15 April 2008
E-FORUM: Aurora Festival 2008, Music of the Spirit Concerts - Forum two
Electroacoustic Music and Beyond
Last night resonate magazine held its first e-forum in conjunction with the 2008 Aurora Festival’s Music of the Spirit event. Tonight we host another e-forum: panel members Houston Dunleavy, Chinary Ung, Michael Atherton, Andrian Pertout, Garth Paine and Roger Dean come together here in resonate magazine to chat about electroacoustic music and beyond, as a field of oppositions to disturb known paradigms and fuse sounds together as a new space/transcendent vision. As with last night’s e-forum, this event initiates a live discussion taking place on the 18 April at the Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre in Penrith. During this electroacoustic workshop, festival goers will experience the cutting edge of new music and sonic technology in a presentation of works by four post-doctoral composers – Jon Drummond, Michael Dixon, Sofia Marita and Wendy Suiter.
Here in resonate magazine, Houston Dunleavy – as moderator of the e-forum – begins by outlining some of the matters and questions that this style of music raises, leading all panel members to debate these important issues over the course of an hour.
Electroacoustic music and beyond is examined as a field of oppositions to disturb known paradigms and fuse sounds together as a new space/transcendent vision. The similarities of noise-pitch, microtonal (fixed, in-flux), momentary space traditions of ancient Asia with Western avant-garde timbre extension/pitch colour matrixes are explored, as well as oppositions of fixed versus live-sound, and transformations of sound-timbre through differing acoustic and electronic media. The overall purpose, perhaps, being a journey towards technological innovation, and momentary space or the spiritually transcendent. Against this panel discussion, there will be a counterpoint of doctoral student electroacoustic/acoustic compositions of juxtapositions of the visual-sound nexus, electronic processes versus live acoustic performers, and interior personal gestural-sound matrixes.
Fixed electroacoustic works have been part of the soundscape of the leading edge of art music for several generations now. Recent technological developments have made interactive works easier to achieve and, therefore, more common elements of our musical landscape – particularly at specialist events such as this. Both have been around long enough to give rise to their own stable of clichés.
This music, and the music presented in the forthcoming workshop, raises a number of issues and questions. What is the relevance of 'fixed' media works to human musicians who may be forced to play the same way each time they perform a piece, when they would prefer some degree of flexibility? Do composers’ electronic soundworlds impinge on their acoustic instrument writing? Indeed, what happens to a composer once she or he ventures into the digital world for expression? Does the acoustic world sound bland and its inhabitants behave in too precious a manner compared to the freedom offered by the studio? Should one expect an expert instrumental performer to take on board the challenges of operating an interactive software package? What is the role of technicians in all of this? Are they really performers or just taking orders from them?
These works, both acoustic and mixed, raise all of these questions in one way or another.
© Australian Music Centre (2008) — Permission must be obtained from the AMC if you wish to reproduce this article either online or in print.
Based largely around Western Sydney, the Aurora Festival showcases a wide range of national and international composers in concerts given by Australia's best musicians. Brand-new music is a strong feature: there are 19 world premieres given by a wide and varied range of ensembles. The majority of compositions will not have previously been heard by Australian audiences.
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Loud speaker - a misnomer for the 21C music maker
The interaction of real, electronic and virtual instruments (acknowledging Andy Arthurs' coinage for the REV festival) is more fluid and dynamic than ever. And all acoustic instruments are likely to be mediated to some degree by the loud speaker, the headphone and the countless devices that rely on the same. Even if one tries to compose or improvise exclusively on an acoustic piano, it is probable that most of what we have heard musically and are likely to hear in our lives will come from a loud speaker. This should concern us for one reason in particular: the speaker itself has not kept pace with the myriad developments in music technology. This is manifest in the struggle to balance and blend acoustic and electronic resources in real time performance. It is often precarious, whereas the studio has seemingly unlimited potential to achieve a satisfying electro-acoustic outcome. The issue for me is that the loud speaker itself has barely evolved since its invention. And it can be both limiting and limited in its capacity to blend and project a mix of acoustic and electronic elements in a given acoustic space. The loudspeaker's physical mass and construction must become more malleable, lighter and mobile to add to a performance aesthetic. As a caveat to the above, readers might seek out the imaginative work of instrument designer and installation artist Matthew Hoare who creates electro acoustic music without speakers.
Loudspeakers - are they the performers?
Michael's comments about loudspeakers made me think about them as analagous to the performer. No matter what wonders go on in the studio or in the headphones of the composer, a run-of-the-mill sound system at the broadcasting end of an electronic piece can destroy much of the composer/sound artist's careful planning. Of course, there are more variables than the qualityof the speakers - the amps, tuning of the hall and the listener's position in relation to the sound source all contribute to the final recpetion of the work.
Similarly, a poor rehearsal process or performance can prevent the best realisation of a great acoustic work. I'm tempted to think of loudspeakers in particular as taling the place of a performer, with the same results if there's a lack of quality.
Now we've warmed up
Welcome to you all. I presume you've all logged in, but I won't be taking a roll call.
So, gloves off, seconda away. Box on!
electro- vs acoustic (w)riting
Houston was zesty in his summary, by suggesting that it is the acoustic sound world which might seem dull after the electro-, whereas I suspect most acoustic performers would see it the other way round, consistent with the fact that historically we ea people have had to fight to get the complexity of timbral control and expression in real time that instrumentalists have been used to. They probably would be as suprised by this assertion as Houston may have hoped!
But the question of the possible influence of ea soundworlds on acoustic composition is interesting. I particularly like the case of Xenakis, many of whose unusual compositional ideas were best suited to computer realisation. But I think that pieces like Pithoprakta show that stochastic ideas could be translated into acoustic scores; and in the process unusual demands were made on instrumentalists. Try playing some of his string parts, as I have with the London Sinfonietta, or in playing his solo bass piece, Theraps! I suspect listeners tend to view the physicality of his instrumental writing as akin to Ferneyhough's extreme challenges (or those of our very own Chris Dench). But I think the motivations and origins of Xenakis are really rather different. So my response would be 'yes, in many cases ea experiences do influence instrumental composition', and for the good.
interactive performers: should they be as 'expert' as instrumentalists??
OK, let me lob in a little fuse... Houston asks whether instrumentalists should be required to meet the challenge of operating interactive software. What about the converse set of issues: should we expect interactive software performers (who may not be instrumentalists) to have a comparable level of expertise to the acoustic performers? They are normally considered to have a chance of becoming 'expert' after at least 10,000 hours of practice at performing. Do many interactive performers have that level of expertise with what they use? If not, should they?
And do we have interactive software that deserves that level of expertise? MAX/MSP? Supercollider?? If your answer is no, is that a reflection of a paucity of power in the softwares? If you answer yes, then how many people really have that level of control and expertise? I've used MAX/MSP for more than 10 years, but I'd hesitate to claim the level of facility with it that I have on the piano. But I do know how to run the patches I write....
In all these endeavours there is a trade off between effort, expertise, control, and output. But it is important to be sure that the target of ones effort is sufficiently valuable to justify it...
Roger, I've never been called zesty before. I like it!
You mention some really good examples of some high profile composers and I would ahve to agree wih you. One who would be less known to us in Australia is Argentina's Gabrielle Velverde, whose music I conducted at the North American New Music Festvial way back in 1990. Valverde's acoustic music not only reflected a rhythnic character that was derived from the more free-form styles of his electroacoustic music, but his timbral requirements from the instrument were startling both for their audacity and their achievability. I'd never realised how much an oboe could sound like it has been put through a ring modulator. Pointilistic textures and extreme registers that sounded like blips of tape were difficult, though not impossible to execute.
All in all a marvellous experience: subtle, Webern-like textures with acoustic insturments sounding like analogue synthesisers. Marvellous stuff.
Yes Houston, Gabrielle Velverde is a great example of the 'unknown' musical entity that Latin America represents – especially in Australia. I first became aware of Valverde’s work when his wife (pianist Haydée Schvartz) performed a work of mine in Santiago, Chile in 2003 (at the at the XIII Festival de Música Contemporánea Chilena) together with the Quinteto CEAMC. I then met him in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and have since heard his work at several ISCM World Music festivals.
Back into the fray after parental duties.
It's obviously Impossible to know all languages, media, tools etc. In working with Garth Paine in Sync, I choose to marvel at Capybara, Kyma and Max, trying to understand its capabilities in his hands. Hopefully, he does the same when I crank up rarities of my instrumentarium such as the hurdy gurdy, the oud, the kulintang and the waterphone. I have been trying to build on my experience as a freelance film composer prior to UWS, playing catch up with digital technology. However, I chose not to start Max - it would be like trying to become a tabla player over night. I prefer to maintain an open view of and respect for the aggregation of skills that we can bring together to make music. The acoustic musician increasingly uses notational and recording software, so why not algorithmic compositional tools. So, in the rapid digital colonisation of our world is it better to have some knowledge and participate in the decision-making rather than be on the outer? Mike
One thing that I am more aware of when I collaborate with Garth in an electro-acoustic music context is trying to bring noise back into the music in a way that triggers and also emulates what comes from Garth's processing. The hurdy gurdy is a great example of an instrument that works well with electronic music. I love the very things that concern sound engineers and producers - key rattles, sympathetic resonances, squeaks, paired strings tuned a few cents apart, pulsing drones. It puts chilli into the mix! Mike
Andrian! Good to hear from you! Yes, the Valverde/Schwarz team have some magnificent music behind them. We've been friends for nearly 20 years and I've fans of both of them.
The Latin American scene seems, to me at any rate, to be much more concerned with freedom of timbre and rhythm - at least in the music I've been familiar with. It crosses backwards and forwards between acoustic and electronic is a beautiful and unihibited way.
Time for trip to Buenos Aires I think
Yes. And time to clarify the actual spelling of his name. It's Gabriel Valverde. In the excitement of the moment, spelling became a secondary issue.
OOPS! You're right! How shameful of me!
To dabble or not?
Mike raises in interesting point. Do we need complete mastery of a digital part world in order for us to use it? To borrow Roger's rhetorical device for moment, if we answer "yes" then we run the risk of only listening to the virtuoso at the extent of other modes of expression. If we applied the same logic to acoustic music, the world would be a much quiter place, and a heck of a lot more boring.
what's the code?
Sorry guys - a little late - had a computer issue and just now got it running again - damnnnnn
my 2 cents worth here relate to the issue raised above regarding learning to utilise software tools in a way that is musical - something that represents some dexterity and proficiency.
I have a conservatorium background - a solid training in the chromatic music and its strictures, but have always been interested in the technological aspect of music making and the changes that occurred from 1945 onwards in the experimental and avant-garde with regards to changes in musical aesthetic with particular interest in how timbre became a major compositional consideration.
Anyway, it seemed to me and continues to fascinate me that electronics signal processing allows a mellifluous, fluid quality of sound to emerge from the interplay with acoustic instruments in realtime. This interaction is a really dynamic one, and one I particularly enjoy when working with Michael in SynC - the marrying of the ancient and the modern.
But it has taken me at least 10 years of working with Max/MSP, Supercollider and in recent years the Kyma system, to develop a level of skill that allows me to create algorithms that create sounds that I want and to have sufficient control of these algorithms to nuance the sounds in a manner that I find 'musical' - the notion of musicality is of course a long discussion for another time.
realtime or fixed
Houston raises some interesting points in the intro regarding notions of interaction of fixed media works. I personally have a semantic problem with the use of the word 'interactive' in much new media work which is 'responsive' rather than 'interactive' - but this is for another discussion. What is of interest is the interaction musicians can have - digital, analogue or acoustic - these take us places we do not expect - this also raises the notion of flexibility - a non-fixed score for instance - what I call composing potentials.... perhaps out of fashion these days, but firmly part of the musical composition and performance practice of SynC.
Houston also asks:
Indeed, what happens to a composer once she or he ventures into the digital world for expression?
Many would say - yes, they stop making music! in fact it is the beginning of the new journey which as I mention above took me a good 10 years before I felt able to make something worthwhile.
Houston also asks:
Does the acoustic world sound bland and its inhabitants behave in too precious a manner compared to the freedom offered by the studio?
No - Beat Furrer for instance inspires me with amazing timbrel control, as do many others, but the fluidity of the electronic world is quite different in quality - the definition of an acoustic sound is also quite unique - they augment each other in rewarding ways
Welcome, Garth. Great to have you here!
You've been mentioned in dispatches already by Michael. I have had the pleasure of hearing both of you in concert and can attest to the musicality of your collaborations.
Yet, and here I'm going to lob a fuse too, there are plenty of examples of more staid and stodgy real-time work that, like every other form of music-making it seems, can lead to less-than-riveting expleriences. I have had too many nights of staring into the back of someone's laptop or hearing the cello's sound scamper round the 5.1 system like a dog after a rabbit to think that people with your experience are common!
I'd be really intersted if, in the larger forum of Friday's discussion, you would be willing to expand a little on the issure of musicality. It seems that this is a core issue for all of us.
Welcome, Garth. Great to have you here!
You've been mentioned in dispatches already by Michael. I have had the pleasure of hearing both of you in concert and can attest to the musicality of your collaborations.
Yet, and here I'm going to lob a fuse too, there are plenty of examples of more staid and stodgy real-time work that, like every other form of music-making it seems, can lead to less-than-riveting expieriences. I have had too many nights of staring into the back of someone's laptop or hearing the cello's sound scamper round the 5.1 system like a dog after a rabbit to think that people with your experience are common!
I'd be really interested if, in the larger forum of Friday's discussion, you would be willing to expand a little on the issure of musicality. It seems that this is a core issue for all of us.
To be perhaps controversial here - I think we need virtuosity - really great things come with virtuosity - history illustrates this time and time again as we know. Of course other forms/levels of practice also provide revelation and new directions, but isn't it incredible to marvel at a wonderfully crafted and performed work in the hands of a virtuosic performer.
Access to the production of music in the digital world can, and has in recent years been simplified - Ableton Live for instance can be a push button play everything, DJ kind of software package as is Garage Band - do they allow people to make good music? yes they can, but they are no guarantee of a good music outcome, and in the hands of many I would suggest produce works of limited imagination, restricted by the dictates of what the software appears to offer.
This is why I choose to work in a software environment that allows me a vast range of approaches - that does not dictate a musical oeuvre - this of course makes it much much harder to generate material, but that material is then a product of careful consideration and development - people may not like it, sure, and I have much still to learn, and would not call myself a virtuoso, but am aiming to dedicate myself to developing higher levels of proficiency over the years ahead, just as I did for decades with the flute.
Yes 'musicality' - seems like an unapproachable issue in some ways... are Xenakis's works music? I would argue so as would most of us here tonight, but many would not!!!! of course I didn't really like the classical music cannon when younger either - it was not played in my house - my dad was a trad. jazz listener - so I used to listen to classical radio - thank goodness for ABC back then - as a way of conditioning my sensibilities - learning to like the music, to understand something of its rules etc... I have done the same with the electroacoustic and electronic and computer music genres... hundreds of CD's later and many books I understand (I think) what these composers, like Zenakis, but others also like Stockhausen, Berio, Normandeau etc etc are getting at - I have melded this with my conservative musical education and play and compose music I find has a thread of a journey - something that is experiential, affective.... of course in the digital domain it can be something else - narrative is perhaps pase... but the quality of the surface of the sound, its density, texture, weight, fluidity etc are for me the main points of engagement and how these qualities evolve throughout a work form my the perceptual basis for what I see as musical
quality of sound
only a few terms relating to an analysis and appreciation of how sound can be composed outside the strictures of pitch, cadence, harmony etc etc
I couldn't agree more about Xenakis et al, Garth. And I think you have hit a magic word with "musicality", as well as all the other magic words in your next post.
The neat trick will be to get us all to agree with what they mean!
if there is a definable/perceivable relationship between unfolding events then I find them 'musical' - think of how hard Cage tried to avoid these issues in Williams Mix for instance and yet it has a CAGE quality to it - a sense of ordering of structure, a sense of coherence, so the question becomes for me more about at what point these qualities break down.
So where do you think these qualities break down, Garth? Once that happens, does a sonic event lose its musicality, or gain something else? Does it transcend the limits of what we percieve as music?
Or is that a red herring?
I do not know..... I hear a lot of music where care is not taken in the temporal evolution of the material in the work - this for me becomes un-musical, and just un-interesting. But re the notion of music - that is a red herring (smoked please ;-)) - for instance I love Merzbow - that is definitely not music to a lot of people - just noise - he is after all a Noise musician :-).... anyway, he has an incredible ability to manipulate spectral elements individually within the walls of sound he makes - he does all the things I outlined in my last post with great care - his work is therefore very musical in my view
the sonic journey
I think Katerine Norman's book is an interesting read in terms of her personal journey of discovery of what is 'musical' in more recent developments in musical practice. The title is
Sounding Art: Eight Literary Excursions through Electronic Music
You may know it?
Garth, sorry for the delay in reply. My modem seemed to be fried for a while.
I read the Norman book a while back. Great stuff. Co-incidentally it's going to be on a textbook list for one of our subjects in 2009 here in Wollongong. Marvellous read! I agree with you that it's a keen insight into Norman's personal journey. This is at the heart of all we discuss this week I think. Out of all the techniques, styles and sounds that fly around the Festival, we need to sort out where the music is.
Thanks Houston for moderating this intriguing e-forum!
And thanks to Garth, Roger, Michael and Andrian for participating.
This e-forum initiated a discussion to be continued live at the Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre at Penrith, NSW this Friday 18th April as part of the Aurora Festival's Music of the Spirit Concerts.
More info about the Music of the Spirit Concerts can be found at the festival's website.
Feel free to continue this online discussion by adding your thoughts and ideas!