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Review: ICMC 2005, 5–9 September 2005, Barcelona, Spain

September 2005’s ICMC was held in the beautifully modern surroundings of the L’Escola Superior de Música de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain. The event, organised by the Phonos Foundation the Pompeu Fabra University and the Higher School of Music of Catalonia, consisted of over 200 research talks, involving paper presentations, posters, demos, workshops, and panel discussions as well as a concert series of over 200 pieces. The inclusion of the increasingly successful OFF-ICMC added an increased level of diversity to the concert series such that it included tape pieces, live electronics, audio visual work, free improvisation, live coding, noise, vj-ing, laptop electronica and interactive installation. All this crammed into a schedule of 6 days Sunday 4th to Saturday 10th: there was a lot to do.

Arriving as I did for the conference late on the Sunday evening, I unfortunately missed the opening concert but vowed to make up for this by attending as much as possible for the 5 days I had left at the festival. However, the schedule for the following few days was a punishing one, with a full day of events from 9AM until 12PM leaving little time even to eat. After a couple of days of trying to atone for my tardy start, I realised attending everything and enjoying anything were becoming mutually exclusive goals and thus became more selective in my approach.

The program of events included a series of lunchtime concerts that were held in the L’Escola Superior de Música de Catalunya itself, where the programming had a leaning towards tape pieces, which unfortunately suffered somewhat from the venue. The room was long and thin which meant that the 8-channel Mackie PA speaker system, itself not wholly desirable, was set up in such a way that the audience at each end of the hall had to sit outside the speaker array, hardly satisfactory when listening to the subtlety of carefully crafted 8-channel tape pieces.

Nevertheless some pieces still stood out as exceptional, not in the least Idoru in Metals by Henry Vega, a piece for vocal trio and computer in which the exceptional vocal control and clarity of the singers from the Nederlands Vocaal Laboratorium was matched carefully by live processing by Vega to generate an illusion of one singer, the Idoru, who could seemingly merge, harmonize and refract her voice at will. This piece is available on the ICMC ’05 CD, which includes other works worth a second listen, David Berezan’s Styal and Ricardo Climent’s The Last Castrati, to mention but a few.

Evening concerts were presented at the Auditori, where the set up was much more satisfactory. The programming here was more varied, with one evening solely of audio visual work presented on DVD but more generally with a good balance between and mixture of tape pieces and live electronics. One piece of work that really excited me here was Needles(s) by Shawn Greenlee. Best known for his solo electronic music under the moniker Pleasurehorse (also appeared as part of OFF-ICMC), he performed on laptop with projection. Greenlee managed to match the energy and character of his music with that of his onstage performance, an element often under-exploited in laptop-based music and by employing loss of control and renegotiation as a part of his musical ethos, the performance truly took on the appearance of an exciting spontaneous event.

As ever some of the most interesting events happened on the fringe of the festival, not least at OFF-ICMC, but also through the more informal nature of the panel discussions and demo sessions. The presentation of gestating concepts as part of the panel for Inspirational Ideas led to an openness of discussion and freedom of thought which seemed to be lacking in some of the more staid paper sessions.

OFF-ICMC presented a chance to escape the academic atmosphere of the other concerts. Held every night of the festival at the Metronom Foundation, which has been one of Barcelona’s main venues for experimental music since the 1980s, these evening concerts attracted their own crowd of regulars as well as a good number of the conference-goers themselves and allowed work to be presented in a more emotionally charged atmosphere, helped along by the presence of free beer. Highlights from this concert series that I managed to catch — and I’m sorry I couldn’t see them all — were Kanta Horio’s music created from junk gadgets and electronic devices; a set from Afrouzeh of improvised music for laptop (Seamus Cater), woodwind (Petre Radu Scafaru) and drums (Qasim Ali Naqvi); the live coding contest between Nick Collins and Ge Wang, which had the atmosphere of a prize title fight; and an epic set from the Bent Leather Band (Joanne Cannon and Stuart Favilla), in which musicality was as important as the technology, culminating with an arrangement of Colonial Song by Percy Grainger for the Theremin, after which the crowd could hardly bare to see the performers leave the stage.

On Friday, after cramming as much as possible into the first four days of the conference, with the sun finally showing its face and an impending flight in the early evening I rather neglected my conference duty and set out to sample the other delights Barcelona had to offer, namely the warmth of the sand and the finest mojitos known to mankind...

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