With renowned sound artist Chantal Dumas as Keynote Speaker, presentations at the 11th edition of the Toronto International Electroacoustic Symposium (TIES) reflected an increasing engagement with non-fixed sound-based practices such as installations and generative works in which the relation between viewer and work alters the presentation of the work itself.
Held from 9–12 August 2017 in Toronto’s Distillery District, TIES 2017 was co-presented by New Adventures in Sound Art (NAISA) and the Canadian Electroacoustic Community (CEC) in collaboration with the Canadian Music Centre (CMC).
At the base of three recent works by Chantal Dumas is the question: “Does the experience of participating in the generation of a sound work alter the way we listen to this music?” For the composer or creator, this is perhaps quite obviously the case, notably in sound ecology practices, where the actual act of recording on site is intimately entwined with reflections on aspects of the environments recorded, and these reflections subsequently inform and form the presentation of the work (Connors, Budel). But what of the viewer, visitor, participant? Some formats of presentation expose a view inside the creative process of the work to the audience for whom it is destined, or even involve the public in decision-making processes in the generation (Dumas) or manifestation (Gauthier and St-Pierre) of the work. Dumas’ Keynote presentation, “Stratégies d’écoute dans ma pratique d’art sonore,” illustrates how viewers can be offered a conscious role in a work’s presentation in order to foster an experience that is characterized more by active participation than passive reception. This deeper involvement helps to an even greater degree to refine our perception of the sounds around us, and both examines and celebrates individual perceptive faculties. As some of the participants in her projects confirmed, “listening attentively led to hearing differently.” Through such practices, she has sought to “blur and even confuse the roles of the listener-performer-composer triad.”
As we read in “Southern Soundscapes: Ecological sound art responses to two South Australian ecosystems,” Jesse Budel is also interested in “removing the boundary between audience and performer and allowing people to communally engage in sound-making.” His recent work “communicates the historical, social, cultural and spiritual perspectives that are intimately interwoven in [South Australian] ecosystems’ and soundscapes’ current circumstance.” Both Budel and Teresa Connors have created a body of works that “obliges the audience to consider the experiential impact of human activities” (Budel) on the environments examined in their pieces. Their individual responses to these environments and constructed spaces (Connors) can also be appreciated as stimuli for “movement towards behavioural and social change” (Budel). As articulated in “Organizing for Emergence: Computer vision and data mining as co-creative devices,” Connors has made a “shift in [her] sonic arts practice away from fixed-media formats to the exploration of non-linear audiovisual systems” in which a natural integration of the creator and created, and of the viewer (listener) and the viewed (heard) is to be found. “This renewed approach constitutes a transdisciplinary dialogue” that has resulted in the creation of two audiovisual installations informed by the writings of Jane Bennett.
Generative Music and Variable Media
A certain degree of variability in the presentation arises quite naturally from participatory works (Dumas) and installations (Gauthier / St-Pierre), in gamified audiovisual artworks (Lüneburg) and through the use of generative practices (Nyström, Lüneburg, Eigenfeldt). Erik Nyström has also moved away from fixed-media studio composition and is now exploring the potentialities of live, generative music. Through his contemplations on “Algorithm, Performance and Speculative Synthesis in the Context of ‘Spheroid’,” he embraces “the idea of music as an incomplete process of creation, allowing for spontaneity and different outcomes in each presentation of a work.” Similar interests and concerns are evident in Arne Eigenfeldt’s work. However, where the live, creative decision-making process is implemented at the human level for Nyström’s work, Eigenfeldt assigns this responsibility to an ensemble of musebots, “pieces of software that autonomously create music collaboratively with other musebots.” Summarizing several projects in which he explored “Collaborative composition with creative systems,” he explains: “Generative music offers the opportunity for the continual reinterpretation of a musical composition through the design and interaction of complex processes that can be rerun to produce new artworks each time.”
Whereas in Nyström and Eigenfeldt’s projects the creative and formal decision-making responsibility is delegated to the composer or the composer’s creative system, respectively, someone other than the creator is able to impact both the nature and individual manifestations of another body of works. The “autonomous, generative system” in projects researched by Barbara Lüneburg “acts as an independent agent that feeds unforeseen contingencies into the game that the performer cannot necessarily control.” As a result, “the system reacts dynamically (often in a generative way) to the input” of the performer or player as they attempt to master the game strategies the composer has devised. “Between ‘Ludic Play’ and ‘Performative Involvement’: Performance practice in audiovisual gamified multimedia artworks” examines “the effect the inclusion of game elements and principles has on creative and compositional decision-making, on audience perception and performance practice and, last but not least, on the artistic result.” Philippe-Aubert Gauthier and Tanya St-Pierre’s listening station installation “combines raw materials, unfinished works, finished works, notes and sketches and ideas in a range of unplanned and unforeseeable juxtapositions.” Their presentation of the work in “Combinatorics, Probabilities and Personal Big Data in the Sound Installation ‘P(N,R) = N!/(N-R)!’,” demonstrates how choices made by the visitor — how many earphone cups to listen to at a time, in which order to listen to them and for how long — yield one of thousands of possible “versions” of their work. To be precise, the listener has the opportunity to hear 2626572800 permutations!
As composers and sound artists continue to move away from fixed-media approaches in their creative activities, we are increasingly exposed to a rich variety of transdisciplinary practices, many of which are characterized by some form of variability in their presentation. We are pleased to be able to offer a selection of the proposals from the 11th edition of the Toronto International Electroacoustic Symposium that examine and celebrate these trends. As you read through the contributions to this issue of eContact!, we invite you to also check out the TIES 2017 Photo Album for snapshots of performances and presentations that took place during the symposium in August 2017.
30 September 2018