Waveform: Up to scratch


The first Waveform conference attempted to open up what has become a stagnant forum for the discussion of academic based computer music. This discipline has reached the end of its usefulness, partially due to the development of personal computers and the release of high-end applications for digital audio processing and realtime performance. These applications have been placed firmly in the hands of a large (often non-academic) community including those making experimental music.

The conference included talks on contemporary trends in digital music, while retaining a number of speakers who were either not up to the task or stuck in the ‘old ways.’ There are not many people speaking about digital music and theories around new music practices. Future conferences could open up the range of topics to include other disciplines that cross into the area of digital music, such as popular music studies and musicology.

Conference director, Julian Knowles is a lecturer in electronic arts and music at UWS, a sought after sound engineer and audio producer. His recent performances have revealed a highly developed ear and a forward thinking use of computer sound applications.

Kim Cascone (USA) was the keynote guest and is a post-digital audio producer at the centre of the current trend in contemporary experimental audio, known as glitch and microsound. He also writes about this trend in a number of periodicals including the Computer Music Journal. His performance at the conference was, however, lost in the huge space, demonstrating just how live computer music can be.

Australia has developed a strong foothold in this experimental subculture with a number of exponents achieving international exposure. Sydney based producer Pimmon (Paul Gough) has had a slew of releases on labels from Britain, Japan, Ireland and the USA. The first night’s performance saw tables messily spread over the performance space with laptops on most. Pimmon’s set displayed a new playfulness, with melody creeping into his output, as well as the usual series of perplexing sounds and tones. Another local producing hugely interesting audio is Peter Blamey who uses only a mixing desk and oscillator to create feedback which takes the form of pulsing tones, often very bassy. He manipulates these sounds by fading them in and out. This makes for a dynamic set bordering on the rhythmic while retaining an element of disorder, as Blamey is never certain of what will form.

Two Melbourne based exponents were also up to scratch, displaying the new interest in using gaming technologies for sound performance. Seo’s performative piece (a rare thing in the world of laptop virtuosity) made use of a gaming console joystick to push and pull audio out of his laptop. Delire uses the gaming engine itself to house his audio, taking advantage of the system’s 3D sound. This is a new area in experimental digital audio and opens up a huge range of possibilities.

Scot Horscroft’s work featured 5 guitarists who repeatedly played a single note for the duration of Chug r Chug. The electric guitars were plugged into Horscroft’s computer, the sounds then heavily effected and incorporated into his larger audio framework. The guitars emerge as a glimmer of what we might imagine from such a number of instruments. The glistening sounds rise and fall in the mix, never quite reaching what might be expectations.

Although the contemporary scene is often criticised for its use of the space bar (a reference to starting an audio file and letting it run), it is simply not the case that all live performance offers is a sound producer sitting in front of a laptop twiddling with invisible patches. These live performances displayed just how out of touch the tape music is. Being forced to sit through under-developed work simply played through the sound system was proof enough of the need for the live element. Digital audio exponents need also to show some understanding of contemporary thought.

Other standout performances were heard from Donna Hewitt, Julian Knowles, Shannon O’Neill, Sun Valley and Phil Niblock (USA).

Waveform 2001: Digital Musics, School of Contemporary Arts, University of Western Sydney, July 12-14

RealTime issue #45 Oct-Nov 2001 pg. 33

© Caleb K; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 October 2001