7 February 2013

Festival charts 60 years of music made with machines

Music made with machines and computers over the last 60 was revealed to the public at a three-day festival last week.

From Tape to Typedef: compositional methods in electroacoustic music (30 January–2 February 2013) provided four days of free concerts, talks and workshops, taking people outside of their comfort zone to experience new sounds and have a go at creating new music themselves.

"Electroacoustic music begins with recorded sounds that are then manipulated on the computer," explained Dr Adrian Moore from the University's Department of Music. "People commonly cite Intelligent Dance Music (IDM) as an example of electroacoustic music we're familiar with today; others trace its history through pioneers like Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pierre Schaeffer. You can hear examples of it in creative sound design for films and games, but not many people are aware of what it is or how it's made.

"Tape to Typedef showcased the huge amount of creative work out there. And some of the best known practitioners in the UK headlined the event - Jonty Harrison, John Young, Pete Stollery, Andrew Lewis, Leigh Landy and Simon Emmerson amongst many others."

The festival charted how electroacoustic music has changed over the past 60 years, from Erik Satie using a typewriter to create sound on stage in 1917 to post-war electronic instruments like the Theremin, oscillators and filters (used by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop to create the famous Dr Who theme tune), to the CDs and mp3s of the late twentieth century and our current mobile technology which makes real-time performances portable.

"We rarely get a chance to take stock of the history of music, examine the methods and techniques employed today and consider how the tradition will develop in the future. The concerts were a fascinating experience in themselves. The impressionistic images created by these incredible sounds were exploded into the 3D space using 24 extremely high quality loudspeakers. The sound was 'diffused' and 'projected' like light would be in a cinema and surrounded the audience, bringing the music to life. Concerts are a shared experience that also enhances what you hear."

Pupils from Birkdale and King Edwards VII Schools had the chance to use a music laboratory and explore how to make electroacoustic music themselves. Dr Moore said: "Young people are making music like never before. However they are beginning to realise that it is increasingly difficult to find an original voice. Here was a chance to embrace something that is both challenging and exciting."

Workshops took place in the Jessop West building looking at the University of Sheffield Sounds Studios toolkit, new software for schools called 'compose with sounds' (coded by University of Sheffield PhD students), and the complex Birmingham ElectroAcoustic Sound Theatre toolkit. Concerts took place during lunchtimes and evenings at the Drama Studio Theatre on Shearwood Road.

Dr Moore added: "The festival was a huge success, every performance was packed out. It was brilliant to have members of the public coming in to find out what we do here at the University of Sheffield's Department of Music. The school children loved the workshops and I'm sure everyone who came over the three days took away a genuine insight into the fascinating world of electroacoustic music."

Electroacoustic instrument

The University of Sheffield's Dr. Adam Stansbie mixes music

Crowd at the Tape to Typedef 2013 opening night