers continues today “to organize its audiences in relation to the stage.” In contrast, however, “radiophonic work offers a paradigm… to finally leave the stage behind” and to call into question “the ethical and political nature of how a work forcibly orients its audience.”
The idea of offering multiple formats for the presentation of a single project arose quite naturally for Guillaume Campion and Guillaume Côté while composing Archipel. As a work that situates itself somewhere between acousmatic and sound documentary practices, many hours of interview recordings and documentation of the locations discussed in the project had to be excluded from the traditional fixed media presentation format. “Le ‘documentaire acousmatique’ et ses moyens de diffusion: Un regard sur le ‘Projet Archipel’” describes how, by expanding the Archipel Project to incorporate further means of diffusion such as a website and mobile app, they could present much more material that was artistically and historically crucial to the development of the work.
Navid Bargrizan’s analysis of the “Parallel Trajectories in Manfred Stahnke’s Internet Opera ‘Orpheus kristall’” shows how the composer’s tools “produce a sort of a hyper-reality beyond the boundaries of the traditional dramatic and musical narratives.” The experiential nature of this complex, multilayered work is also effectively reflected in a dramaturgical structure and form that incorporates live video feeds of performers in New York, Berkeley and Amsterdam shown on screens during the stage performance by baritone and orchestra in Munich. Although Stahnke’s 2001 opera is still a prisoner of the traditional concert hall format, it succeeds in expanding the stage beyond its tactile existence through the incorporation of virtual musicians — and spaces — into the physical space of the performance.
Collaboration — Rethinking Creative and On-Stage Roles
Where Sannicandro’s “new vantage points for listening” address the role of the audience to audio-based art, various approaches to collaboration have provided renewed artistic contexts that help rethink not only the makeup and occupation of the stage itself but also our relation to it. These collaborations have functioned as artistic devices to re-examine the roles of the individuals involved in different stages of the creative process. Whereas the roles of the composer, performer, sound designer and sound engineer are traditionally segregated in the realm of music production, here we encounter new juxtapositions in the form of “a mixed-music chamber relationship” between a sound spatialist and a performing musician (Dall’Ara-Majek and Toninato), a site-specific “devised theatre practice” (Dodge) and a flexible-form approach to “creation with another composer” (Hron).
In the performing duo Jane/KIN, the saxophonist is positioned on stage in the midst of a loudspeaker orchestra. “Live Sound Spatialization and On-Stage Feedback Control: Cues for the development of interaction between acoustic and electronic musicians” describes the artistic-acoustic feedback loop that is central to Ana Dall’Ara-Majek and Ida Toninato’s project. Rather than employing computer-generated or pre-composed sound, the spatialist projects “sounds performed live by the saxophone player onto the loudspeaker orchestra” and, in response, “the saxophone player uses the microphones and the position of the loudspeakers to create feedback phenomena,” thereby taking a much more dynamic and active creative role than is usually afforded onstage musicians by such configurations.
The first complete Boca del Lupo project that Carey Dodge worked on involved not only standard theatre practices but also “live-feed video, live music, microphones, recorded sound and stunt rigging.” The Vancouver-based theatre production company has mounted projects utilizing traditional stage settings as well as site-specific works that involved physically transporting the audience members to an external performance location. Dodge built tools for these unique creations that assisted him in developing meaningful and collaborative techniques of “Integrating Electroacoustic Techniques into Theatrical Performance.” The inherent flexibility of his approach is in fact derived directly from the needs of the context, as “theatre is highly collaborative and requires a cross-disciplinary language.”
In “Sharing the Studio to Create ‘Lepidoptera’: Collaboration and notation,” Terri Hron explains how she was “flirting with the notion of the ‘idiomatic performer’” in a context co-developed with Monty Adkins in which composer and performer are integrated in the creative process. The collaboration resulted in a cycle of five fixed works for recorder and electronics whose form could, however, be extended in live concert presentations. Parallelling Jane/KIN’s exploration and redefinition of the sonic space of the performance venue, Hron and Adkins’ collaboration made them aware of three distinct yet interrelated spaces in their system, each of which has a particular role to play in the configuration: the space of the instrument, of the musician and of the loudspeaker orchestra.
Timbre Perception and Compositional Decision-Making
Where some have addressed our perception of and relation to the performance space as a tool for expanding artistic experience, others have turned the focus of their investigations inward, to the actual mechanisms of our perception. Timbre perception is discussed both from the perspective of familiarity (Martin) and psychoacoustics (Connolly) as a means for augmenting the ways we experience and understand the things we hear in artistic productions. At the other end of the spectrum, we might consider that the decision-making process (Peuquet) made by the artist who creates the new work we will later experience constitutes perhaps the primordial influence on everything we hear.
However true that may be, independent of the actual nature of the sounds to which we are exposed in individual artistic works, a biological mechanism is at play that greatly affects our understanding of these sounds. “The level of effectiveness and perception of a timbral allusion is inherently contingent on the experience and knowledge of the listener,” as Jon Martin clarifies in his contribution, “Allusion and Timbre: A Theory of implicit reference, emotion and familiarity bias in contemporary music.” However, as we have been conditioned by evolution towards efficiency, “there will be a biologically inherent preferential bias towards a familiar sound or timbre.”
In evaluating and understanding the act of composition there is not only compositional choice that should be considered, but also its detritus: all that was intentionally excluded. Responding to the ever-expanding range of possible scenarios or methods available to composers today, Sean Peuquet proposes a “mechanistic tool” as a means for “making choices regarding making choices” in the creative process. While this risks a certain distance between the creator and the created, Peuquet’s position in “Conditioning Compositional Choice: Theoretical imperatives and a selection algorithm using converging value sets” is that “the imperatives governing human artistic choice remain critical in choosing what kinds of musical decisions to automate.”
Nevertheless, that does not seem to have stopped us from continuously exploring new means or manners of perceiving sound — perhaps curiosity is also an evolutionary tool? The “space” that Brian Connolly explores via “Compositional Applications for Binaural Beating in Timbre Modulation” is neither the physical nor the virtual stage, but rather that intimate zone where listeners in fact perceive what they hear — in between their ears. His recent works experiment with the use of intracranial motion as a means to add “an entirely new dimension to the listening experience.” The artistic exploration of the concept of ear-as-instrument allows “the listeners to obtain a heightened awareness of their own ears and their potential within musical performance.”
As we publish this issue, NAISA — the heroes who make this annual symposium possible — has just presented the 11th edition of TIES, which featured composer, sound artist and improviser Chantal Dumas as Keynote Speaker. Presentations from TIES 2017 will be published in an upcoming issue of eContact!, but in the meantime, check out the photo album from the 2016 edition of the Toronto International Electroacoustic Symposium and we hope you enjoy the entries in this issue that have been developed from presentations during TIES 2016.
Berlin, 15 August 2017