Prix Ars Electronica


ORF Oberösterreich

Striking a Balance

Florian Hecker, Tony Herrington, Naut Humon

The universes of music - classical, contemporary, pop, folk, traditional, avant-garde etc. - seem to form units in themselves, sometimes closed, sometimes interpenetrating. They present amazing diversities, rich in new creations but also fossilizations, ruins, wastes, all in continuous formation and transformation like the clouds, so differentiated and ephemeral.”

Iannis Xenakis “Music Composition Treks” in „Composers and the Computer“, William Kaufmann, Inc. Los Altos, 1985.

The works submitted to this annual Digital Musics category re-emphasized the way in which electronic musicians, now more than ever, are disseminating their music across multiple platforms, from installation works to mixed media pieces, gallery presentations to video, sound art exhibitions to internet domains, as well as the more traditional arenas of the CD, club space, diffusion system, sound lab and concert hall. These multiplying contexts, combined with the ever-increasing availability of affordable, off-the-shelf or customized hardware and software, allow musicians the scope to constantly renew and expand their work, a factor which continues to be reflected in the diversified response to the Prix Ars Electronica musical forum.

How any particular jury absorbs this spectrum of contemporary digital sound production certainly changes from year to year. But does it change enough? How fast does the field itself seem to foster innovation amidst the increasing inundation of more and more products, released or unreleased to a rising population of concerned consumers? How much do most people who purchase music truly care about the content they buy? How much does marketing, social conditions and what s cool to play at your friend s party influence the spending of the entertainment dollar?

Fortunately, our panel rarely has to consider these commercial issues. The majority of prize winners from all the Prix s years delve into who s driving the current electronic underground towards fresh dispatches and how these pioneers are crafting their audio science. As a jury for the controversial format of a music competition , we are told we have to discriminate amongst hundreds of submissions in order to somehow select the top fifteen signature pieces, which should represent the growth or aesthetic value in the field. What s tied to economics here is the attraction of a cash incentive, at least for the top three chosen, and further international recognition for the remaining important mentions. What the challenges constitute for each jury session is the process of filtering a common agreement as to what seems good, bad, thought-provoking or counter-productive to five very different jurors.

Although it s increasingly difficult to accurately categorize the mountain of music that s carefully considered and selected, it seems more vital to honor work that pushes the envelope regardless of its labeled influences. In all art, once new ideas take root, they harden into genres (which all have social, aesthetic, and political dimensions) and are given names (Dada, surrealism, abstract expressionism, electro-acoustics, drum n bass, electronica, whatever). It’s the way of the world. In the past, even the Prix has altered its category titles from Computer Graphics or Computer Music to more streamlined monikers that appear less rigid or formalized to its contemporary audience. Even if many of the artists themselves feel trapped by specific genre classifications by a re-purposing public, press or jury, its time to worry less about distinguishing between the latest clicks & cuts or arbitrary academic structures. As these are all traditions to be aware of, we need to concentrate on what s being done to further the music itself beyond its apparent origins.

Luckily for this round, the 2002 batch of sonic wonders seems more heterogeneous than ever. As certain prominent musical trends reach periodic saturation points with high quantities of glitch, breakbeat, acousmatics and variations on noise, it becomes quite a task to transcend the common trends. But poking their heads through the crowd is a group of individuals who in certain cases have maintained an audio legacy dating back decades, whose work has proved to be highly consequential in shaping contemporary, digital music discourse. The younger generation chosen here may or may not be influenced by these visible masters and stand very firmly on their own ground at the center of today s radical experimentalism.

Golden Nica

Yasunao Tone: „Man Yo Wounded 2001“

Yasunao Tone s Golden Nica-winning piece „Man Yo Wounded 2001“ is one of the most current outtakes of his project „Musica Simulacra“. This project is based on concepts of sonification of images and text he has been working on since the seventies. His contribution to the method of manipulating digital data via the compact disc goes back to the mid-nineteen eighties. To the jury s jaded ears, this 2001 version of selective woundings of CD s by punctured scotch tape attached to the surface reveals audible results as far reaching as any advanced digital signal processing software utilized by the desktop elite.

At the core of Tone s process lies the fundamental technique of transforming the image of text forms to pixalised sound fragments expanded by a number of DSP methodologies. At the center of the jury process was the magnetic attraction to Yasunao s whirlwind of adulterated alien sound textures that leapt out and truly gripped everyone at our table. Tone explains his methodology in the following manner:

Why I have wounded my own work, as a reproducing medium, is a technique of inscribing or stabilizing sounds generated by vibrations of air which itself vanishes by nature in magnetic tape or plastic, so that you can hear a performance at your convenience. It emancipated the reception of musical performance from temporal and spatial limitations such as concert halls. However, the recording is not exactly an ideal medium for composers who write music such that a composition is just a process of the musical piece that will only be complete by performance and reception as an active intervention in music.”

In terms of the specific application of his theory to his recorded work, Yasunao says, “I have been working on the CD-ROM project titled „Musica Simulacra“, since 1997. The reason why I have worked for years on a single piece, however, is because it is very long, and I have to constantly revise the sound dictionary, which makes up the entire piece. The source of my performance is taken from this CD-ROM, which is still work in progress. The interactive? program enables an audience to select 4516 different pieces of music on one disc, each of which is exactly converted into digital noise from the poems of Chinese characters of the 8th century Japanese anthology called „Man yoshu“, which contains the same number of poems (and it would take about 3,000 hours if the CD-ROM were played in entirety). The CD-ROM project also employs the same method I used for „Musica Iconologos“, my first album. But as a single piece, there is no such choice for the audience, so, after I burned one of the pieces from „Musica Simulacra“ on a CDR, I prepared it with bits of scotch tape on the disk (hence „Wounded“), the method I ve been using since 1985. Then, I am going to perform the disk with my CD Player from 1984… Then, the Wounded Man yo pieces become a far cry from the original and complete new piece.”

Yasunao concludes, “….“Recording“ presupposes that with repetition, each multiplied record or tape is identical, no matter how many copies are made and how many times they are listened to. However, recording as such is not an ideal medium for composers who write music….a composition is just a process of the musical or sound piece that will only be complete by performance and reception as an active intervention in music. Therefore, I would like to create a record that does not repeat whenever you listen to it. I have been working on this concept for years and with different methods.”

Based on our reading of his work, it´s clear that Yasunao’s productions thus far have gone a very long way towards achieving the theoretical goals he’s set up for himself. They not only provide a compelling listen, but a remarkable example of how compositional work, self-conscious of both performance mediums and mass production, can successfully execute a new compositional methodology that is as artistically valid as it is intellectually challenging.


Curtis Roads: „Point, Line, Cloud“

For the past number of years, the controversy over the challenges facing the electro-acoustic composers who have submitted new works to recent juries has been a recurring theme in the statements and panel deliberations. Acousmatic critics of the Prix felt that after 1998 the sector was perhaps in danger of being under-recognized and a number of the notable academia decided to stop entering after receiving a plethora of prizes for the genre since the competition began in 1987. During that same year, a juror named Curtis Roads served as a Prix Ars panelist and in 2002 our present committee voted his latest „Point, Line, Cloud“ piece for a Distinction placement.

Have we come full circle in finding a new electro–acousmatic work that „did“ manage to astonish many of our members by being most currently relevant to the next electronic generation Things could improve, but maybe Curtis s highly charged musical experience could be a benchmark of sorts for future acousmatic submissions, which transcend the common prevalent patterns repeated in the majority of seemingly clichéd compositions. Meanwhile this early progenitor of micro sound took us to the next frontier of quantum acoustics where sound particles one tenth of a second long (or less) coalesce, disintegrate and morph into other audio textures. By stretching the boundaries between time scales and frequency intensities, Curtis has woven a curious density of unpredictable shapes and sensations that evoked separate modes of continuity.


Lucky Kitchen: Revisionland + The Tale of Pip

Lucky Kitchen s „Revisionland“, which the jury felt was the catalyst for the other Distinction award submitted by the Spain-based duo of Alejandra Salinas and Aeron Bergman, was the CD realization of an installation piece. Invited to install a work in a gallery space in Stirling, Scotland, the most historically resonant site in that country’s long and bloody struggle to gain independence from its English neighbors, the duo used, as part of the conceptual underpinning for the piece, episodes from Scottish pre-history, specifically, the names and characteristics of some of the strange monsters and beings that reside in the country’s mythology, legend and folklore.

This attention to site-specific history when preparing an installation piece marked Lucky Kitchen’s work out from many other entries that fell into the loose category of ‘sound art,’ and which seemed to take little account of the specifics of the spaces in which they were to be presented. Crucially the duo’s manipulation of their sonic material was also sensitive and provocative, utilizing digital synthesis to organize their lo-fi tape works and field recordings into a resonant piece that functioned as both an archiving project and a process of renewal for customs and beliefs long forgotten. Whether issued on CD or presented via an installation piece, „Revisionland“ struck the jury as a uniquely evocative endeavor in digital music.

Also remarkable for its intimacy and narrative intrigue is their other submission, „The Tale of Pip“. This unfolds as a type of fairy tale illustrated by a CD booklet that depicts the eccentric story of Pip s search for the happiness tree. The supporting soundscapes combine a myriad of found sounds from outside environments along with the acoustical instrumentation from harmonica s, accordions and the like which are digitally processed to evoke the mood and atmosphere of the story. These grainy audio artifacts digitally blur together analog components whose mystery seemed to linger.

Honorary Mentions

Stephen Wittwer: „Streams“

The Swiss guitarist Stephan Wittwer has long been a vital, albeit under-recognized, force at the intersection of avant-garde jazz, free improvisation and post-Hendrix guitar freak-outs. His „Streams“ CD was a riveting example of the way many musicians with backgrounds in improvised music and jazz are now using digital processing and modulation to provide new frameworks and contexts for their art. Witter’s multi-layered and abstracted sound environments, his processing, and folding in, of his own detuned or feedback guitar, felt fresh, complex and devoid of cliché. Most often, the linearity of the underlying improvisation was left intact during his process and the gestural information was very vivid.

Wittwer has developed a new musical connection that doesn t sound like what one expects from him and which expresses a lot of what he has been working on in the last number of years . Instead, a density and duration that one knows from his hardest productions, but with a lot of trace elements and embedded crystals — references to his early explorations. Feeding from differing sources, „Streams“ has the character of a great, multifarious shimmering river.

Raz Mesinai (Badawi): „Soldier of Midian

The source material for Raz Mesinai s „Soldier Of Midian“ consists of recordings of Mesinai playing traditional Middle Eastern instruments such as darabuka, bendir and zarb, which he then processes into fierce, perpetual pieces which bring to mind the rhythmic frenzies of whirling dervishes. Compared to so many digitally mediated ethno-exotic fusions, Mesinai’s Middle Eastern chamber dub cum Mizrahi bus station pop sounds raw and bloody rather than overcooked in the oven of a culturally imperialist hard drive.

In the current political climate, this Israeli-American musician s violent and compulsive admix of sound sources from across the Middle East bespeaks a remarkably utopian metaphor, because of how its classically Occidental cultural fusion suggests a future where, Jewish and Muslim cultures exist in literal harmony with one another. Mesinai s pseudonym Badawi , Arabic for Bedouin, already recommends as much.

Marina Rosenfeld: „Delusional Situation“

Mesinai is married to the New York composer/sound artist Marina Rosenfeld, whose entry, „Delusional Situation“, was included in this year s Whitney Biennial in New York. Designed for playback on a multi-channel DVD Audio system, the piece utilized the multi-speaker system to great effect. The elements of the music, much of it sourced from recordings of Rosenfeld s Sheer Frost Orchestra, were agitated and moved around the sound field to create a ricochet-like audio-drama. Named after the Paul Celan poem „Delusional Situation“, Rosenfeld’s piece uses samples of guitar licks remixed on vinyl, and then reassembled in Pro Tools. According to Rosenfeld, like the Celan poem, which explains how the world of experience can be interpreted both as reality and illusion, Rosenfeld’s piece attempts to explain how a listener’s place in the world is neither fixed, nor what they hear communicated clear. Not just a piece about the meaning of listening, „Delusional Situation“ forcefully interrogates how people inhabit the constructed realities of sound.

Francisco Lopez: „Buildings [New York]“

Spanish composer Francisco Lopez s „Buildings [New York]“ consisted of pure, unprocessed location recordings made in the dank basements and cellars of New York s tenement buildings and skyscrapers, capturing the mysterious sounds of a city s hidden wiring, its subterranean heating systems, pipework, motors and generators. On one level the ‘music’ emerged as an undifferentiated drone-work, but deeper listening revealed multiple layers of microcosmic sound events unfolding at the threshold of audibility, making the piece feel like a highly successful episode in Lopez s ongoing project to reveal the world as its own, most potent broadband sound and noise generator. A tour de force of profound listening in which every listener has to face his/her own freedom and thus create.

Mika Taanila: „Fysikaalinen Rengas“

„Fysikaalinen Rengas“ ( A Physical Ring ) by the Finnish artist Mika Taanila was the only installation work to get in among the honorary mentions. The entry consisted of a video containing grainy, monochrome images (which repeated in a three minute loop) of a construction of multiple and overlapping spinning wheels. The work s soundtrack was provided by Mikka Vainio, a member of the Finnish electronic minimalist duo Pan Sonic. Simple, original and effective, the visual element of the piece holds a hypnotic fascination, which is perfectly echoed by the minimal pulse pattern score.

Carl Michael von Hausswolff : A Lecture on Disturbances in Architecture

Carl Michael von Hausswolff s „A Lecture on Disturbances in Architecture“ (Firework Ed. Records, Stockholm, 2002) has the form of a lecture on the effects of frequencies in buildings like the home. The recording suggests a couple of domestically oriented problems. Hausswolff s work does not look upon these situations from a theoretical side, but rather, from an associative one. The composer s wish is that this piece may inspire architects to take an interest in realizing the importance our audio environment. This unique position strongly underscores the wide range of different positions in this year’s entries. At the same time, it also demonstrates how difficult it has always been to categorize Hausswolff’s remarkably interdisciplinary work as an artist, editor and curator.

Russell Haswell: „Live Salvage 1997 – 2000“

Audio presentations made outside the studio by Russell Haswell demanded our attention. There are no compromises here. With breathtaking CD production and severe live action, Russell literally rocks it. Punching salvos of sound reflect on his audio whereabouts at the end of the last decade which were documented on „Live Salvage 1997-2000“. How this project was assembled and provoked added to its immediate impact and force of sheer will. Also noted for his collaborations with Merzbow, Yasunao Tone, etc., Russell creates a highly personalized sonic world distinct from his contemporaries.

Iancu Dumitrescu: „Oiseaux Célestes II“

Ana-Maria Avram: „Traces Sillons Sillages II“

For the majority of the panel, the discovery of Iancu Dumitrescu and Ana-Maria Avram was an incomparable one. Their spectral range of timbral colors seemed arresting, multi-structural and parodoxicallycruel, even irritating to the uninitiated ear. Both works bear a negation of practically everything in modern music symptomatic of distraction, of banalization, and of an excessive loss of purpose. Indeed, their collaborative work is truly alienated. Dumitrescu and Avram’s work is an unusual brand of unschooled and exploded sound. It is not a new convolution in the knot of contemporary music, but an unraveling of the curse. This is not, however, simply a matter of their philosophy and motivation as artists. The psychological acoustic realities that they portray are directly grounded in a straightforward conception, which is refreshing in its simplicity and emotional impact.

Goodiepal: „Narc Beacon“

By the time we got around to give Goodiepal a listen, our heads were inundated by the prodigious and multifaceted output of every international electronic sector. Or so we thought. Here was something quite musical that didn t fall into the typical experimental laptop noise or IDM zones, but contained a peculiar character all of its own. These records talk about life, bypassing a mere joke. But unfortunately you cannot know what he is talking about unless you are his friend. (Although you can feel it!) There are so many people out there that do boring work, yet people continue to be shocked and amazed by what they hear. And when someone comes along and quietly makes some really strange work, it is mostly overlooked. His music is like his explanations of his music: a bit short, a bit loose, full of small sounds, funny (in the way that someone that does not need to be funny can be) and small references to things only he knows about. And for a few brief seconds I know exactly what he is talking about, and then they are gone. (Alejandra Salinas, from the Lucky Kitchen website)

Phoenicia: „Brownout“

There are very few groups that combine commonplace motifs of urban street music and artistic sophistication, but this Miami-based group does it with a uniqueness and flare that has already established them as canonical artists within the American IDM community. Moving from the Miami Bass-inspired overdrive to free electronic improv, these label owners (Schematic,) and former Astralwerks vets have amassed an impressive catalogue of sounds, whose ever in flux experimentation with the subtle and the in your face make it abundantly clear they will exert a severe influence on like-minded artists and juries like Prix Ars Electronica for years to come.

Anticon: „we aint fessin“

So what s this bizarre crew of eclectic bedroom beat wizards doing on this list of Prix Ars Electronica hopeful s when according to hip hop s old guard This shit ain t even hip hop - or is it?

Well, our panel felt the assemblage of lo fi textures, words and pulses fitted into a whole other universe quite alluringly different than the standard submission music fare. The name Anticon (anti-conformity, anti-icon) stands for a loose collective of DJ s, MC s and tone wiggers who (which?)embodies all of the irreverent contradictions which both sustain, complicate and twist this cultural movement. Scattered throughout some of North America s less glamorous locales these unlikely cohorts finally converged into the hyberbole and obfuscation of Oakland California s back roads in 1999. Since then Sole, Dose, Alias, JEL, Why?, Odd Nosdom, DJ Mayonnaise, the pedestrian, passage, Sage Francis and a slew of other significant affiliates have released dozens of notorious albums and online tracks. Their murky, analog attack on an abused digital domain is something to behold. (The Jury)


The sudden jolt of pxp peeled open all collected ears. Here was a jutting mass of digitized disturbance that fueled our direct reckoning with destabilized mathematics. Think of equations which create anarchy instead of assert order, and you’ve only begun to approximate the experience of what it’s like to listen to pxp As these unrelenting punctualities seemed to progress, it s divergence from pxp s Farmers Manual-like alignments seemed malignant. Spam data malformations. Direct waveform bitstream. Seizure. Disengage. Smitten.

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