Monday, July 21, 2008

ACMC 2008

Recently I attended the 2008 Australasian Computer Music Conference in Sydney, 10-12 July. I think this is still the only musical event in the region that combines refereed academic papers, artist talks and a festival. A real benefit of the conference is hearing talks from people whose work is then performed in the concerts. This isn't meant to be a detailed review, just a mention of some highlights for me.

The conference was held at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, which was a great venue, with the talks, concerts and so on held in rooms adjacent to central atrium of the new part of the Conservatorium. It was smoothly organised by Anthony Hood, Robert Sazdov, Ivan Zavada, Sonia Wilkie and a team of helpers. I couldn't get to everything, but I still attended about 20 talks and 6 concerts in three days. Additionally, the conference linked in with Liquid Architecture's Sydney leg, the Liquid Architecture gigs providing late-light events for ACMC. Such late-night events have become a tradition for ACMC, but this is the first time Liquid Architecture has been involved.

The keynote speakers were Robert Normandeau from Montreal and Roger Dean from Sydney. Robert is a very well-known "acousmatic" composer. He devoted a lot of his keynote speech to a detailed discussion of his piece StrinGDberg. This piece was the last one in the concerts, and was certainly a highlight of the conference.

I had to miss part of Roger Dean's talk, but the part I did hear was fascinating. It was concerned with empirical psychoacoustic studies of various musical attributes, using electro-acoustic music as test materials. It seems that almost all such work is conducted using instrumental music, and Roger saw advantages in using music less familiar to many participants.

A few other talks that struck me: Warren Burt's comparing electro-acoustic composition to Sufism (given by video,as Warren couldn't attend); Ros Bandt's on her installation Sea Lament based on sounds associated with Japanese woman abalone divers, and especially the whistling noise they make when they reach the surface; Toby Gifford and Andrew Brown's talk describing a simple but effective method for detecting percussive attacks very quickly when they are buried in other sounds; and the talk by Andrew Sorenson and Andrew Brown entitled "A compositional model for the generation of orchestral music in the German symphonic tradition". Why would one want to do this? It turns out that the generation is in real time, with obvious application to games. Instead of trying to solve completely the problem, say, of chord progression, they so far have rough and ready versions of all the main musical components. The results weren't at all bad.

From the concerts I have already mentioned Robert Normandeau's StrinGDberg. Of the other tape pieces I would mention the long and compelling piece Ombres, Espaces, Silences by Giles Gobeil, composed in stereo and ably diffused over the conference 16-channel system by Conservatorium student Henrique Dib. Remarkably, this was Henrique's first public diffusion. Also the 1969 piece Continuum, by the pioneer Tristram Cary, known for his work on Doctor Who, and a long-time resident of Adelaide, who died recently. This work held up extremely well.

Among the live performances I would mention the engaging Hands on Stage by Chi-Hsia Lai, using a small table with a translucent top, a webcam underneath, and microphones attached. The webcam interpreted shadows cast on the table as control information for sound manipulation, and additionally we saw projected a modified version of what the webcam was seeing. Another novel interface was the electronic sitar of Ajay Kapur, coupled with a head-mounted controller. The work, Anjuna's Digital Raga, was very enjoyable. Unfortunately I had to miss the workshop that Ajay gave about his work.

My favourite audio-visual work was Brigid Burke's Strings, involving complex projected images, live bass clarinet (played by Brigid), and electronically transformed sound. I also mention the strange work Po[or Symm]etry [Dra]in[s] [E]motion[s], by Mark Havriliv and Josh Dubrau. It consisted of an electronic chat session between the two performers, projected up on a screen and accompanied by sounds. But the chat messages were being transformed by a computer program, resulting in received messages looking like the title of the work.

I only engaged with two installations apart from my own Cloud Drum, Colin Black's "extended environmental guitar", which was documentation about a 15-metre long construction installed in remote locations associated with the explorer Ludwig Leichhardt, and Ros Bandt's Sea Lament mentioned above.

Of course there was a lot more. It was good to meet with old friends, but also good to see quite a few new faces. This is the sixteenth ACMC, and there seems to be plenty of energy in the community.

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