Day 1: 5/05/1995
17:00 Phipps Recital Hall Masterclass with Michael McNabb
19:30 St-Paul’s Hall Concert #1
Day 2: 6/05/1995
11:30 Phipps Recital Hall Forum: Electroacoustic Music Today [Leigh Landy, Peter Manning, Tony Myatt, Katharine Norman]
13:00 St-Paul’s Hall Concert #2
15:00 Workshop: Hands-on demonstration of new instruments [E-Magic Logic Audio, Emu-Systems, Yamaha, SYnthia presented in collaboration with Dawsons Music]
16:30 Recital Hall Lecture with Michael McNabb
19:30 St-Paul’s Hall Concert #3
Michael McNabb: Dreamsong
Dreamsong is a careful blend of synthesised sound and recorded natural sounds that have been digitally processed or resynthesized. The result, termed a ‘classic of the genre’ by New Yorker critic Andrew Porter is an expressive sonic continuum ranging from unaltered natural sounds to entirely new sounds – or, more poetically – from the real world to the realm of the imagination. This widely influential work was one of the earliest to achieve, through the precision of digital processing, a smoother integration of these two elements than was previously possible in either studio-produced electronic music or live performance.
In Dreamsong, the listener is repeatedly drawn in by references to familiar music, vocal and environmental material, only to be transported into a vivid alien landscape by an unexpected and surprising sonic manipulation. Constant transformations of timbre and texture, fluid shifting between familiar sounds and imaginary musical images, and illusory spatial movement all combine to powerful musical effect. An extended melodic line adds a strong thread of continuity.
Kevin Parkin – Coming of Age
Coming of Age began life after I had seen a documentary about a remarkable society of native South Americans living in self-imposed isolation in the mountains that border Peru. If their resiliance to the unrelenting pressures of the twentieth century were not impressive in their own right, then their spiritual bond with the earth is truly remarkable. From birth a boy is selected to undertake his education as a holy man which begins immediately with the child being taken into a cave for fourteen years. He is not allowed to leave the cave. There he is taught of the wonders of the world outside through religious teachings and ideologies. This piece is a description simply of the emotional and physical journey that the boy must undergo when finally he is allowed to walk to the entrance of the cave and see what previously he had only imagined.
Katharine Norman – East London Scenes
In London, as in all large cities, even a short walk can involve abrupt transitions from one sonic, and social, environment to another. The source sounds for this piece were recorded in and around London E17, which I consider to be my home ‘patch’. They range from gardens, churchbells and children’s voices to markets, cafes, road drills and trains. Although there is quite a lot of sound-processing, it is intentionally surreptitious. I used it instead to ‘light’ these short sonic films, to let the so-called ordinary shine through – a recorded remembrance of time and place, of people living, laughing, and getting on with their day-to-day lives. East London Scenes was composed in 1992-3, is in three movements and is dedicated to Paul Lansky. It was created on a NeXT computer at Princeton University, using CSound, Cmix and other sound-editing software.
Michael Jones – Charlotte, Her Book
Charlotte, Her Book is based on a poem by Elizabeth Bartlett, which tells the story of a child who has been killed in a road acident and now exists as a confused and lonely ghost who haunts her parents. The text of the poem has been set to a surreal soundscape which sometimes mirrors the emotions and dramatic mood swing of Charlotte.
Greg Fox – Overture: Electric Spring
The aesthetic ideal of this piece is to avoid the cliche of ‘washes’ of sound or ‘shiny’, ‘bell- like’, (etc.) textures in favour of harsh, loud, animalistic noises, which are frequently disturbing and form Xenakis-like textures for a moment and then immediately single lines or clusters. The main sources of inspiration for Overture: Electric Spring are:
Xenakis : Tauriphanie
Harvey: From Silence
Berio: Laborintus II
Babes in Toyland: Catatonic
Dr. Devious: Cyberdream
Peter Manning – By-law 2531, City of Vancouver
By-law 2531, City of Vancouver is based on material drawn from the archives of the World Soundscape Project at Simon Fraser University. British Columbia. One of the primary objectives of the WSP is to achieve a better understanding ot the nature of sound in the environment, and its impact on our quality of life. Although many attempts have been made to regulate urban sources of sound pollution over the years few have achieved any lasting success. By-law 2531, introduced by the City of Vancouver in an attempt to stem the noise of street traders is a classic early example of such legislation, doomed inevitably to failure. This work is a commentary on the competitiutt between (wo)man and nature to dominate the acoustic landscape of this part of Canada, from the sounds of starlings under Burrard Bridge to those of industrial yards and recreation parks. The transformation of these aural images is achieved by means of granular synthesis using the GSAMX facilities at SFU and the digital mixing facilities at the University of Durham.
Trevor Wishart – Tongues of Fire
Tongues of Fire explores the grandeur and bathos of the human condition through the medium of the human voice. The slightly angry, disgruntled, comic muttering with which the piece begins are the source of all the diverse sonorities in the piece: sounds which might suggest drums, water, metallic resonances, fireworks or entirely imaginary materials or events. Sound-transformations of many sorts are a key aspect of the work.
The work falls into three major sections. The first section lasts for about ten minutes, and ends with a gradually granulating voice slowly changing into a clock tick. After a brief pause the opening phrase is recapitulated, leading to a rhythmic variation of the same material. After further sonic development, the climactic rhythmic sequence is reached. Here the rhythmic material becomes strongly pitched and leads into the ‘fireworks’ transformations which begin the third section, the coda of the work.
Tongues of Fire uses the whole gamut of signal-processinng and sound-texturing procedures available on the computer. Many new and non-standard techniques are used, such as constructive distortion (e.g. spectral tracing, waveset distortion and sound-shredding. It was realised almost entirely on a low cost home computer using software developed by the composer and other participants in the Computers’ Desktop Project (a composers’ co- operative) with the support of public domain software (CSound and Mark Dolson’s Phase Vocoder). As such it seeks to demonstrate the power now available to the ordinary computer music composer.
The final mixdown was planned at the GMEB studio in Bourges ,and realised on the CPD system. The final realisation of this piece was made possible by a commission from the GMEB studio and the generous assistance of the British Council. The world premiere took place at the 1994 Synthese Festival in Bourges and was recently awarded First Prize in the Music Category of the Linz Arts Electronica.
Michael McNabb – The Lark Full Cloud
The Lark Full Cloud was commissioned by the Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles in 1989 and was realised the same year in the composer’s private digital music studio. The eight short tape pieces, together with the 16 other short works by two other composers, are played one piece on the half-hour, 24 hours a day, from a permanently-installed sound system in the new Grand Hope Park in downtown Los Angeles. The title piece may also be performed live with violin, tape and digital delay. Each of the very accessible pieces represents a particular time of day or night. The movements of the piece will weave a strand throughout today’s recital.
lan Dearden – Lilt
for soprano saxophone and tape
Lilt was written in 1987 for the saxophonist Steve Cottrell, commissioned by Greater London Arts. In this version for soprano saxophone, the player employs a section of extended instrumental techniques, notably multiphonics and circular breathing, to weave in and out of the electronic sounds which are played by the computer. The piece is in three parts. The particular consideration was the blending of the sound of the saxophone with the synthesited sounds, which could move through complex harmonic and in harmonic sonorities without the need for a pause for breath.
Rodrigo Velloso – Multiple Reeds
Voyage to the Interior of the Saxophone could well be a sub-title for this piece. But before we consider the work, we must first ask: what is the saxophone? lt is a metallic conical tube with holes topped by leather pads, instigated by human breath which makes a single bamboo reed vibrate. lt could also be seen as a cross between an oboe and a flute, capable of producing an extraordinary variety of timbres, from very quiet and delicate sounds to extremely powerful and penetrating multiphonics. The flexibility of its sound-producing techniques makes it of unique interest to electroacoustic composers, for we can isolate quite convincingly different actions primarily thought to work in conjunction. For instance. we may want to explore breath sounds through the tube, filtered by ordinary fingerings, but without generating pitches; we can, however, extend the pitch-producing techniques by arranging special throat and finger positions in the more percussive side of the instrument by exaggerating key clicks. This experimental approach is tackled in conjunction with the tape part, where not only did I use saxophone sounds (transformed or not), but also other reed instruments. Further sounds on tape were chosen as extensions of the saxophone materials, for instance: metallic tube, cymbal resonances, breach sounds. filtered white noise, key clicks, drums and other percussive instruments. The piece’s structure, however, shows a more traditional form, divided into three movements. The first (on the soprano) is assertive, the second (on the tenor) a cantabile and the third (first on tenor and then on soprano), a toccata-like game. Echoes of different styles are hinted at but never used as overt quotations. It is as if I wanted to create a voyage through a very personal world. Some elements in this world we share; others, you are invited to discover.
Rob Scorah – Farewell Temple Stars
The prize-winning work in the Electric Spring Competition 1995
Strange sounds often accompany our passing from one state of consciousness to the next. The toll of the monastery bell gives way to the more subtle resonances of its own ghost as we pass by on our journey to the shores of the primal sea. The piece was realised using FM generated saxophone bell sounds (Yamaha SY99) and soprano saxophone samples. Both sources were further modified using a Macintosh computer.
Many thanks to fellow student Rob Lawrence for his multiphonics and their fingerings.
Steve Reich – Reed Phase
Steve Reich’s Reed Phase is one of an early group of works (others include Piano Phase and Violin Phase) in which melodic and rhythmic interest is generated by the repetition of a single musical idea against itself. In this piece the performer pre-records (originally with a tape loop, now digitally) two tracks of musical material. Each track consists of endless repetitions of the same five-note motive, displaced from each other by one note. The performer then works against the tape, playing the same material just slightly faster, resulting in the third ‘live’ line moving in and out of phase with the pre-recorded material. Additonally, being a wind instrument piece, the performer uses the technique of circular breathing in an attempt to make the third musical line indistinguishable from the other two.
Edgard Varèse – Poème Electronique
The two Varese works in tonight’s concert are the last works he completed and the works in which he came closest to realising his lifelong amibition for a music which transcended the boundaries of conventional instrumental resources. Poème Electronique was commissioned by Philips for their pavilion at the 1958 Brussels World Fair where it became one of the star attractions of the six-month long Fair, drawing fifteen thousand visitors daily. The pavilion, designed by the architect Le Corbusier and his then assistant lannis Xenakis, included 350 loudspeakers and Poème Electronique was diffused to these loudspeakers with the aid of a 15- track control tape which also triggered film projection and light changes.
Despite its title, Poème Electronique is not electronic music, certainly not as that term was understood in the 1950s. The Poème does contain some electronically generated sounds but the majority of the material is made up of what Varèse called ‘real sounds’ – bells, voices, jet engines and (always a Varèse favourite) sirens – many of which are used without any tape manipulation or electronic processing. The poetic power of the Poème comes from the boldness of Varèse‘s organisation of these sounds into a (predominantly monophonic) stream of events. For much of their lives both Poème Electronique and Déserts have been valued as much for their historical significance (early tape pieces by an acknowledged master composer) as for their musical virtues. Certainly these pieces lack the technical sophistication of much that has been produced since in the electroacoustic domain, but they remind us more powerfully than any other work by Varèse of his central role in the liberation of noise.
Michael McNabb – Love in the Asylum
Love in the Asylum is a love song to the calculated insanity and spontaneous magic that one must sometimes call upon in order to live in this strange universe of ours. It features an orchestra of familiar instrumental and vocal sounds, new sounds drawn from the imagination, and—perhaps most expressively—sounds that fluidly shift between the two. The work, which critic Paul Lehrman called “one of the most devastatingly beautiful pieces of electronic music I have ever heard”, is built of two psychological layers. Foremost is a layer of cheerful confidence and exuberance, colored and occasionally overpowered by a dark emotional undercurrent of anxiety and psychological imbalance.
All sounds in Love in the Asylum were synthesized except for the laughter and the player calliope music. It includes a number of musical quotations, including quotations from other works of electroacoustic music. The spatial sound paths at the beginning of the first movement are from Turenas (1972) by John Chowning, who was a primary mentor, and influenced McNabb‘s decision to specialize in electroacoustic music and performance.
Leigh Landy – Sonic Highway Exits Neglect Grammar
Year/duration: 1995 – 13 minutes
Instruments: Voice, sheng (Chinese mouth organ), tape
Text: The composer
Key words: Sheng, old = new, loud things come in small packages, did you say “rap”?
Sources of inspiration: Chinese music, how notes can turn into sound and color
Rob Scorah – Shards of Orisons
Every day, a million prayers, chants and hymns rise heaven bound from the earth. In his trance, the shaman walks among them, some new born, some centuries old. The piece was created mainly using vocal samples in a Macintosh computer and using a Korg vocoder.
Edgard Varèse – Déserts
“I had in mind not only all physical deserts (of sand, sea and snow, of outer space, of empty city streets) but also the deserts in the mind of man: not only those stripped aspects of nature that suggest barrenness, aloofness, timelessness, but also that remote inner space no telescope can reach, where man is alone, a world of mystery and essential loneliness.” So Varèse accounted for the title of the first work in which he made use of the new musical material of the post-1945 period, magnetic tape. The ‘essential loneliness’ translates into instrumental music in which the bustling energy of Varèse’s scores of the 1920s and ’30s has been replaced by an almost Apollonian restraint and a tape part full of violent contrasts of sonority.
That Déserts would combine both tape and instruments was always Varèse’s intention but the tape part – three ‘interpolations’, as Varèse termed them – was created after most of the instrumental music had been written and the relationship of instrumental to tape music is tangential rather than contrapuntal. The interpolations are all about three minutes long with the middle one the longest. The first and last interpolations use recordings of noise-rich industrial sounds as their principal source materials while the middle imerpolation, derived primarily fmm percussion instruments, is a little more subdued.
Déserts was given its first performance in Paris in December 1954, directed by Hermann Scherchen. The tape was revised in 1961 with the technical assistance of Bülent Arel in the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center and tonight’s performance uses a digital copy, made in the Columbia University Electronic Music Center, of that revised version. Electric Spring is grateful to Pril Smiley of the Columbia University Electronic Music Center for making this tape and that of Poème Electronique available for tonight’s performance.