Prix Ars Electronica


ORF Oberösterreich

The Conquered Banner ... Bring on the Noise!

Naut Humon

The Musique Concrète tradition is fifty years old. Yet by the jury’s opportunity to delve into the majority of this year’s sound crop, one is left to wonder whether we are traveling forward or backward in time.

Have the recent calls for a broader spectrum of representative digital assisted works gone out largely unanswered? While there seems to be a genuine interest on the part of the Prix Ars Electronica to open its doors to wider ranges of musical styles and practices, the message may not be fully getting out through the steel gates of the "Computer Music" definition. This category title may suffer from a contemporary misunderstanding of the history of the term itself and what it specifically means to new outsiders curious about possibly participating in a competition captioned in this manner. Despite the reasonable efforts to actively redefine the moniker there seems to be an understandable reluctance for some of those who might consider entering other related idioms to decipher the subtleties in Computer Music’s concocted "reinvention". What we may be handicapped with is the albatross of an outmoded 60’s term gone out of vogue. The prevalent writers and art critics rarely refer to electronica, experimental or abstract as "Computer". Digitally created phenomenon is more commonplace these days, so the efforts being made to reclassify these creations as "Cyber Arts" or "Interactive" go a long way toward altering the perception of its developing artists.

There were a larger number of entries in the Computer Music section this time and, despite the forceful statements over recent years ,the majority of works submitted were, once again, "tape" pieces which primarily represented male academia with little racial or gender diversity. Not that our panel was always anticipating politically correct demographics, but more material from the fields of mixed- and multi-media, installations, interactive work and live performance would have been welcome.

Interpreting the statistics of the entries is problematic - either the pattern of submissions reflects the number of practitioners in the various sub-areas of computer music (which, given that music making with technology is no longer exclusively restricted to the "academic" domain, cannot be an accurate reflection of the situation), or artists working in "non-academic" areas are not entering the competition (either because they don’t know about it, or because they consider that it's "not for them"). Whatever the reason, it is imperative that the desire to broaden the musical horizons of the Prix and the judging of the submitted works on merit do not become confused - as a Jury, we could only judge what we had actually received, not what we might have wished to receive. A Jury should not indulge in tokenism, artificially rewarding a work simply because it is an example of an under-represented genre - it must be a strong, skillful example to gain a Prize. To somehow promote new creative processes we need more quality examples to chew on.

Some may question why the current batch seems to be moving further away from the experience of music as a live, interactive moment in time. While technology has allowed us to expand our musical experiences, it seems to get reduced to the most common denominator, ensuring the survival of a certain genre through an effective and skillful but occasionally predictable cloning process. But then, how do we evaluate music with a vocabulary whose level of refinement focuses on timbral complexity and structural soundness over rhythmic articulations, temporal explorations, interactivity and space- dependent installations? We would like to ensure as scrutinizers the ability to bring to the table an expanded measure of contrasting musical camps which may provide challenges under the ideologies of already established musical concepts. As applicants we have to find innovative modes of presenting music whatever the risk, aesthetic, the technologies, challenging the media and the audiences, confronting all the academisms (not only the academia, the critics, or the pseudo-law of market but any form of conventions and easiness), synchronizing theory and practice (not satisfying oneself with just ideas however good, but continuing to develop a true craftsmanship in realization). Also we must accept the limits to perception offered by the CD/tape listening format with our subjective bias and despite the complaints expressed here realize that the typical architectures found in the electroacoustic realm are slowly going to evolve into alternate paradigms.

As a collective, we arrived at a worthy list of exceptional winning pieces, though our job was, at times, made more problematic by knowing that certain areas were under-represented, and there was sporadically a temptation to over-compensate for the imbalance. We had to make a conscious effort not to dismiss certain works simply because they belonged to an already "over-represented" genre (specifically, tape pieces) - and it has to be said that, for whatever reason, there were a significant number of high quality tape works submitted. It should also be pointed out that, although the two Distinctions by Aquiles Pantaleao and Hans Tutschku were both nominally "tape pieces", they came from markedly different traditions and embodied quite opposite ways of approaching and organizing sound material. The meticulous renderings of Pantaleao’s "Three Inconspicuous Settings" almost entirely disguises the implied environmental audio sources and transports these masquerades to baffling heights. "extremités lointaines" by Tutschku transforms city and religious sound origins from Southeast Asia into an amazing dramatic tableau.

The Golden Nica goes to Peter Bosch and Simone Simons for their ingenious sound installation Krachtgever (the "invigorator"). This fantastic construction consists of multiple high stacks of many wooden boxes joined together by independent computer controlled oscillating motors attached to each column. Depending on the combination of selected motors and frequencies each box container of different materials can be mechanically "rattled" separately or simultaneously, producing extraordinarily complex unamplified waves of resonating sound varying in force, tone, and cadence. It is pertinent that in the sophisticated face of all the high audio technology utilized by the predominant candidates, a bunch of second-hand crates filled with rocks shook by Atari 1040 controlled engines can rise to this position of recognition.

Most of the mentions (as described later) span a vast crossection of character and concepts distinguished by visible strides in applied dynamics of simplicity and form.

Between the fused instrumental masses of Joshua Fineburg’s "Empreintes" and the processed rhythm landscape of Luigi Ceccarelli’s "De zarb à daf" to the real-time video audentities in Joseph Hyde’s "Zoetrope", there were compelling moments of utter magnificence. Of particular note is the automatic musical string sculptures spawned by Gordon Monahan’s "Machine Matrix" and David Behrman’s visualistic reflections on drink glasses in "Pen Light ... QS/ RL". Maggi Payne and Bret Battey demonstrated convincing sonic-fed video-graphic impressions of "alien" formations or psychological, spiritual archetypes. Finally in the broad field of electro-acoustic tapeworks comes a volley of penetrating evidence from Ambrose Field, Hildegard Westerkamp, Natasha Barrett and Adrian Moore who keep this controversial field absolutely at its zenith.

So where are those divergent sonic indicators today? Beyond the apparent solitary confines of musique concrète’s descendants in electro-acousmatics lies dazzling worlds of unique digital innovation. Although the jury lacked submissions from these other exciting areas, now is the time to make it plainly known that in future years the Ars Cyber Sound contingent will further seek the involvement of those specifically working at the boundary- breaking edges of analog / CPU hybrids - even pop culture projects. Hopefully these endeavors will gradually balance the present bulk of acousmatic compositions and level the playing field. Obviously the demographic makeup of the jury should continue to reflect the awareness and experience inherent in applying criteria to a wider diversity of genres internationally utilizing digital music formations.

The musical terrain sought by such a quest encompasses a plethora of modes from the radicalized underground club zones to the provocative partitions of the dance influenced airwaves. These mutant offspring of Techno, Hip Hop, R&B, Jungle, Ambient, Jazz, Exotica, Global, Classical, Noise and Big Beat etc. have all but consumed their "Rock" parentage. A novel computer manipulation invention of the nineties was manifested by Drum & Bass. This specialty takes breakbeat drumloops and chops them up into a million different pieces and realigns all the variations in sometimes strange and unusual rhythmic patterns to exhibit nervous and exaggerated panoramas usually beyond the endurance of any "human" drummer. Oddly enough there are humans who are attempting to imitate or keep up with their machine-created counterparts, but it is clear that without the fast calculating internal CPU processing power, this kind of music would have been more difficult to create with just analog sequencers. Animated synergistics of live sonic & image control may embody the next frontier in the development of a fluent recoded musical dialect. The research and development into the mechanics of this evolving dialogue has already commenced with the appearance of software / hardware interfaces that provide an intuitive functional relationship between the human body and its audio-visualistic projections. This type of virtual signification makes possible a physicalization of auditive form derived directly from tactile gestural motions or cinematic "foley phrasings." As Drew Hemment points out in his observations regarding AV choreography "If "audiovision" denotes the calibration of the senses by fusing disparate media then perhaps "sonovision" might denote the infusion of a sonorous sensation into the image and similarly "sonomotion" - the extension of "audio sense" into the sphere of movement - "kinesonics" . What is important to "audio sense" is immediate effect rather than narrative progression or perspectival depth.

Sonority is registered as textural or rhythmic surface where image and movement become cut up and repeated".

At the core of this refreshing sensibility is a real-time compositional sculpting process that deconstructs and rearranges the layered video streams according to its audio ignition, and this new organism is rendered in a manner quite different from the multitrack mouse, sequencer, and digital audio suite. As these methods unfold, substantial audio visual languages will reveal diverse undercurrents already pioneered by groups such as Granular Synthesis, Hexstatic, Body Coders, EBN, STC, Mark Van Hoen, Walter Fabeck, Audio Rom etc.

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