Taylor and Francis Group is part of the Academic Publishing Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 3099067.

Informa

Case Studies

The Case Study artists provided important background research for the book. Unfortunately, there was not enough space to include everything they contributed, so these pages are devoted to each musician in turn. Here you will find complete transcripts of the interviews, additional repertoire, accounts of their experiences undertaking projects, full biographies, links to their work and so on.

Click on the tabs below for a page on each musician.

Oswald Berthold

Website

Biography

enter world. awakening of the internal program. learned to play an instrument. formed a band. acquaintance with more instruments including electronic devices. left home. meet computer. short studies in music technology. meet internet. establishment of a studio and founding of a collective that lives until today. embeddance in an electronic music scene. playing concerts. start learn programming. playing more concerts. doing regular work in website construction. shifting interest to installations. picking up studies in computer science. still going. vacillate between art and science.

Interview

Please describe your creative use of technology, particularly digital technology.
i am interested very generally in wave phenomena as they are evident in, or rather, constituent of all of nature’s processes. sound then seems well suited for conveying information about the trajectories of these processes’ variables, particularly as they unfold along time, be they external and tapped or simulations. this suggests a toolbox equipped with devices such as supercollider, octave, R, and a good text editor, a lot of glue, utilities and scripts of diverse provenience and a box filled with I/O apparatus, sensors, soldering iron and such.

What music do you make?
barely any. or put extremely, it’s not making music but rather transforming music. consider music as the continual evaluation of a vector valued function of multiple variables. whew. phenomenologically it’s again a progression, one of parameterized sounding entities, elements that vary mostly microscopically, that recur among diversely different timescales, maybe slowly evolve. hums, hisses, buzzes, tonal drones, optionally and quasi periodically pulsed, also blips, squeaks, tweets, squirts, grunts and other more short-lived creatures.

Why do you make music?
i slipped into this, not noticing myself, and now i can’t find a way out.

Is any of your sound-based work not ‘music’, as such?
referencing above preemptive statements, most of it, yes. it appears to me i have arrived at this definition (the one with the function, above) by searching for a local optimum in personal manoeuvring space. i enjoy a lot of music ‘as such’, but i enjoy in a very similar manner many more temporal structures occurring in my immediately perceptible surrounding and wonder about the imperceptible.

Do you consider yourself a performer, a composer, a technologist, an engineer, some combination of these or, indeed, something else?
clearly, all of the above and then some. maybe not quite a generalist but at least a student in many disciplines.

What is the cultural context for your work? Are you influenced by music in other cultures? And the other arts?
sorry to be unsubtle in unwrapping subquestions.

  1. white elitist western art music, sound art, sound hacking, slow code, media art + theory.
  2. in no way directly. only through the filter of being published on recording media.
  3. i draw inspiration from all over: movies, literature, people, visual, sculptural, electronic and/or performing arts, physics, biology, mathematics, electronic and hacker culture, (in ad-hoc order) and other unworldly terrain. generally i go with the notion of arts and sciences overlapping, a tendency to syn rather than sci.

What skills and attributes do you consider to be essential for you as a digital musician?
verbalized positively in the order of descending generality: humor, curiosity, persistence, luck, classical literacy, having readily access to electronic calculating machinery of recent make including libraries of open software for their operation, literacy in mathematics, the internals and black magic of aforementioned machinery.

Do you have any other useful or relevant things to say about being a digital musician today?
no, not today.

Nick Collins

Website

Biography

Nicholas (Nick) Collins has indulged in both mathematics and instrumental composition in the past. His interests run the gamut of topics in electronic music, but particular specialisms include algorithmic composition, live electronica, machine listening and interactive music systems. He was born near Oxford, grew up in Burntwood, Staffordshire, received a first degree in mathematics, a masters in music technology, worked for Sony for a year on film SFX software, then became a programmer and part-time lecturer in London. Nick escaped to Cambridge to sort out a PhD, where he also learnt the dark art of writing in the third person about himself. He is now a lecturer in computer music at the University of Sussex.

Interview

Please describe your creative use of technology, particularly digital technology.
I am actively exploring: machine listening and interactive music systems (for example, works for piano and electronics, baroque instruments and electronics, computer systems supporting improvisation) computer-generated composition (including a series of 'infinite length pieces' in musical areas from nonstandard tuning systems to automatic electronic dance music) laptop performance (from live coding, to live audiovisuals).

What music do you make?
I used to create fixed products including ‘impossible tape music illusions’ but, more recently, have often concentrated full time on live performance. The various facets of this include an audiovisual experimental electronica duo (live improvisation of mappings), designing systems for real-time interactive situations and competitive live coding battles.

Why do you make music?
The answer to this would itself vary based on the work and the time of day. But here is a selection of responses:

  • to make social contact with people I’d be too shy to talk to
  • to assist communal forgetting of the everyday, for particular functions (a club event,
    promoting dancing) to undermine particular functions (deliberately awkward music disrupting dancing)
  • to create artefacts as a challenge to my own and others’ intellectual and emotional states
  • to become lost (or transcendent, meditative?) in the flow of composition and performance. I can achieve such direct flow in more intellectual pursuits (though I also play piano in traditional musicianship and can become lost there in a motor memory assisted kind).

I’ll stop before your patience wears thin . . .

Is any of your sound-based work not ‘music’, as such?
The first installation I created was a failure, a bit of a joke:­ a large banner proclaimed an ‘Anti-Copyright Installation, copyright Nick Collins’ and below was a red button (and this was in the foyer of the Royal Festival Hall!) Granulated shards of sound of sufficient shortness to have unidentifiable origin were played, but the envelopes would be extended if you touched the button. To reveal copyrighted sources.
I have nothing against sonic art or sound art. It’s still organised by humans, and it’s healthy to not always be sat ‘consuming’ in the dark but to wander a space and reach out to an artefact.

Do you consider yourself a performer, a composer, a technologist, an engineer,
some combination of these or, indeed, something else?

I've made the comparison before of nineteenth-century composer/pianists and twenty-first-century composer/programmers. People are an implicit and untangleable blend of characters and change as the context suits; so I can be any of the above, but certainly, happy to be labelled a digital musician where this might simply mean someone working at the cross- disciplinary juncture of these types.

What is the cultural context for your work? Are you influenced by music in
other cultures? And the other arts?

I am interested by all musics, but am especially drawn to those of counter-cultures and experiments. Of course, from a Western perspective, sometimes the mainstreams of other cultures can seem like subversive voices! All arts and sciences are good sources of human richness. In particular, I’m actively involved in multimodal art (audiovisuals).

What skills and attributes do you consider to be essential for you as a
digital musician?

Some are in common with and critical to an acoustic musician: dedication/enthusiasm, networking, effort/practice; but some are exclusive, these are possibly more what you’re asking for: computer programming ability in a number of languages (i.e., SuperCollider, C, MATLAB); instrument builder’s/system designer’s spirit ­– desire to tinker and explore potential (and the necessary patience to defer outcomes here, plus the necessary impatience not to spend the entire time designing); grasp of electronic musician’s music theory: psychoacoustics, DSP, discrete math, representations/formalisms; ability to be
operating system and platform/software free.

Do you have any other useful or relevant things to say about being a digital
musician today?

The avenues for truly experimental new music are highly centred on digital technology. However, a few of the debates and themes seem to me chimerical or unnecessary: there’s nothing special about laptop music, cognitive skills have a lot in common with physical skills, and we shouldn’t be too biased against either. Sometimes we want to listen to acousmatic music; sometimes we want to be dancing; sometimes we want to talk during a concert. A mixture of functions is great!

Julio d'Escriván

Website

Biography

I am a composer and creative music-technologist. I studied music traditionally, my instrument was the classical guitar, but I was interested in electronic music from very early on. Because of this I experimented with electric guitars, synths, recordings and tape delays in the late 1970s. I went to what is today Anglia Ruskin University where I studied composition with John Hopkins. Later, I studied composition for a year at Cambridge University (Trinity Hall) with Robin Holloway and then at City University London with Simon Emmerson and Robert Saxton where I took my PhD in Electro-acoustic Composition in 1991.

I have worked as a composer of music for media since 1989 (it started as a way to fund my living expenses at the end of my PhD), but I have been a full-time academic only since 2005. I was also a consultant for Yamaha Research and Development in London, on sampling and synthesizer voicing projects between 1989 and 1991. Before I became an academic, I supported my more experimental sonic explorations by being a music producer for my own small company, bitBongo Music. As such I have produced (written, directed session musicians, recorded, etc.) music for commercials, TV documentaries, TV and radio sound IDs and edited several CDs of popular music as well as scoring a few film soundtracks. I have also worked extensively for A&E (Arts and Entertainment) Latin-America, a US cable network that is part of the HBO group, as an in-house composer. Since 1991, I have recorded music for a great variety of brands including Kraft, Pepsi, Gatorade, P&G, Nabisco and also for the Venezuelan banking industry. At present I am a Reader in Creative Music Technology at Anglia Ruskin University.

Through the years my own personal work has tended to be electro-acoustic (that more academic, for lack of a better description, genre of electronic music), and it has included mixed-genre (soloists or ensembles and ‘tape’) as well as acousmatic and algorithmic computer music (live coding-based). My work has been heard or broadcast through traditional media in the Americas, the US and Europe. At present I also make extensive use of the Internet and social networks in sharing my music and to crowd-source critique or feedback.

Interview

Please describe your creative use of technology, particularly digital technology.
My use of technology is compositional, I am not interested in developing technological tools for others to use (although I am happy to share the few ones I make). I use digital technology to synthesize, record, manipulate and perform sound. Once I have sounds that inspire me, I use programming languages like SuperCollider and MaxMSP/Jitter to structure the sequencing of the sound objects and give form to my musical ideas. I often work in a live-coding style with SuperCollider; this allows me to test complex ideas very quickly and to create interesting variations easily with minor changes to the code. In the end, I like leaving the music ‘fixed’, which often means that a similar sound process is applied in the same section of the music but with constrained randomness in selected aspects when the code is re-run in performance. This makes the most of variability but ensuring you can recognize the piece on a second hearing!

In recent works I have used smartphones and video game controllers, which are now rather common in electronic music performance. At the moment of writing, I am creating a new work for video game player as performer (projecting the game progress to the audience) and an electro-acoustic ensemble that includes a laptop section and reacts to the game much in the spirit of silent film.

What music do you make?
I make mostly electronic music. I am interested in stylistic crossovers between experimental electronica and classical, jazz, rock, pop and ethnic musics.

Why do you make music?
I make music because I love it. It’s one of the few things I am able to do that is a reward in itself.

Is any of your sound-based work not ‘music’, as such?
Because of my personal history all my work with sound responds to a musical sensibility. Yet I would say that according to newer definitions of sonic art, music itself as we understand it historically may be better understood as a particular form of the arts of sound but not the only standard by which all work in sound is measured.

Do you consider yourself a performer, a composer, a technologist, an engineer, some combination of these or, indeed, something else?
After thinking about it for the last few years, I still consider myself a composer first but these days I also think of myself as a creative technologist. By this I mean that I am not interested in technology per se but in how it can be (mis)used for artistic purposes.

What is the cultural context for your work? Are you influenced by music in other cultures? And the other arts?
My context is a mixed baggage of urban/world music popular idioms with a healthy dose of South American and Latin folklore, and other ethnic elements as well as highbrow pretentious European concerns which I can afford to never take very seriously because I am not a European by birth. Like a lot of my contemporaries, I am particularly sensitive to visuals and visual art-forms like cinema and video. I also practice photography and my music today is very dependent on it.

What skills and attributes do you consider to be essential for you as a digital musician?
A deep interest in synthesis, recording and production of sound. Some computer coding skills. Technological shamelessness. A high threshold for embarrassment from failure.

Do you have any other useful or relevant things to say about being a digital musician today?
Perhaps, over a pint... ! 

Ambrose Field

Biography

Ambrose Field writes music which combines human performance and digital technology. He is a three-time award winner at the Prix Ars Electronica, Linz, with honorary mentions for digital music in 1997, 1998 and 2006. Field’s work crosses style and genre boundaries, and explores new territories resulting from an unusual cinematic approach to source material. BBC Radio Three commented that Field’s work is ‘music pushing against its boundaries and aspiring to the visual.’ His latest project, Being Dufay, is recorded on ECM and has achieved international critical acclaim. He has been a guest of studios as diverse as Recombinant Media Labs/Apshodel and Hungarian National Radio, researching creative answers to new digital opportunities.

Ambrose contributed a project to the book: Hydroponics 1 for Laptop Orchestra.

Interview

What music do you make?
Music involving humans and technology.

Why do you make music?
Firstly, for the audience. I'm not interesting in making music nobody is going to hear.
Secondly, to explore, define, create and seek out new things.

Is any of your sound-based work not ‘music’, as such?
No. This is not a value judgement though, I simply don’t make documentary forms of pieces, field recordings or sonifications.

Do you consider yourself a performer, a composer, a technologist, an engineer, some combination of these or, indeed, something else?
I'm a composer, as most of my time is spent looking for new forms and structures, and creating the raw materials for pieces from scratch.

What is the cultural context for your work?
My work has been performed in festivals ranging from Early Music Events in the Vienna Konzerthaus to hardcore Dance Music Festivals in the middle of rural Italy. I don't specifically locate my music in any cultural context. I do however bring a wide range of historical ideas into my compositional process. I am also influenced by my own past experiences.

Are you influenced by music in other cultures? And the other arts?
Yes. I think it is important as a world citizen to know about music from as many cultures as it is possible to find out about. I'm currently enjoying researching Pansori. However, I will not try and emulate Pansori in any of my pieces. Some of the structural decision making may inform how I approach a new work I'm engaged with, but that's about it.

What skills and attributes do you consider to be essential for you as a digital musician?
The ability to go beyond being a ‘digital musician’.
Do you have any other useful or relevant things to say about being a digital musician today?
Following on from my last point, I'd argue that there isn’t such a thing as a ‘digital musician’. Digital is a meaningless semiotic consequence of the information age. The idea of musician will prevail for all time.

Finally, could you describe a project you have undertaken and some of the challenges it involved?

Being Dufay is a work for live tenor voice and electronics. It is also a studio album (ECM records 2009: cat ECM2071). The piece involves setting material – very short fragments of fourteenth-century compositions – in the present tense. This presented some major challenges, the most important of which was how to present the original material in a way that would not compromise it, yet would allow a significant amount of compositional freedom. I decided to approach this not as some kind of postmodern assemblage, where a form of ‘crossover’ could have easily resulted, but in a way that simply sets the fragments of original Dufay within a new landscape without juxtaposition or irony. I had in mind the effect of situating a beautiful sculpture in a new landscape. The role of technology in the piece is very carefully limited as a result. There are no ‘sound treatments’ of the live voice – what you hear is straightforward singing. The technology is employed for the benefits of its own soundworld, not to emulate an acoustic one. The challenge of maintaining clarity between the many elements of this piece was won through having carefully defined musical roles for each type of material used.

Rob Godman

Website

Biography

Working as a composer, sound designer and programmer, Rob has a passionate interest in how sound behaves acoustically and has developed a number of techniques for controlling and building virtual spaces for use within live performance and installation. His fascination in the work of the Roman architect Vitruvius has led to frequent conference engagements and appearances on documentary TV shows.

An enthusiastic collaborator, Rob has worked on experimental and large-scale commercial music and sound design projects including the interactive installation The DARK. Rob has received performances from artists such as the Siobhan Davies Dance Company, The BBC Singers, Evelyn Glennie, Gemini, Philip Mead, Vivienne Spiteri, Kate Romano, Andrew Sparling and the Sackbut and Cornett Ensemble QuintEssential. In collaboration with Philip Mead, they have formed a duet of pianist and sound and image projection. The emphasis is on piano and live electronics using custom-built hardware and software. They have recorded an album for the UH record label.

Rob has been commissioned by Braunarts to write the software for a VJ project (4DMusic) with Birmingham Contemporary Music Group. The work was first presented at a series of concerts in the CBSO Centre, Birmingham in January 2008. Rob has developed the system for his own audio/visual works (The Ryan Belson Tribute) and for a variety of other artists including the breakbeat outfit Diverted performing in major London nightclubs. In addition, he is researching the performance of electroacoustic music with the perception of ‘liveness’ being a significant factor. Alyona (a collaborative work by David Mapp, Lee Richardson and Rob Godman – a fusion of poetry, hip-hop and immersive sound) is a significant outcome of this research.

Other research and compositional interests include interactive audio (live and responsive), multi-speaker sound projection (Rob is the director of UH Diffuse – the Music Centre’s multi-speaker diffusion system), programming, commercial expectations and industry requirements, collaborative methods and cross-arts (music and architecture, music and image, music and text, etc.).

Rob Godman is Reader in Music and Programme Leader for Composition at the University of Hertfordshire.

Rob also contributed a Creative Project to the book: music-is-life

Interview

What music do you make?
Strangely, I found this a rather difficult question. I know what I don’t do. I’ve created a lot of collaborative works with other artists that might be described as ‘installation’. I write concert-hall works for instruments and electronics where live performance and perception of ‘liveness’ is an integral part. Space (or acoustics) – in the widest sense of the word – is an important part of my work.

Why do you make music?
Well, I come from a performing background. I was a trombonist and whilst at school I formed a brass ensemble having two cornets and two trombones. Needless to say, we didn’t have a huge amount of repertoire so the simple solution to an impressionable teenager was to write my own. I found it very easy and had little idea that others might find it more difficult. I’ve found composing gradually harder as I got older. But there is a more serious side to my music making as far as I’m concerned. I’ve always found my other methods of communication difficult and inadequate. Music allows me to say what I want, to whom I want (which might be myself – is that rather sad!?) and, with technology, pretty much when I want. I find music a beautifully pure language – this international language that, when asked, nobody appears to understand. I love that paradox. The downside of this is that when I’m unable to create, for whatever reason, I’m a miserable person – tongue-tied. I suspect denying personal thought is the cruellest thing anyone can do to another. Music is my preferred form of personal thought and I guess I’m stuck with it.

I’m sure many other composers and artists would share this rather insular view of their creative practice. I would like to think I’ve become increasingly interested in audience perception of my work – one of the reasons why I get so frustrated (make that incredulous!) at the way so much electroacoustic music is presented. Composers who ignore their audience get what they deserve…

Is any of your sound-based work not ‘music’, as such?
I describe myself as a composer mainly, although I’m very interested in the composition/sound–design crossover. I find it quite amusing how we get very messed up with these types of labels. ‘Composer’ seems to be about right for me – an organizer of sound. As an academic, I find myself researching areas that might not be considered music. I’ve investigated ancient acoustics extensively, in particular Vitruvius’ resonating vases placed in Roman theatres. My passion for space and acoustics comes from my trombone-playing days when I was positioned in unusual places around buildings (behind or above the audience for example). I spend a lot of time developing ways of creating and controlling virtual spaces (a space isn’t audible until it contains a sound source). In addition to this, I’ve developed systems for and worked as a VJ – I like the idea of visual images responding to sound and the fact that we can get away from the idea of video being pre-rendered and fixed medium. 

Do you consider yourself a performer, a composer, a technologist, an engineer, some combination of these or, indeed, something else?
 I’m probably a hybrid of most of these although I’m never sure what a technologist is. I have a rather interesting colleague/friend/technician at work (The University of Hertfordshire). Lee Richardson has persuaded me that I can perform live, on-stage, with my musical language, with the tools I use … but in the context of hip-hop and live experimental poetry. Lee was also responsible for my first experiments with VJing in a more commercial environment (I’ve worked with his band Diverted in a number of London Clubs including Fabric and Cargo). Being able to perform live with technology is increasingly important to me and I suspect knowledge of all these areas, mentioned in your question, is crucial.
Like many – I’m also an academic. I haven’t always been an employee of an institution and as a result have worked in many diverse areas attempting to be, as I say to my students, successful (my criteria for a successful composer is simple – he/she is doing it). I suspect my slightly unconventional route into academia has made me aware of a need to have skills in all these areas. I’m conscious of the ‘middle-aged academic trying to be a rock star too late’ syndrome!

What is the cultural context for your work? Are you influenced by music in other cultures? And the other arts?
Strangely (again), I found this a rather difficult question. I’ve never felt a terribly strong sense of cultural identity. Am I part of an experimental and/or academic culture? Hope not, although I’m glad to say that the perception of such an identity/culture is now largely over generalized and frequently inaccurate.

Travel is an important part of my life as an artist and having the opportunity to exchange ideas with other, not necessarily like-minded, people is crucial. It forces you to question your thoughts and ideas. I’m not conscious of exploring techniques from other cultures but suspect I do so subliminally (with particular relation to pace and time in time-based arts).
I enjoy being slightly outside of my comfort zone and working with other artists and disciplines can make that happen. Collaborative working is fascinating. For the most part, my collaborations have been successful on an inter-personal level but I remember a hideous occasion when I felt I was being bled dry of ideas so that the other artists could pilfer them. 
I like human beings for the most part and am fascinated in how we communicate (or don’t) and relate (or don’t!) with each other. In the 1990s I wrote a series of acoustic works based on Mike Leigh’s play Abigail’s Party. These were largely about how ideas/sounds demonstrated dysfunctional communication – something that has always influenced my writing. I was very influenced by late 1980s/1990s dance music where sampling was used to form impossible collages/conversations (KLF, All You Need Is Love; Samantha Fox, Touch Me, samples from The Beatles, plus the Government HIV ‘warning’ – all superimposed). But the reason I mention this is that most time-based art forms (and I include architecture here) have been influential on my work – particularly film.

I was also a closet John Peel listener in the early 1980s. Here, I remember listening on my stereo radio cassette (technology has always been an important part of my work!) to Adam and the Ants double/stereo drum kit. More spatial activity!

What skills and attributes do you consider to be essential for you as a digital musician?
I don’t consider myself to be a digital musician – simply a musician. In many ways, I’m pleased to have had a traditional (mid-1980s) music college training. This will always be with me and has provided something to fight against in addition. The ‘traditional’ skills of listening and imagination are extremely important to me. I enjoy reading a score on a train (without the iPod accompaniment) and I find it depressing when my students ask me what I’m doing (and why!).

Learning how to code has probably been the most liberating side of my work with technology. I detest being told what to do (by anyone/thing!) Being told what to do by software and hardware is unforgivable. Coding goes some way to alleviating that situation so I probably would describe programming as essential to the digital musician. I teach coding to my music technology and composition students at the University. I’m very aware that programming is a tough ask for many – it has to be contextualized appropriately (which can make it quite hard to teach well). I want my composers to know that coding exists and that it’s OK to collaborate with a computer scientist if that’s what they think is best.
As my work explores acoustics a great deal, clearly having knowledge of the physics behind spatial movement of sound is essential too.

Perhaps the most essential requirement for any musician is passion and purpose.

Do you have any other useful or relevant things to say about being a digital musician today?
Well, as a composer who writes music, I believe the music is the means of delivery to an audience. It doesn’t matter how complicated your Max or Supercollider patch is if you have nothing to say musically. I have to confess (at the risk of never being employed in an institution focusing on digital technology again!) that I have little interest in technology per se. When the sound that is being delivered is purely a means of demonstrating the technology, we have a serious problem. I remember being told once that when a boring sound is spatialized, it is still a boring sound spinning around your head! In academic circles, there is a stereotypical method of delivering acousmatic music in a concert hall environment. I have never experienced a genre that so frequently treats an audience quite so badly! If the audience isn’t important to you – don’t invite them! In addition to this, I suspect many of us can learn a great deal from the commercial sector in how we deliver our art (in terms of live performance and pre-rendered material).

Finally, could you provide a brief paragraph describing a project you have undertaken in the past, with the problems encountered and how you dealt with them?
I was in two minds as to which project to talk about. My work with Lee Richardson (Alyona is a collaboration between poet/rapper David Mapp, Lee and myself) has allowed me to work with other composers on the same composition – a totally new experience and very much outside my comfort zone. Our aim for Alyona is to engage audiences through performance and documentation by offering unique and unrepeatable live events where the use of technology is transparent and visual. Audience perception of ‘liveness’ is a central component of the performance.

Then there’s a mixed media work with a sculptor and another coder. Perhaps this latter project is the best one to go for with regards the subject of this book… I was asked by Simeon Nelson to work with him on an algorithmic sound/light piece. Simeon also wanted to know if I knew anyone who could code the light element. I have worked with Nick Rothwell on a number of different projects – Nick is one of those rare people who are incredibly skilled from a computer science perspective but is also an artist. 

Simeon states: ‘Plenum is a dynamic architectural light projection conceived by Simeon Nelson. It comes out of a fascination with the fundamental processes of nature and is based on a series of drawings that attempt to depict states of matter at very small scales. The projection cycle of Plenum starts as a perfect grid of dots arranged in a crystalline matrix, new dots begin to appear forcing the surrounding dots apart so that after a fixed period the entire grid is pulsating, swaying and liquefying with particles popping in and out of existence. The top layers of the grid begin to disintegrate into a gaseous state shooting off in seemingly random trajectories so that the projection runs a full sequence from a frozen state of absolute order through increasing entropy to a state of complete chaos…
The work attempts to apprehend the sense that this intelligence, this autonomy, this free will is our gift to use for good or ill and the calamitous history of humanity is the price for that freedom. The created order of the natural world is also necessarily free so that evolution and higher life forms like us can come into being and become creators ourselves. The laws of nature have provided the conditions for us to exist that include plate-tectonics, dynamical weather systems, tsunamis, tornadoes, etc. Creative freedom cannot exist without risk.’

Technically, Plenum functions with an algorithm produced for the moving image controlling certain points in the audio. The piece operates from Field and Max allowing us to create non-linear reiterations of the same principle. Plenum is a large-scale video/sound piece projected onto the side of large buildings. The nature of the technology allows us to create site-specific versions of the piece, which we can do (and need to do), on-site. As will be evident from Simeon’s statement, Plenum is an arts/science hybrid – a hugely inspiring area for those of us involved with technology.

So – it was fascinating to hear Simon Emmerson talking about sculpture and music at the 2011 ICMC (creating an analogy to spectromorphology – the idea of ‘sculpting’ sound). Is sculpture a type of frozen sound similar to the architectural analogy of frozen music? Collaborations with other artists provide the opportunity for exploring these types of questions.

Chris Joseph, a.k.a. babel

Website

Biography

I am a writer, artist and musician who works primarily with digital text, sound and image. My past projects include ‘Inanimate Alice’ (www.inanimatealice.com), a series of interactive multimedia stories, and ‘The Breathing Wall’ (www.thebreathingwall.com), a digital novel that responds to the reader’s breathing rate. I am editor of the post-Dada magazine and network 391.org (www.391.org), and a founding member of The 404, a group of digital and traditional artists exploring early modernism within new media.

Interview

Please describe your creative use of technology, particularly digital technology.
My creative process is completely suffused with digital technologies. I use them for inspiration; to create text, images and sounds; to edit, program or otherwise manipulate those elements; to allow the reader/audience to respond to and influence the works (‘interactivity’); to collaborate with other artists around the world; to publish, distribute and promote my work; and many other related uses between and besides.

What music do you make?
Electronic music in a wide range of styles, often with collaborating singers or musicians who are part of the 391.org network.

Why do you make music?
This is a question I often ask myself, and a difficult one to answer. The best answer I can give for now is that it is a kind of compulsion – a need that must be satisfied to remain happy and sane. I think part of the reason may be that when I make music I often feel completely absorbed in the process/moment, to an extent that comes more rarely when creating with other forms. I almost want to say that it is a more ‘pure’ form of creation, but maybe better would be to say that it is more immediate, and there is something in that immediacy that makes it a hugely enjoyable activity.

Is any of your sound-based work not ‘music’, as such?
Aside from the creation and manipulation of sounds as part of my multimedia works, many of my longer sound pieces would probably be better described as something other than music. What that something is, I wouldn't like to say.

Do you consider yourself a performer, a composer, a technologist, an engineer, some combination of these or, indeed, something else?
Any of these terms would fit some part of my practice, which is why I always have difficulty answering the question ‘What do you do?’ I tend now to describe myself as a writer and artist, which is sufficiently vague to cover and leave open all possibilities.

What is the cultural context for your work? Are you influenced by music in other cultures? And the other arts?
My major musical influences would probably be post-war popular musics, principally rock, pop and electronic music; the classical music I played in orchestras when I was younger; and Dada. But there are a huge number of other influences that wax and wane. I am certainly influenced by the other arts, and digital arts in particular.

What skills and attributes do you consider to be essential for you as a digital musician?
As with any musician, a basic love of music, an ability to be happy sitting alone for (sometimes long) periods of time, and an awareness of copyright; for the specifically digital musician, an interest in learning new musical softwares and other related digital skills. Beyond that there are lots of useful skills, but probably none essential.

Do you have any other useful or relevant things to say about being a digital musician today?
The relative ease with which anyone can create electronic music today is a great thing; however, it sometimes obscures two important issues. First, that the majority of people in the world do not have the resources (financial or other) to become digital musicians (or digital artists of any description). Second, traditional music theory and skills can greatly help electronic musicians with their art.

Thor Magnusson

Website

Biography

I studied music from a young age and was involved in various bands in Iceland until I moved out of the country in my early twenties. My academic background is philosophy, focusing on the philosophy of mind, language and aesthetics, but also on Indian philosophy. Through the philosophy of mind, I got interested in computing and AI. When I learned programming, it became obvious that a meta-machine like the computer is a fantastic tool for creating musical instruments and compositions, so I’ve spent over a decade now researching and creating digital instruments and algorithmic/generative music. I am the co-founder (with Enrike Hurtado Mendieta) of the ixi software project (www.ixi-audio.net), which concentrates on experimenting with graphical user interfaces in musical software. We also have a label and regularly run workshops across Europe where we teach audiovisual software development for artists and designers. At the moment I teach at the University of Brighton and the University of Sussex and have a research fellowship with the Creative Systems Lab, concentrating on human–machine interaction and intelligent tools for musical production and playing.

Interview

Please describe your creative use of technology, particularly digital technology. 
I use all technology that I can get hold of. I consider my guitar a sophisticated technology; guitar pedals and amplifiers, all kinds of flutes and a clarinet that I’m practising. On the computer, I work most of the time in a programming language called SuperCollider, which is specifically designed for audio programming. My work with SuperCollider can be roughly divided into two areas: (a) building instruments that are designed for live improvisation and are therefore quite flexible, allowing for spontaneousness; (b) algorithmic compositions where I create software that generates music that is never the same when you listen to it. I always try to make software that supports working with acoustic instruments, hopefully creating a symbiotic relationship between the acoustic and the digital. 

What music do you make? 
I mostly play with improvisation bands, using a mixture of acoustic instruments and electronics, but I also enjoy improvising with other electronic musicians, which happens frequently in various club or festival settings. I also make generative music in the form of software, the latest piece in a collaboration with Runar Magnusson where we used field recordings from Iceland to create ‘schizotopic’ soundscapes where the pieces/locations are never the same. We intend to release the software so the user can generate an endless amount of music and share with others. Recently I experimented with creating my own live coding language (called ixi lang – freely downloadable on the ixi audio website) and in the last year I have performed with that system quite frequently.

Why do you make music? 
For me, music is an outlet of ideas and states of mind that I am dealing with. I get inspiration from everything I hear, see or read, and working with music in an environment like SuperCollider allows one to experiment from a very basic level. To me, SuperCollider is an experimental laboratory of sound, a research tool, a workshop for instrument building, a compositional environment and a musical instrument, all at the same time. Sound is an important part of my world, and researching and experimenting with sound and its physics is for me a meditative process of understanding the environment. For example, recording sound in nature gives me a richer and deeper ‘presence’ and ‘experience’ of the nature itself. It is as if the ears become hypersensitive. I imagine this is analogous to a painter painting nature or even a hunter that has to pick up signs from the natural environment in order to find the prey. 

Is any of your sound-based work not ‘music’, as such? 
Yes, some of my research is on the effects of sound on the mind or direct explorations of sound physics. I don’t consider that necessarily ‘music’, and it changes according to contexts, so it’s quite hard to answer this question really. Some of the installations I have made emphasise the notion of space and ruptured temporality, often without a formal or narrative structure. In my own practice, music tends to be more about the temporal in the ‘here-and-now’ sense where formal structures are important. In any case, I don't want to define what music is, so I should really say pass on this question.

Do you consider yourself a performer, a composer, a technologist, an engineer, some combination of these or, indeed, something else? 
All of these in addition to being an inventor. As with the term ‘music’, I don’t find it productive to define myself (neither for myself nor others), so it depends on context what mask one might have to wear. In fact I prefer the term ‘musician’ as it is vague and meaningless enough. I consider everybody a musician, just of varied skills, practice and maturity. 

What is the cultural context for your work? Are you influenced by music in other cultures? And the other arts? 
The cultural context of my work is a mixture of the cultures of experimental music and academia. I play regularly in various concerts and music festivals, but over the past years I have been working on my project – ixi audio – in an academic setting, and that has taken me to various academic conferences and festivals. I enjoy both worlds, although I think the most interesting stuff musically is happening outside the academic settings. As for music from other cultures, I have to admit being obsessed with Indian music (and philosophy), and this has had strong influence on my own musical practice. I studied music in India for a while, which was an enlightening experience. I’m also interested in various African musical cultures, such as those of western Africa – Mali and Morocco in particular.

What skills and attributes do you consider to be essential for you as a digital musician? 
Personally, I think knowledge of a programming language and sound physics is the most important. Learning those things takes time and practice, but not any more than learning to play an acoustic instrument well. In order to escape the limitations that commercial software imposes on the musician, I think it is important to be able to work in an environment where you are free to compose your own instruments or tools. But, at the same time, working with sound on the computer also requires that you understand sound physics and digital signal processing. For specific things like algorithmic composition, machine learning, signal analysis or other generative approaches I think a textual programming language suits better than graphical environments, but that’s just my opinion/experience, and I acknowledge that people’s minds work in different ways. 

Do you have any other useful or relevant things to say about being a digital musician today? 
I don’t consider myself a digital musician, but simply a musician that makes use of digital technology as part of what I do. I think all instruments afford certain ideas and work processes, and it would be limiting to constrain oneself to one tool or technology. Regarding useful things to say, I don’t know what those would be. It is exciting to observe how the music industry is being transformed at the moment which creates lots of opportunities for ‘digital’ musicians, for example, where the app is replacing the mp3. The interconnected locative mobile media devices give composers and musicians fantastic possibilities for interesting musical composition.

Kaffe Matthews

Website

Pauline Oliveros

Websites: http://paulineoliveros.us and http://www.deeplistening.org/ 

Biography

Pauline Oliveros (b. 1932) has influenced American music extensively in her career spanning more than 60 years as a composer, performer, author and philosopher. She pioneered the concept of Deep Listening, her practice based upon principles of improvisation, electronic music, ritual, teaching and meditation, designed to inspire both trained and untrained musicians to practice the art of listening and responding to environmental conditions in solo and ensemble situations. During the mid-1960s she served as the first director of the Tape Music Center at Mills College, aka Center for Contemporary Music, followed by 14 years as Professor of Music and three years as Director of the Center for Music Experiment at the University of California at San Diego. Since 2001 she has served as Distinguished Research Professor of Music in the Arts department at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), where she is engaged in research on a National Science Foundation CreativeIT project. Her research interests include improvisation, special needs interfaces and telepresence teaching and performing. She also serves as Darius Milhaud Composer in Residence at Mills College doing telepresence teaching and she is executive director of Deep Listening Institute, Ltd. where she leads projects in Deep Listening, Adaptive Use Interface. She is the recipient of the 2009 William Schuman Award from Columbia University for lifetime achievement. A retrospective from 1960 to 2010 was performed at Miller Theater, Columbia University in New York on March 27, 2010 in conjunction with the Schuman award. She received a third honorary degree from DeMontort University, Leicester, UK on July 23, 2010. Recent recordings include Pauline Oliveros & Miya Masoka, Pauline Oliveros & Chris Brown on Deep Listening and Quartet for the End of Space including Mercury Retrograde and CyberTalk, Pogus Records, 2011.

Interview

What music do you make? 
Currently I improvise music with my Roland V accordion (all digital). I use my Expanded Instrument System (EIS) to process my instrument and spatialize the sounds. I also compose music for acoustic and electronic instruments and voices.

Why do you make music? 
I make music to expand my mind and because I enjoy it.

Is any of your sound- based work not ‘music’, as such? 
Music that does not arise from the Western traditions of melody, harmony and rhythm but from sound orientation is often said to not be music. This is a misunderstanding of music arising from the sounds of twentieth- and twenty-first-century life. For me, both traditions are music. 

Do you consider yourself a performer, a composer, a technologist, an engineer, some combination of these or, indeed, something else? 
I am a composer/improviser and a long time user of technology.

What is the cultural context for your work? 
I grew up in Houston, Texas listening to the sounds of nature and of music lessons given by my mother and grandmother. I started playing the accordion when I was nine years old. I played other instruments in school musical organizations. I was always attracted to sounds and music that were new to me or unfamiliar. 

Are you influenced by music in other cultures? 
I became exposed to world music via Henry Cowell's radio programmes and Radio KPFA in Berkeley, California. Music broadcasts of all kinds were very influential for me.

And the other arts? 
Performance Art became influential in the 1970s. I had been interested in dance since making music for many dancers including Anna Halprin in the 1960s. 

What skills and attributes do you consider to be essential for you as a digital musician? 
My transition from forty years of analog music making began in 1991 with my first piece that was recorded digitally. This was about the time that digital recording became 16bit. Up until that time 8bit recording was not sufficient for use with my EIS as recorded delay was essential. I continued my transition when I joined the faculty at RPI in 2001. Since then I do my best to stay current with all the acceleration of changes in digital music technology. Ability to continue learning is essential. Ability to work with team members is essential. There is no way to know all that you need to know.

Do you have any other useful or relevant things to say about being a digital musician today?  
The digital musician of today has to be ready for change!

Randall Packer

Website

Biography

Randall Packer is internationally recognized as a pioneering artist, composer, educator and scholar in the field of multimedia. His book and accompanying website Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality has been widely adopted as one of the leading educational texts in the field. He is concerned with the aesthetic, philosophical and socio-cultural impact of new media in an increasingly technological society.

In 1988, he founded Zakros InterArts and has since produced, directed and created critically acclaimed new media performance, installation and net-specific works. Since moving to Washington, DC in 2000, his work has explored the critique of the role of the artist in society and politics. He founded the virtual government agency US Department of Art and Technology (www.usdat.us) in 2001, which proposes and supports the idealized definition of the artist as one whose reflections, ideas, aesthetics, sensibilities and abilities can have significant and transformative impact on the world stage.

Interview

Please describe your creative use of technology, particularly digital technology.
My work is based in performance and has incorporated nearly every form and genre of new media. Currently I am working with HD video and surround sound for an upcoming music theatre production.

What music do you make?
Music that supports a variety of media and interdisciplinary projects.

Why do you make music?
Because I can.

Is any of your sound-based work not ‘music’, as such?
No.

Do you consider yourself a performer, a composer, a technologist, an engineer, some combination of these or, indeed, something else?
I am a composer of media.

What is the cultural context for your work? Are you influenced by music in other cultures? And the other arts?
My work is influenced by social and political issues. Currently I am at work on a political music theatre work entitled A Season in Hell, a project of the virtual government agency I created shortly after 9/11, the US Department of Art and Technology.

What skills and attributes do you consider to be essential for you as a digital musician?
The ability to integrate ideas with technical skills.

Do you have any other useful or relevant things to say about being a digital musician today?
It is no longer possible to be concerned only with music; we live in a global world where interdisciplinary approaches are critical to artistic expression. It occurred to me that the premise of my multimedia opera, A Season in Hell (recently debuted), very directly takes on the struggle of the artist to overcome adversity, particularly during times of crisis:

A Season In Hell by Randall Packer
A Multimedia Opera In 2 Acts
http://www.seasoninhell.com

Synopsis
Act I: The story opens in the studio of the artist, Randall M. Packer. The artist is occupied with his epic work, his farewell and last testament to America, A Season in Hell. We are aware of the artist’s challenge to complete this mountainous project as he struggles to recount his extraordinary tale: the idealistic move to Washington, DC at the turn of the millennium; the creation of the virtual government agency, the US Department of Art and Technology (USDAT), following the attacks of September 11th; his doppelganger role as Secretary of USDAT; the acts of artistic mediation to confront the unfolding political crises; the tragic death of the nation after the tumultuous first four years of the Bush Administration; the creation of America’s Grave, where he buries the remains of the nation; and his heroic declaration to go underground as the Secretary-at-Large, to bear witness to the darkness and the horror of a nation brought to its knees. He calls on his collaborator Charles and together they create Orf, who, based on the legend of Orpheus, will guide the Secretary-at-Large through the Underworld of America using the power of his voice.

Act II: Orf and the Secretary-at-Large descend to the Underworld, which takes them to the nation’s capital; a devastated New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina; to the Bible Belt, where religious fundamentalism has run amok; the Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery to hear the testimonials of the souls of slaves, and lastly to the desert abyss of America, where Orf is to preside over the disposal of the remains of the nation: the artist’s staging of Armageddon to wipe the slate clean. Through the collaboration between the artist and Charles, with their bitter disagreements concerning the apocalyptic ending of the work, the artist eventually comes to realize the meaning of his epic construction. The journey through the Underworld is the Artist’s journey through the labyrinthine artistic process, to grab hold of the elusive power of art to say what needs to be said, and to find the means to express the struggle with the chaos that surrounds him. Ultimately, this monumental effort to find truth and reconciliation in this tumultuous chapter of America’s history confirms his own purpose as an artist: beyond the suspension of disbelief.

Synthia Payne

Biography

Synthia Payne is an award-winning scholar and artist originally from Los Angeles, California. Her pioneering live Internet music shows occur on a global scale – literally musicians from all over the world playing together in real time. Synthia was technical director for John Gunther’s multi-location telematic concert performance at CU Boulder’s ATLAS theatre between participants from CU Boulder’s Jazz Studies onsite, NYU’s Steinhardt School and Korea’s KAIST. She was a featured vocalist and improviser in an online concert with the Stanford Laptop Orchestra. Synthia is adjunct faculty for the University of Denver’s Digital Media Studies department, and is developing curriculum for classes in telematic arts collaboration. Synthia holds an MFA in Digital Arts and New Media, and a BA in Film and Digital Media with an electronic music minor, all from UC Santa Cruz.

Synthia created a project especially for this book: The Space Between.

Synthia’s Blog

Interview

What music do you make?
I make music with my voice and I play synthesizer keyboards mainly in collaborative improvisations with others, and most often taking place in real-time online sessions with people from all over the world via Internets.

Why do you make music?
Tapping into a creative process is exhilarating and can be very satisfying. When I am creating music there is a connection between my deepest psyche and the waking world that helps me live well. I remember at a very young age thinking that making music was something I could do for my whole life without reservation.

Is any of your sound-based work not ‘music’, as such? 
This gets a little tricky but I think there is a distinction between music and sound art. I’ve created a few harsh noise pieces, and I like to do what might be considered acousmatic or musique concrete. I like to call it sound collage. Most of the online musicians I play with lean towards meter and melody, or free jazz, and I think those could be considered more musical. 

Do you consider yourself a performer, a composer, a technologist, an engineer, some combination of these or, indeed, something else?
Online musicians have to be able to set up their computer, get online, mix and perform all at the same time. I am an improviser first, but I am also listening for form and content in a way that constitutes real-time composition. I am also engineering the Internet connection and the computer and audio equipment, and mixing. The simultaneity of one person performing all of those functions at once is perhaps unique.

What is the cultural context for your work?
Culture of the Amateur. Although most of the people I play with are highly skilled in music, engineering and technology, most of us don’t make a living playing or engineering music. Probably most online musicians would love to play music full time, but few do. However, this avoids having to worry about financial or commercial gain from the music we play. There is a cultural context in academia as well because of the experimental nature of real-time online collaboration. I am in the process of finding a place to take my research and practice to the next level, perhaps as a Professor of Telematic Arts Collaboration, or as a doctoral student of Internet Musicology who teaches telematic arts collaboration.

Are you influenced by music in other cultures? And the other arts?
My musical creativity resonates strongly with African tribal music and with the Carnatic music of India. Language and poetry are also strong influences and when I am composing in real time I like to vocalize on nonsensical syllables that I develop into English words. I have done several projects that utilize video art, dance and theatre. A new interest is brain music and triggering sounds with brain waves.

What skills and attributes do you consider to be essential for you as a digital musician?
Research and networking are important skills, and being relentless. Even the most knowledgeable digiticians get stuck and have to look stuff up, so don’t expect someone with more experience to have all the answers for you! Be a contributor of knowledge. Don’t let technical problems get you down. Don’t let computers intimidate you. Get comfortable with wiping your hard drive and re-installing everything from scratch.

Do you have any other useful or relevant things to say about being a digital musician today?
As pertains to real time online music collaboration, I want to make very clear that I have not ‘lost’ my desire or ability to engage in face-to-face collaborations. I have only gained in the development of technical and collaboration skills, as well as musical chops, activities and recognition. I am part of a robust and evolving musical community whose members have connections that go beyond being online or in person. As my friend Jamie says, ‘It’s not where your body is, but where your attention goes.’

Finally, could you provide a brief paragraph describing a project you have undertaken in the past, with the problems encountered and how you dealt with them?
When I decided to do my MFA research at UC Santa Cruz on real-time telepresent music improvisations, I had to start from scratch. No one at UCSC had ever done anything like it before and I had to find mentors off campus. I was very fortunate to connect with two pioneers in the field – Chris Chafe and Pauline Oliveros. Then I had to establish a relationship with UCSC’s network administrators because they were responsible for setting up connections in the studios, and opening the ports that would allow inbound data from off campus. But the biggest obstacle to overcome was other people’s idea that going online to play music, or streaming a live concert meant that there would no longer be a live audience. People are afraid that if they go online or stream a show that they will lose the face-to-face, as well as revenue from sales of tickets, t-shirts and other merchandise. A lot of online sessions I do have live audiences and involve multiple players in the same room. We try to have large screen video of other locations which people like to see live, and sometimes we have a hands-on workshop or Q&A for onsite attendees. Some people will always want to be there in person but now there’s also a virtual venue and marketplace alternative that is also very desirable and fun.

Quantazelle

Biography

A self-proclaimed ‘multi-hyphenate,’ Liz McLean Knight – the sole woman behind Quantazelle – is thoroughly immersed in technology, fashion, music and the often surprising overlaps between. When attempting to circuit bend battery-powered music toys for an upcoming music performance, she discovered that electronic components can be turned into elegant jewelry and started an entire tech-fashion line called Zelle.

While devising a content management system for her online experimental electronic music magazine Modsquare (www.modsquare.com), she learned various web-based programming languages and related technologies, having a head start from her one-time computer science college major. With that knowledge she then started an online store, Fractalspin, to sell not only her jewelry, but also accessories and gear for the technologically sophisticated yet fashionably minded crowd.

Desiring to assist similar artists reach a greater audience as well as provide gear for electronic musicians, she started Subvariant – a record label and accessories company behind the well-received Electronic Musician’s Emergency Adapter kit.

As laptop-DJ Liz Revision, she selects both experimental ambient and glitchy techno in response to the aura of each night. As Quantazelle she combines complex percussive programming, sonic innovation and engaging sound design together with an approachable melodic sensibility and often booty-shaking result.

Her blog includes a list of resources on how to make electronic music: http://lizrevision.com/how-to-start-making-electronic-music-a-list-of-resources.html
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/lizmcleanknight
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/people/Liz-Mclean-Knight/591648241
Blog: http://www.lizrevision.comblog
Meetup: http://www.meetup.com/members/4732659/
Twitter: @quantazelle

Quantazelle also contributed a project to this book: Pop Song Substitution

Interview

Please describe your creative use of technology, particularly digital technology.
What’s great about computers is that they are amazing tools that allow you to completely stretch, distort, invent and reinvent sound like no other instrument. And there’s usually an ‘undo’ command.

What music do you make?

Perhaps ‘edgy experimental-yet-melodic electronic’ or ‘glitchy-yet-catchy instrumental electronic’. It continues to evolve as I do.

Why do you make music?
I feel that I have a particularly unique audio perspective on creating music that’s not dependent on any particular instrument, machine, plug-in or genre to make it sound like it came from me. I’ve participated in this Iron Chef of Music competition put on by the krac5ive label, but which has worldwide participation via the Internet and various ‘nodes’ (physical meet-ups) throughout the world. The idea is that they give you one audio sample, and two hours, and you can use any program or effect to create a track from that one sample, but you can’t use any other instrument. I thought it was absolutely fascinating how everyone who participated took the same source material but used it in completely different ways. And I was able to recognize the ones that were produced by my friends, because it just ‘sounded like them’. Even though all of us who participated started from the same place with the same materials, we each produced something uniquely different. I sort of feel that way about what I do – I have a particular approach that sounds like me that you’ll never hear anywhere else, even though there are people using the same software and plug-ins as I do. I feel as if I’m contributing something unique to all the available recorded electronic music. If I ever stumble across anyone who sounds like I want to sound, but doing it better, I’ll just retire and subscribe to all their future albums.

Is any of your sound-based work not ‘music’, as such?
Well, I suppose my mother might say yes, but I don’t think so. I had formal music training and have a good ear, so it’s easy for me to make ‘musical’ sounding things. I don’t think everyone who wants to make electronic music should take formal music classes, but I do think a basic understanding of musical concepts is better than just mashing keys on a keyboard (and looping the resulting atonal notes as a melody) just because you don’t have the basic knowledge behind the musicality of music.

Do you consider yourself a performer, a composer, a technologist, an engineer, some combination of these or, indeed, something else?
I’d say all of those on some level. These days, I’ve toned down the actual ‘performance’ of my shows a bit (haven’t worn a costume in forever, haven’t done any costume changes or participated in any laptop cage matches in quite a while) and have just been focusing on the sonic experience that I create as a sound technologist in a live setting. Plus, just creating all the musical intricacies in one track requires a few days of such focused nerdery in front of my laptop that I kind of run out of time and energy to think about how I could make it more ‘performative’ in a live setting.

What is the cultural context for your work?
Here in Chicago, the only stations that play instrumental music are the classical music station and two low-signal-power college stations, one that plays dance music and one that plays absolutely anything from field recordings to noise punk. There really isn’t a mainstream cultural channel that my work would  fit into, although I can think of about twelve Internet-based podcasts or websites that are a near-perfect fit. And that’s why the Internet is just so wonderful – you can discover all kinds of new music and networks and interact with people with the same connoisseur-level taste in this kind of music that you wouldn’t find in mainstream cultural channels.

And I do think that people who love IDM/experimental/abstract electronic music are connoisseurs along the same level as classical music buffs. Both sorts of fans generally have a technical knowledge of how their music is created (although classical has a ‘canon’ of pieces by established composers that can be played by different groups of musicians and compared side by side with each other to highlight technical differences), and both rely on emotions created only through the interaction of all the sounds and not through a sung narrative. That’s likely what’s behind the perception of IDM as being pretentious and over-intellectual instead of fun, but it definitely can be both.

What’s interesting to me, though, is the response I get when I play my music or my favorite tracks by other musicians for people who’ve never heard this kind of music – and discover that they really are into it. I think this sort of music can be appreciated by more people, and I’d like to see it have a higher profile than just background music for car commercials.

Are you influenced by music in other cultures? And the other arts?
I think gamelan is really interesting. It’s heavily and sometimes complexly layered, with different parts coming in and out with variations or in another time signature. Some of it reminds me of earlier Autechre.

What skills and attributes do you consider to be essential for you as a digital musician?
Technically: keeping up on current technologies, upgrades, plug-ins, processor speeds, available VSTs. Knowing how to optimize the performance of one’s computer for digital audio, keeping an eye on the sort of peripherals and MIDI interfaces and whatnot that become available, and looking at tech news to think about the future of one’s set-up as technology progresses.

Professionally: networking and sharing ideas with fellow digital musicians, having a local peer base, having an Internet peer base, being committed to the larger digital musician community and helping out others with talent (either by sharing knowledge or helping to connect musicians with labels or musicians with venues to perform in), not letting one’s ego get in the way, keeping in touch with people in the press who’ve been supportive in the past, as well as labels or promotions crews that have booked me.

Mentally: commitment, goal orientation, foresight and planning ahead, just doing things that are musically fun (like DJing privately or in a low key setting and not being constrained by a genre, or entering remix contests for the fun of it), collaborating with other musicians, having another income stream so I don’t have to care if my music is commercially viable, going to music events that aren’t electronic just for a change of pace.

Do you have any other useful or relevant things to say about being a digital musician today?
It’s a very exciting time to work with computers, software and new interfaces – I can’t wait to see what people will invent next. For a new musician, I would recommend learning Max/MSP, PD, or Reaktor, since those modular software interfaces allow for all sorts of innovation, both sonic and in the sort of things that you can begin to program through it (like the ability to use external sensors, and being able to control free-standing lighting or even robotics in Max). I like the flexibility that comes from Ableton Live, because you can use it both as a DAW (arrangement view) and as a live performance tool (clip view).

I’d recommend against learning a program like Reason or Pro Tools since they have been built as a sort of program with ‘training wheels’ to help analogue musicians make the transition to digital. If you’re just learning, you should go as digital as possible in a platform that allows as much flexibility as possible in regard to how you’re going to be composing music.

In terms of interfaces, I’m excited thinking about things like the iPad being used as a music controller that you can customize to suit your particular needs and way of working. My friend Moldover has invented a series of controllers, like his Mojo, that featured a button-and-knob design that fit his hand and was ergonomically designed to fit his live performance style that also involves a guitar. The Glitch Mob members all had their own (now-defunct) Lemur – a touch-sensitive iPad-like controller with MIDI that let you design your own interfaces. I’m excited to see the controllers that people will come up with.

John Richards

Website

Biography

John Richards’ work explores performing with self-made instruments and the creation of interactive environments. He performs regularly with electro-noise improvisers kREEPA and the post-punk group Sand (Soul Jazz Records), and he is actively involved in the performance of improvised music and community music projects. In 2002, his work with kREEPA helped initiate the OIK project at STEIM, Amsterdam that involved the hacking of commercially available hardware to create economic musical interfaces. He has worked with many leading improvisers and musicians in the field of live electronics and has performed extensively across the globe, predominantly in Europe, as well as Japan, Australia and the USA. He completed a doctorate in electro-acoustic composition at the University of York, UK, in 2002, and he is currently part of the Music, Technology and Innovation Research Centre at De Montfort University, Leicester, UK. Since 1990, he has also taught improvisation at Dartington International Summer School.

Interview

Please describe your creative use of technology, particularly digital technology.
My use of digital technology, particularly in my performance work, is not obvious. This is the case with the Kreepback instrument: a modular environment of analogue DIY electronic devices, audio hardware, and digital bits and pieces patched together to create a feedback labyrinth. The instrument’s name is derived from my work with the group kREEPA and the idea that sound creeps back on itself. Since 2000, I have been developing the instrument and approaches towards performing with it. Some of the modified ‘physical’ objects (see answers to questions below) tend to catch the ‘eye’. However, as far as the ear is concerned, digital technology plays a big part. I have been hugely influenced on different levels by object-orientated programming languages. I initially conceived the feedback network of the Kreepback instrument using Max/MSP and the inputs and outputs of an audio interface. Despite being quite a different instrument to the one I currently use, the genesis of the instrument is here.

Max/MSP has also offered me a way of prototyping environments for performance and installations. The Kreepback instrument is really a hybrid technological system designed for solo and group improvisation. It combines both analogue and digital technology as well as the acoustic and physical properties of objects. For me, although digital technology has been formative in my creative work, it is not simply just about being a ‘digital’ musician. In regards to specifically digital technology I currently use in performance, the Nord Micro Modular is used as a ‘module’ in the Kreepback instrument. The programming language of the Nord offers great flexibility, and its small size, robustness and control features make it a really powerful device to help coerce and steer the feedback produced by the other modules that make up the Kreepback instrument. For example, using a mixing desk as a matrix, I can use a low frequency oscillator (LFO) from the Nord to modulate some of the analogue signals. Within the digital domain of the Nord I also have created feedback labyrinths and networks that I control with MIDI: there are feedback loops within feedback loops within the overall instrument. Having worked with Max/MSP, programming the Nord was an extension of the same modular approach.

What music do you make?
I make predominantly electronic and improvised music, as well as having written ‘composed’ electronic pieces. Such terms as ‘industrial jazz’ have been applied to some of this music, where free improvisation meets the broad genre of ‘noise’. Although a lot of the music I have created has dense textures, complex rhythms, and could be considered as ‘loud’, I am also interested in extreme contrasts, the use of silence and sparse musical landscapes. Similarly, the idea of contrast in my music is also explored through the relationship between the performer’s involvement and non-involvement (total process) in performance.

Why do you make music?
I do not really have a rational answer to this question. Making music is part of my fabric as a human being, and is something that has always been there. I have sometimes thought about how I might stop making music, but these thoughts have been fleeting.

Is any of your sound-based work not ‘music’, as such?
With some of the instruments I have created there would seem a clear link to sculpture and found art. For example, the Mincer – a modified meat mincer (grinder) where turning the handle outputs different resistances that in turn control other sound generating devices – is very much like a piece of commodity sculpture. With the Mincer there is a striking resemblance to the ready-mades of Marcel Duchamp. I have also used other found objects to create sound generating devices/instruments. These include two Victorian teapots (Loud Tea), a wooden plank with drill-hole patterns (Resonating Wooden Sculpture No. 1), and brass candlesticks. In some of my instruments, the appropriation of found objects is purely cosmetic, such as whiskey-bottle corks for knobs and old tins to house the electronics. Then there is the Automaticiser, a brass etching produced automatically that acts as a random touch control. Often there is as much interest in the way my devices look as sound. With an audience I like to set up a visual dynamic. Devices, cables and objects are arranged, normally on a table, very much like an artist’s still life. The tabletops of Keith Rowe and David Tudor have been influential in this respect. These objects also act as a score to the performance. Before and after concerts my still life or ‘installation’ is meant to be viewed. The audience more frequently than not wants to explore more closely the devices used in performance. There is intrigue in regard to how such objects are used to create sound or how they work. I find that the digital elements in my hybrid system are often overlooked by the audience or overshadowed by the more visual curios.

Do you consider yourself a performer, a composer, a technologist, an engineer, some combination of these or, indeed, something else?
I have found it increasingly difficult to call myself a composer, although I am, at times, clearly composing. There is a lot of baggage with the term composer, some of which I do not like. For example, the composer as someone that sits at the top of a musical hierarchy, the limited reference of the term in regard to Western culture, and the composer as something distinct from a musician. I have previously remarked in other interviews I have given on a comment made by Harrison Birtwistle in an interview with Paul Griffiths. In this interview Birtwistle states that, for him, playing the clarinet and composing were incompatible. This seemed anathema to me. Never at any point whilst composing did I ever feel the need to giveup playing or performing. If this meant my compositional output was smaller or compromised in some way, then so be it. I like to think of myself as a musician, the term musician also embracing the composer.

I am also a technologist, engineer, designer, programmer and artist. However, for cultural reasons I do not call myself any of these. To be, for example, a sculptor, you have to earn the right to be called this: have a studio and exhibitions, a commitment to sculpting. Some of my instruments are arguably sculptures, but their raison d’etre is to create sound. I recently remarked in a seminar entitled ‘Inscribing Instabilities’ that I gave with Simon Atkinson at the Institute of Electro-acoustic Music, Sweden, on the Resonating Wooden Sculpture No. 1. This is a piece of wood from my workshop that I have used for years on my drill press. Random patterns have been made on the wood from the drill holes. The piece of wood is aged and worn. It has a history and there is something visually appealing about it. Justifying it as a work of art, however, is another matter. Yes, I would like to hang it in an art gallery as a sculpture, but I have no artist authority to do this. But, as a ‘musical’ object, I can justify it. Working with these types of objects has been very important to me and has enabled me to express different artistic sides of my personality.

Furthermore, I feel very strongly that the distinctions associated traditionally between science and the arts are perfunctory. In the UK, for example, people study to become a Bachelor of Science or Arts. It is clear that many students do not fit into either of these categories. This is also true of the majority of digital musicians.

What is the cultural context for your work? Are you influenced by music in other cultures? And the other arts?
‘The Twenty-First Century is a Better Place for Me’. This is the title of a paper I have had an idea for, although I am struggling to start the paper due to the enormity of the issues it keeps throwing up. In brief, the idea for the paper was to attempt to place my and other people’s work within a cultural context. Being born in the 1960s, I have been fortunate to experience making music in more traditional ways with acoustic instruments such as the piano and double bass, as well as witnessing the incredible rise of the PC and being part of the digital era. Also, through teaching, I have seen the emergence of the first generation of purely digital musicians. Consequently, I am a polyglot musician: I speak many musical languages. I remember at university where I was studying music, there were those who could improvise and those who could not. Never the twain met. I suppose one of my attributes as a musician was that I could move across different musical terrains. It seemed completely natural. I had learnt some of the canon of Western classical music; I played in a jazz band and spent a good many years of my youth playing ‘axe murdering’ bass in a punk band. I also have experienced the dissemination boom of music. By this I mean the opportunity to have on CD, for example, a vast range of music from around the globe. Some of my tutors would see my eclecticism as a problem, arguing that it was artistically incoherent to be involved in and have such an interest in such a broad range of music, to have more than one musical personality. For them, it was all about artistic integrity, creating a coherent body of work and ‘purity’ of an idea. I never really saw it this way. My broad interests were a result of my cultural background. My artistic integrity, therefore, should be informed by this plurality. So, for the last twenty years, in certain circumstances, I have kept supposed different musical personas under my hat. The idea behind the paper ‘The Twenty-First Century is a Better Place for Me’ simply recognises the cultural phenomena that I have been part of and that has arisen.

The ‘high art versus low art’ debate really does seem to have run its course. Likewise, the stranglehold of high Modernism, which seemed to dominate a lot of my music education, has loosened. I often joke with myself about being a musician representing the true ‘middle  brow’. Now, this may sound abhorrent, but this is something I am beginning to think more positively about. There really is a cultural revolution going on and a lot of very exciting new music being made as a result.

My work is very much influenced by the other arts. This is particularly evident in, for example, the Kreepback instrument. These influences include the Futuristic imagery in Fritz Lang films, the architecture of Richard Rodgers, the ready-mades of Marchel Duchamp, Constructivists sculpture, the Young British Artists (YBA) and pop art, the writings of William Gibson and automatic art.

What skills and attributes do you consider to be essential for you as a digital musician?
File management and archiving is something I should be better at and really is a skill the digital musician needs. Over the years I have created thousands of files that are now sprawled across many hard disks. I sometimes feel it is easier to create a new sound rather than try to retrieve a file I made, for example, five years ago. Also understanding ins and outs and patching skills is essential. The binary world has no in-between in regard to this. Being a digital musician is not any different for me from being a musician in general, where, for example, I would want to experiment, explore and find the ‘edges’ of the medium.

Do you have any other useful or relevant things to say about being a digital musician today?
Being a digital musician is not just about the practical application of technology, but a way of being or thinking. I have recently presented a paper at Stanford University entitled ‘The Short-Circuited Digital Mind’. This paper discusses how ‘virtualness’ has had a major impact on how we interface with the physical world, and how the digital has reinvigorated our interest in ‘old’ technology in relation to music. In Nicholas Negroponte’s seminal text Being Digital, there is the sub-heading ‘Don’t Dissect a Frog, Build One’. Negroponte uses this sub-heading to suggest that the digital age is all about ‘doing’. In the digital age it is possible to try things out, lots of things and at speed, for there is more often than not the ‘undo’ key if mistakes are made. Digital technology has enabled me to have a better understanding of acoustics and synthesis through different software programs, and to experiment with making performance environments and musical instruments. I have been able to ‘do’, and this mentality has affected my entire music making.

Marshall McLuhan has stated how a new technology is often concerned with technology of the past. In regard to music, the digital has helped reinvigorate and excite musicians about pre-digital analogue technology. Take eBay for example; I can systematically search and find hundreds of digital images of old reel-to-reel machines that are for sale or have been sold. Digital technology, in this case eBay, can constantly bring to life the past. It is not just about buying and selling, but what we are ‘experiencing’, albeit virtual or digital through an image or description. And there are all of the softsynths and computer programs based on analogue models. Eventually, after using, for example, virtual patch cables or valve amp simulators, it seems inevitable that a musician is going to want to use and experience the ‘real’ thing. Negroponte also considers that we have not even got to base camp in as far as the capabilities and potential of digital technology, yet terms such as ‘post-digital’ are gaining usage. Perhaps this is due to the fact that digital technology has become so all-pervasive that it is often taken for granted, or even ignored. This is true in the case of the Kreepback instrument I discussed earlier. So it is in this sense that the digital mind has been short-circuited.

Sophy Smith

Biography

I have been involved in music since the age of five. Essentially, I am classically trained with three grade 8s in Piano, French Horn and Singing and a first class BA Hons in Music and Inter Arts. I played and sang in classical choirs and orchestras until the age of 24, but then stopped orchestral performance when it was no longer necessary for my formal education. Although I enjoyed playing in music ensembles, it became dull playing the same repertoire over and over, especially being a french horn player where the parts are usually unchallenging. 

My undergraduate degree was also in inter-arts and this cross/interdisciplinary approach to my work led me to complete a MA in Contemporary Performing Arts. It was during this course that I began to write music. I had studied and enjoyed composition at GCSE level, but it was not advised as a ‘safe’ option for A-level music, and so by the time I began my degree course I was unconfident in my compositional abilities. However, I did some composition at university and enjoyed the work, where I was able to follow my own path! My undergraduate degree course had no music technology provision and so my compositions were all for orchestral/vocal ensembles. This had a direct effect on my future compositional development and style, as I am essentially self-taught in all aspects of music technology.  This lack of experience (and equipment!) resulted in my early music technology experiments involving any cheap lo-fi equipment I could access, and using it in any way I could find, for example, cheap 1980s sampling keyboards, electronic toys, tape recorders and four-track machines. Early music technology work was essentially sound-based as I had neither the equipment nor expertise for sequencing! A lack of keyboard or computer-based sound-generating equipment forced me to focus on sample-based music and creating my own sounds by recording and manipulating found sounds. When I began to work as a professional composer being commissioned by other people, this reliance on sound-based and sample-based work was too restricting for the different types and styles of music that I was being asked to write and so I learned sequencing and editing software and techniques to widen my skills.

My professional work covers a wide range of work. I currently work as a professional composer, writing music mainly for dance and theatre companies as well as running my own live art company, ‘Assault Events’. The company creates original devised performance events as well as planning and delivering a range of specialist residencies. We also undertake research and consultancy projects for clients including the Creative Partnerships, regional arts organizations and local LEAs.  In 2007, I completed my PhD in Music Technology (The compositional processes of UK hip-hop turntable teams) and am currently working part-time at the Institute of Creative Technologies at De Montfort University, Leicester, UK as a Research Fellow with responsibility for the Masters in Creative Technologies.

Interview

Please describe your creative use of technology, particularly digital technology.
I compose using an Apple Mac running Logic Pro, Pro Tools and Wave Burner. I use soft synths including Absynth and Sculpture. My music also uses a wide range of samples which I manipulate in Logic. I use the technology both as a palette where I can create and mix new sounds and as a canvas where I can compose the work. Digital technology is a tool for creating sounds as well as putting them together, and having both these elements in one place means that I can work quickly and allows me to be much more flexible and effective. Digital technology is ideal as it allows me to quickly re-edit and alter pieces of music, which is vital in the situation I compose in where I often compose in the rehearsal studio with the dances/actors whilst they are devising. This allows the work to be a much more collaborative experience than it would if I had to keep going back to a large analogue studio or writing for instrumentalists who were not present.

What music do you make?
I mainly write music for dance and theatre companies for touring shows. This involves creating soundtracks of between 40 and 75 minutes in length, comprising a number of shorter tracks. Usually, all these tracks are ‘written through’ so that the soundtrack is heard as a complete piece of music without gaps. The type of music I write depends on the movement/action that it works with, but includes orchestral pieces, sound-based work, vocal work and electronic dance music. I think I am more defined by my approach to composition through collaboration with other art forms rather than a particular style. Although my music is commissioned, I have free reign to experiment with different styles and approaches to create the soundtracks.

Why do you make music?
I enjoy creating things from scratch – music is one of my outlets for doing this! I find it challenging and stimulating and hugely enjoyable. I do not write much music for its own sake, but rather enjoy writing music for collaborative things (e.g. environments, events) in which music is one of a number of parts that go to make the whole. I can’t remember choosing music – I just can’t remember doing anything else!

Is any of your sound-based work not music, as such?
Yes, if it is the best medium through which to reflect/support the ‘action’ on stage.

Do you consider yourself a performer, a composer, a technologist, an engineer, some combination of these or, indeed, something else?
Mostly a performer and composer.  I don’t really see myself primarily as a technologist as first and foremost I write music, and the digital technology is my means for doing this. I definitely don’t see myself as an engineer, probably as I have no formal training in this area.  My music often drives my engineering-orientated collaborators mad as my engineering is ‘wrong’! In terms of engineering, I tend to experiment until I find what I like, rather than knowing what to look for. Really I suppose I see myself as a facilitator of sorts. On one side of me I have the whole world of music (or as much of it as I know!) and on the other I have the needs of the piece. My role is to pull in relevant forms/styles/sounds/approaches of/to music, and create effective sound/music for the piece. I find this approach really exciting as it means I am not restricted to one style or approach, and am constantly challenged.

What is the cultural context for your work?
I have probably covered this in answers to the other questions. I primarily compose as part of collaborative projects involving a number of different art forms, some digital, some not. My work is not really of any particular style, though it does lean towards Western traditions, both of ‘art’ music and popular music. Because of the collaborative nature of my work, I tend to begin with an aim of creating a particular ‘feel’ or atmosphere rather than with a desire to write a particular style/type of music.

Are you influenced by music in other cultures? And the other arts?
I am influenced in some way or another by all music I hear, but I don’t think that I am hugely influenced by any particular music in other cultures. I am influenced by any music that I like and find interesting – usually something that has an instant emotive hit! Some of my music does have different cultural nuances, but this is really because the sound itself reflects what I want to convey in the music for a particular scene or dance sequence. I am very influenced by the other arts as I have a very cross/interdisciplinary approach to my composition. This manifests itself it two ways, either in creating collaborative work with other disciplines, or experimenting with different creative processes and concepts used in other art forms. If my music is influenced by anything, then it is a combination of my past experiences as an orchestral instrumentalist and vocalist and a desire to create music that will connect with people and that they will find interesting and enjoyable.

What skills and attributes do you consider to be essential for you as a digital musician?
In no particular order…

  • creativity to work within ‘constraints’ of technology
  • ability to use the technology creatively and push its boundaries
  • flexibility
  • patience(!)
  • knowledge of music outside the digital domain – trying different compositional approaches, etc. It does seem sometimes that some digital music applications favour a particular approach to music making and it is important to get the technology to work for you rather than it directing your work.

Do you have any other useful or relevant things to say about being a digital musician today?
I love being a digital musician as digital technology gives me the tools to be an extremely creative and flexible composer. It allows me to experiment in ways that would not be possible with ‘real’ instruments, e.g. different approaches to creating ‘new’ sounds and the speed of digital processing means that I can experiment with and, where necessary, change aspects of my music very quickly, which would not be possible without digital technology.  This makes me much more likely to take risks and try new things! Also, digital technology has speeded the day-to-day processes of collaboration! I can send music to collaborators virtually instantly and get feedback much quicker than sending tapes through the post. This sounds extremely mundane, but means that I am engaged with my work constantly, rather than having to come back to it days later. Also, because of the prevalence of and (relative) cheapness of some digital music packages, many more people I work with across art forms have some experience of creating digital music and so have an understanding of the process and some shared vocabulary. Also, in terms of collaborating across art forms, many of my co-collaborators work with digital technology (e.g. film and photography) and so tasks like swapping and inputting files, time-coding, etc., that used to take a long time and could be quite complex, are much easier and at times extremely straightforward. This means that there is more time to be creative as less time is being spent trying to get the technology to work!

Atau Tanaka

Website

Biography

Atau is a Japanese/American composer and researcher based in Paris. He bridges the fields of media art and experimental music, artistic and scientific research. His work seeks the continuing place of the artist in democratized digital forms. He creates sensor-based musical instruments, searching for the idiomatic voice in the interface. He composes for network systems, considering data transmission delay as the acoustic of the network. His works include solo and ensemble concert works and exhibition installations. His work in the 1990s with the trio Sensorband continues today in gestural sound-image performance with Sensors_Sonics_Sights. He publishes theoretical writings and conducts fundamental research at Sony CSL Paris to develop and document his socio-artistic approach. His work has been presented at Ars Electronica, SFMOMA, Eyebeam, La Villette, ICC, V2 and ZKM. He has received support from the Japan Foundation, the Fraunhofer Society, the Daniel Langlois Foundation and is mentor at NESTA.

Interview

Please describe your creative use of technology, particularly digital technology.
I have been interested in the use of interactive technology for musical expression. I perform with musical instruments built from sensor systems, create network music infrastructures, sound/image installations and participative mobile locative music experiences.

What music do you make?
I make music as a function of the medium or infrastructure for which I am composing. I seek out the sonic voice of the chosen medium.

Why do you make music?
I continue to make music because ideas continue to come, and I have been unsuccessful to stop making music despite efforts.

Is any of your sound-based work not ‘music,’ as such?
I do not make a distinction for myself between sound-art and music. I invite myself into musical situations that put in question the nature of music itself, seeking purely artistic sonic structures. Conversely, I try to impart musical life to sound installations, shaping electronic signals and acoustic patterns into structural forms.

Do you consider yourself a performer, a composer, a technologist, an engineer, some combination of these or, indeed, something else?
I am a composer who performs, an artist who uses digital technology as his canvas.

What is the cultural context for your work? Are you influenced by music in other cultures? And the other arts?
I have lived in several countries in my life, so feel no direct identity with one particular culture. I draw upon the different cultures of my background in ways that I could not have if I had not left them. Also I believe that there is a culture of technology, as well as a culture that questions technology. My works sits at this intersection, ultimately embracing a visceral vision of digital sound.

What skills and attributes do you consider to be essential for you as a digital musician?
A musician is a musician, digital or not. This being said, we need to move beyond the vocational skill set often associated with musical training. Today, knowing the physics of acoustics and the physiology of auditory perception is more important than knowing functional harmony.

Do you have any other useful or relevant things to say about being a digital musician today?
Digital makes us appreciate analog – not just for the specific sound qualities of certain historical instruments, but for the qualities of analog electronics as a medium of sound transmission. You can keep adding to analog, you can feel analog. Digital is not in the impossibility of acquiring these capabilities, but the digital musician must sensitize himself to this potential.

Martyn Ware

Website
Wikipedia entry

Biography

Martyn Ware was a founding member of both The Human League and Heaven 17, and is one of the UK’s most successful and in-demand producers. His work includes Terence Trent dArby’s Hardline album and hits for Tina Turner and Marc Almond. Martyn has also worked extensively writing music for film, theatre, TV and radio. His most recent venture is The Illustrious Company, formed with long-term collaborator Vince Clarke (of Erasure, Yazoo and Depeche Mode), which makes original music soundscapes, often in visual contexts. They recently staged a series of events called ‘The Future of Sound’.

Martyn contributed a creative project to the book: Real To Surreal

Interview

Please describe your creative use of technology, particularly digital technology.
I’m a Mac addict. I had one of the first Macs in the country in the 1980s. The Mac is central to just about everything we do, from composition through to soundscape assembly, through to 3D surround-sound convolution. We use a proprietary system that has been built with our advice by Paul Gillieron Acoustic Design, which enables us to move things around in three dimensions and actually see where things should be in a wire-frame diagram. It can move up to sixteen different sound frames simultaneously at 25 frames per second. We also use Logic, an industry standard product, as a front-end. We also use Macs for all our business needs, designing websites, etc. And although we are famous for using analogue synths, nowadays we use virtual instruments as well, so more or less everything we do is mediated through technology.

What music do you make?
It varies. My collaborator, Vince Clarke from Erasure, and myself compose together, creating soundscapes for exhibitions, events, etc. We also do Hollywood-quality sound design in three dimensions. So the work we do ranges from three-dimensional ‘narratives’ that have nothing to do with traditional music, through to traditional music pieces that are rendered in three dimensions.

The kind of music we create tends to be generally electronic, and can be completely abstract, or based on, say, folk history, or recordings of the human voice. We are currently working on a project for the Royal Observatory at Greenwich which uses seven different sound fields based on sounds, from various observatories around the world, created by celestial events. That’s pretty abstract for the listener, but it’s all predicated on sounds that are relevant to the particular environment.

We’re also designing the reopening of the National Film Theatre, accompanied by giant projections from their newly digitized film library. So we’re doing a lot of stuff that involves re-interpreting in space existing historical or contextual content. From a commercial point of view we work closely with commissioners to create a sense of immersion. So we did a piece for BP last year based on their six core values, from ‘innovation’ to ‘green’. We extemporized around those ideas to create a sense of immersion in a sound environment.

Why do you make music?
Because it’s the only means I have of making a living. And for pleasure. I tolerate no interference with the creative process. I never have done, throughout my career as a musician and writer, composer and producer. One of the conditions of me working is that I can’t deal with working by committee, particularly when composing. For that reason, we don’t do much work with the advertising world, for instance. The presumption in that kind of world is that if they pay you enough money they have the right to interfere. I’d rather earn less money and provide a clean path towards resolution of a creative idea. And it’s my life, and has been before I got signed as a professional musician, since about 1972 when I bought my first synthesizer and started playing with imaginary bands, with my mates in Sheffield. It makes me laugh when people talk about retirement, because I’ll be doing this until the day I die, if I can.

Is any of your sound-based work not ‘music,’ as such?
I regard it all as music. Some people would say: ‘that’s not music’. It all has an artistic element. An example of the closest we would get to something that is not music is a piece we did for the Swansea National Waterfront Museum, with a friend called David Bickerstaff and a company called New Angle. One of the rooms was about how people used to shop in South Wales, and the historical attitudes to money. This particular room had a long table with a responsive projection on it where you could touch items and they’d go into your shopping basket as you went along. They needed a sound element to make clear the information they wanted and we had to do it in two different languages simultaneously. So we took this approach where we had multiple streams of information together with sound effects in three dimensions which, if it was done in stereo would sound confusing, but when they are separated in space, sound not confusing at all. It’s like having several people in different corners of the room speaking several things in several languages, almost like a Samuel Beckett play, where some of it is abstraction but the majority is about getting information across in an interesting way. Without an artistic sensibility and experience of handling spatialised sound, this could be an absolute mess. So I regard the whole thing as being very creative at every level and very based on a knowledge of musical assembly, both in a compositional sense and a production sense (my career is half-and-half composer/performer and producer).

Do you consider yourself a performer, a composer, a technologist, an engineer, some combination of these or, indeed, something else?
Good question. Nowadays, less of a performer, although during the ‘Future of Sound’ events I MC the whole thing, because I’m the most famous person involved and it’s my baby anyway, so I can do what I want! I like public speaking now, whereas it used to horrify me. I’ve turned from a performer in the music sense to a performer in the didactic sense. Since I’ve had children (now aged 11 and 9), I’ve become much more interested in distributing the experience I’ve acquired over thirty years.

I think of myself more as a composer now, in the real sense of the word, than a writer. I’m a producer-composer. The skills I acquired as a producer were invaluable in terms of organizing the material required to get a message across, especially in the complex world of three dimensional sound and how that information is imparted to the observer.

I don’t like the word ‘techonologist’, but I have become fascinated by technology. Our three- dimensional sound needs to be, or rather often is, accompanied by visual imagery. Interesting new forms come out of that collaboration. So I have become, of necessity, much more au fait with all the technologies that are out there to do with interaction, with digital manipulation of information, infomatics and new forms of coding that enable you to do things that weren’t previously possible in combining digital visual generative work and sound. So I’ve expanded my skills base to incorporate a lot more things. I’m not an expert on all those things, but I know the implications of what a certain technology can bring. I don’t need to know how an engine works to drive a car is the analogy, I suppose. But it’s fascinating, and a prime reason for doing 'The Future of Sound', in which I encourage artists to collaborate with what we do, but also do works in progress. They’re not always finished or polished, they’re edgy. Sometimes they don’t work properly, or do totally unexpected things on the night. That interests me a lot more than creating something that’s finished and polished.

The most exciting thing for me has always been the early stages of creativity. The more things converged to the point of being finished, the less interested I became. For instance, mixing never excited me that much because I always knew exactly how I wanted a track to sound and that was just a boring process of getting there. The creative process of collaboration and bouncing off other people was what excited me down the years, and that’s why I’ve now created the seed conditions like when I started in the late 1970s/early 1980s.

What is the cultural context for your work? Are you influenced by music in other cultures? And the other arts?
I’m definitely influenced by music from all around the world. I’ve always been very eclectic in my tastes, from way back before even I was involved in making music. I don’t think ‘ooh, I’ve just discovered music from Mali, or Tuvan open-throat singing’. Everything is music to me.
I can’t alter the context for my work. Everyone knows I’m an electronic musician. We’ve always tried to do electronics with soul, and that’s what interests me, not just in musical terms but also in personal terms. I only work with people who approach what they do with soul, with a sense of humanity, of generosity and openness to new ideas. So the context for me is innovation, I think. I’m more interested in new forms than I am in perfecting existing forms.

What skills and attributes do you consider to be essential for you as a digital musician?
I can’t think of anything that’s particularly special about being a digital musician as opposed to any other kind of musician. You need a degree of talent, a good ear. I’m not a talented musician in the traditional sense: I struggle to play keyboards properly, I can only read music at a snail’s pace, I never had any formal training. The important thing is that I can conceptualize how I want something to sound, based on the timbres, and melodic aspects – counterpoint, etc. I can hear a multitrack going on in my mind that I just have to get out. If I can’t play some things I know people who can, or I can program it.

Open-mindedness is very important. People who buy a sequencer package have an interest in learning how to use it, but there is a big mistake that digital musicians nowadays often make. They have in their computer a tool of enormous power and diversity which enables them to create very quickly pieces that, on the surface, seem very complex and well-rounded. The problem is that the ease with which it is created means that there is a lot of stuff out there that is, frankly, as shallow as a puddle. (I can’t really criticize them because I would have done exactly the same thing in the early days, if I had had the tools). What I would encourage digital musicians in particular to do is: take a step back; do a little research about what you want to achieve before you start. We’re in a situation now where you can switch your computer on and, within ten minutes, you can have something that ‘does the job’. This is particularly prevalent in advertising, or when people put mp3s on a website. They say, ‘Isn’t this brilliant?’ The answer is: no, it’s not brilliant, it’s only ok.

What digital musicians have to aim for is to escape the normal, pre-set paths that are offered to us at all times. All musicians, myself included, can go for the easy option, the lazy way, and it is always on offer today, particularly in computer composition. The most valuable advice I can offer people starting out on this path is: take a step back, look at what you trying to achieve and do a bit of research. Make it hard for yourself. Limit your palette, even. Deliberately limiting yourself can enable more unique creations.

Do you have any other useful or relevant things to say about being a digital musician today?
The future is very exciting. We are in the early stages of virtual synth abilities. I do quite a bit of lecturing and one warning flag I’d raise is that the standards in universities and colleges are not generally agreed. I personally think Logic is as good as anything, in terms of its breadth of capabilities and depth of possibilities. But I know a lot of colleges use Reason. I find a lot of these more ‘user-friendly’ platforms tend to lead you in facile directions. It is more constructive to start from scratch. I’ll give you one interesting example.

When I was working with Vince (Clarke) at a studio in America he used to have, as people know, every synth on earth. He used to control them all using CB and Gate and his programming controller was a BBC B computer (this was only four years ago) running a program called UI, of which he is the only remaining user. We’d discuss what we wanted to do for a while, then he’d say, ‘Go away for half an hour’. When I came back, he’d got loads of different synths plugged up together, and programmed it … really amazing. If I suggested a change to more than one sound, within ten minutes he’d re-programmed everything. To me this is a fantastic example of apparent complexity actually being much simpler than being pre-guided by software.

We’re all under more time and financial pressure than ever before, but I would still urge people to go off-piste from time to time, and even to start with a blank canvas, no presets.