[NOTE:  As readers of ARRAY have noticed, we have tried new approaches to
reviewing the ICMC in the past few ARRAYs.  This year is also an experiment,
an experiment hopefully designed to get more people involved in ARRAY and in
forming a body of commentary about the ICMC.  Rather than tap several
individuals to cover the entire conference, or to designate particular
people to review specific aspects of the conference, one person
wrote a highly-subjective and somewhat polemical review of the 1995
ICMC.  Our goal is to provoke some reaction from the ICMA members who
attended the 1995 ICMC, and begin a dialogue about the ICMC and issues
arising from it.]

Review of the 1995 International Computer Music Conference

Brad Garton

What follows are my views and impressions of the 1995 ICMC.  I make no
pretense at being comprehensive, my aim is to goad people who disagree with
what I say or who know about concerts and papers I may have missed to
contribute to the next ARRAY in an on-going "review" of the ICMC.  So please
don't take the following as any sort of authoritarian "word" on the
conference, because it isn't.  If you find yourself in agreement with
anything I said, or find your blood pressure rising a few notches, crank up
the word-processors and respond!

The Papers

For me, this ICMC was one of the most technologically-informative that I
have attended in recent years.  Perhaps it was the particular set of papers
and posters I was able to see, or perhaps it was because we are this year
reconfiguring the Columbia computer music studios, but I came away from this
ICMC with an abundance of pointers to new tools and techniques.  Plus I saw
some fairly snazzy interfaces and algorithms being demonstrated.

Among the more fascinating papers and demos I managed to catch (and this is
by no means comprehensive -- I had to miss a substantial portion of the

* Physical Modelling

Much work now seems to be focussing on the semi-chaotic processes that drive
the "standard" physical model algorithms.  In particular, the work being
done to model the physical characteristics of input streams (jets) at IRCAM
by Verge, Causse and Hirschberg and the modelling of vortex noise by Chris
Chafe are yielding good results.  Xavier Rodet's modelling of lip movement
for brass models is also chasing after the concept of finer-grained
understanding and control of physical model input.

In addition to this work, I was also struck by the general "filling-out"
of the physical model/nonlinear synthesis paradigm.  Ranging from an
architecture for model control (Perry Cook) to a look at the output stages
of a particular physical model (Berners, Smith) and including several papers
revisiting the Karplus-Strong algorithm (Stilson; Trautmann), it seems that
we are becoming much more sophisticated in our approach to synthesis-by-model.
I would even classify J. P. Mackenzie's use of chaos theory to model nonlinear
dynamical systems by constructing an underlying attractor and Michael
Gogin's facile use of Gabor systems to synthesize arbitrary sounds as 
instances of this "filling-out".  Perhaps we have entered Kuhn's stage
of 'normal' science with respect to the physical-modelling paradigm.  I'm
not complaining about this -- the range of sounds now available to composers
(like me!) from these extended models is quite exciting.  Of course, I hope
that these new algorithms are freely shared instead of languishing in some
research lab until some semi-adventurous manufacturer creates an overpriced
piece of hardware implementing the models several years from now.  But of
course I *would* hope for this, as I am one who stands to benefit from this
sharing.  (What can I give in return?  Oh, I don't know -- some patches of
music, maybe a few beers or dinner in New York, some conversation about
the state of music in the world....)

*  Spectral Mutation

Another category of sound creation that I found most intriguing is the
warping of a sound or melding of one sound spectrum with another through
applications such as *Lemur* (Haken, Fitz and Holloway) and *SoundHack* 
(Polansky and Erbe).  Not only were the algorithms for accomplishing this
impressive as new techniques, but the speed with which the results are
obtained was truly amazing.  The demos I saw were done on relatively
inexpensive Macintosh hardware, with many of the sounds being produced at
or close to real time.  As a composer who is becoming increasingly impatient
as I get older, these developments make me very happy indeed.  Plus both
of these programs are freely and publicly available (yay team!).

*  Interfaces

On-going research in interface development can be roughly divided into 
several categories:  input interfaces (compositional), output interfaces
(performance), and multimedia work.  With respect to the input interface,
or systems designed to facilitate sound production, I again got the sense
that little in the way of revolutionary work was happening.  Please don't
take this as a negative criticism, for it is great to see the ways
in which some of the standard compositional interface paradigms are
being enhanced.  Input interfaces are being extended through graphical
hooks into algorithmic compositional processes, such as the *Capella*
environment created by Taube and Kunze.  Daniel Oppenheim's "musical
morphing" capabilities he has instantiated through DMIX is another case of
an extended input interface -- in fact, the evolution of DMIX is almost a
case-study in the refinement of a compositional interface.  Brett Terry's
*ScoreViews* represented the latest in a series of unit-generator GUI
instrument building interfaces.  Of course I was impressed by the research
being done by Robin Bargar and his co-workers at the NCSA facility in
Illinois.  Their linking of interesting ways of representing sonic
characteristics with interactive interface devices has been coalescing into
an environment for sound creation and performance that is darned fun to
use.  I like fun.

On the output/performance side, the work with *SynthBuilder* done by the
Stanford crowd makes me grieve all the more for the decline of NextStep.
Seeing a *SynthBuilder* patch realizing the Sullivan version of the
Karplus-String algorithm while being controlled by a MIDI guitar is fairly

I was also impressed with several of the unique performance systems
I saw.  Russel Pinkston's MIDI dance floor has become a sophisticated control
device.  In the hands of a capable composer like Russ, the system is
capable of generating performances of great beauty and power.  I was
extremely fortunate to catch (along with only four or five others) one of
the last posters of the conference -- an interactive performance system
designed by Shu Matsuda from the Kunitachi College of Music.  Matsuda's
system worked by defining virtual shapes or lines in a continuously-digitized
video image.  Performers can then interact with these defined icons with
almost magical results.  I really hope to see some of these systems being
used on future ICMC concert programs.

There were several demonstrations integrating computer music work with other
modalities.  The NCSA group's work I mentioned earlier is certainly an
instance of this.  Mara Helmuth's *FCurve* collaboration with Aladin Ibrahim
of the Texas A&M computer graphics lab in visualizing granular synthesis
sounds is another.  I also thoroughly enjoyed Perry Cook's "Drive-by
Fluting" video, depicting a "fantastic voyage" scenario in which we all got
to fly through a physical model of a flute.

*  Studio Reports

More and more, I am coming to enjoy the studio reports more than any other
papers at the ICMC.  Perhaps it is because they give me a sense of an
integrated approach to research and composition in a conference where many
of the papers appear to float in isolation, or maybe I enjoy hearing how
others have solved practical problems, or perhaps it is because many of
the studio reports tend to take liberties with the presentation context that
aren't deemed appropriate (too bad!) for the standard paper sessions.
Whatever the reason, this year was no exception.  Hearing about how Brian
Evans at Vanderbilt University built a vibrant community with rather severe
funding constraints, or hearing how Joran Rudi's adroit solutions to
Norwegian political exigencies built the impressive NoTAM network gave me a
set of ideas to take home with me.  I was also quite taken with the
expansive education/sound-delivery projects being done by Celia Duffy and
Stephen Arnold at the University of Glasgow.  I enjoyed Christopher
Dobrian's description of student projects (especially the one who
chauffered listeners to his piece around in his car -- the piece being
designed for mobile listening), and of the research being done at LaTrobe
University by David Hirst and his crew (real-time CMIX on PowerPC
Macintoshes!).  And of course, Nando Lezcano's CCRMA reports are always worth
the price of admission.

*  Miscellaneous Computer Stuff

One of the 'traditional' categories of computer music research that at first
seemed lacking at this ICMC was "AI" approaches to research questions in
composition and perception.  After attending a few of the paper sessions,
however, this apparent lack of AI work is explained by the diffusion of
the whole AI project into related areas.  Most of these are rather
"low-level" compared to the lofty strong-AI claims of the past decade, but
in their pragmatism they are yielding good results.  For example, Andrew
Horner and Lydia Ayer's use of genetic algorithms to generate harmonic
progressions produced better results than I have seen before from an
automated harmony system.  Many other researchers are taking an almost
"signal-processing" approach to solving problems of music perception and
representation, including Desain and Honing's modelling of vibrato and
Guerino Mazzola or Hudek and Berger's approach to modelling performance.  I
had to miss the session on neural network modelling, but again what is
striking about the whole neural-net enterprise is the low-level, bottom-up
approach, especially as contrasted with the global AI models of the past.
I was somewhat surprised at the lack of genetic algorithm or a-life papers
at this ICMC.  Given the recent interest in the workings of these low-level
computer modelling procedures in other domains, I was expecting more work in
the computer music community.

I also noted some continuing development of computer-music languages,
including newer languages with powerful grammars and those rooted in
computer programming such as C++ (Kai Lassfolk from the University of
Finland, in particular).  One trend that did make me happy is the
number of sound analysis systems that used files generated from applications
such as *Lemur* and *SoundHack*.  I think the use of these ad-hoc "standards" 
is terrific, including the continued use of music languages such as CMIX and
CSOUND.  Why?  For one thing, the whole NeXT experience taught many of us the
joy of being able to share work, with no porting involved, among our 
colleagues.  By employing common data and sound-representation formats, 
it makes the transfer of computer music knowledge much easier... especially
for those of us on the receiving end!

*  Culture

I was very pleased to see an increase in the number of papers accepted
addressing cultural issues in our music.  Insook Choi and Sever Tepei's
respective papers are fun to read, and they certainly provide a much-needed
sense of context for the work we do.  I got a real kick out of Harley and
Couroux' semi-multimedia presentation on *The Residents*, but that may be due
to the fact that I was a big fan of *The Residents* back in the days when it
seemed to matter.  Dominique Richard's paper with the lisp-like title "Computer
Music and the Pre(Anti(Post(Non(Modern))))" was quite enjoyable, although in
many of these papers I find myself feeling that familiar sense of academic
vertigo.  What is the point of all of this?  What is the point of the latest
signal-processing physical-modelling top-down genetic algorithmic
compositional performance interface?  What is the point of asking what the
point of this work is?  I don't know... we exist, and I guess we gotta do

Related to these cultural papers is an issue that was probably one of the
hottest topics under discussion at the 1995 ICMC: gender issues.  Several
cogent papers where presented, including eye-opening results from Andra
McCartney's survey of female electroacoustic composers, and recommendations
for change from Mary Simoni.  The fact is that we have an incredibly small
amount of female involvement in our field.  A lively panel discussion,
moderated by Simoni, began to address this anomaly [see related article in
this issue of ARRAY].  By beginning to acknowledge problems we have
and by mapping solutions to these problems, we can hopefully create a more
welcoming environment for potential computer music practitioners -- including
but not limited to females -- that are seeing our community as being a closed
and insular group.

There were several papers and paper sessions that I had to miss, but had
wanted to see.  In particular, I heard that Gary Kendall's spatialization
demonstrations were truly representative of the state-of-the-art, and
several people commented that some of the papers on real-time granular
synthesis (there were a number of these) described systems that were quite
powerful.  I also had to miss the UCSD studio report, a place that seems to
have a lot going for it these days.

I also missed hearing papers describing the compositional process involved
in doing computer music, and papers relating particular compositional
techniques with the imagined output: an aesthetic discourse from the
perspective of the producer.  I missed these papers not because I had a
conflict with a particular paper session, but because they were not in
evidence at this ICMC.  I see this as a bad trend.  Recent ICMCs have tended
to reinscribe the line between "composers" and "researchers" in our field,
and I fear that the sharpening of the distinction between the two will do a
disservice to both the research and the music.  My hope is that we can
regain the fluidity that has existed between categories of Composer,
Researcher, Performer and Listener, because I believe that an individual
who is fully informed in all areas of the computer music world is more
capable of producing the synergistic work that has defined our community in 
the past.

One final comment on the papers, somewhat related to the trend of growing
insularity:  I heard many papers that pretended to exist with no "history"
-- papers that covered research done before, or papers that were closely
related to other work -- with little or no attribution to this pre-existing 
or related work.  I don't know how best to address this problem, and I
suspect that often the non-attribution was the result of benign ignorance
rather than malicious appropriation, but I think this is a growing problem
at the ICMC.  My best advice to authors is to do at least a semblance of a
literature search before submitting papers, and to acknowledge others who
have endeavoured in the same area.  This can only stregthen our field.

The Music

I heard a lot of muttering about the "quality" of the music on the concerts,
and I'm sorry to say that I agree with the sentiments behind the
complaints.  I'm unwilling to locate my dissatisfaction within some notion
of "quality", however.  What bothered me was the monochromaticism of the
musical aesthetic that seemed in force at the 1995 ICMC.  Many of the pieces
were finely-crafted and showed a high degree of musical and technical skill,
but the vast majority surely represented a rather narrowly-defined 
compositional universe.  This has become a perennial complaint of mine --
that the ICMC seems to be constricting the definition of "computer music"
instead of expanding it.  Perhaps there truly is a One True Computer Music
that exists, and we are closing in upon this quality stuff.  I really doubt
it, for I hear a much wider range of possible computer music every day.
I really wish that the ICMC (and hence the ICMA) would become known for
nurturing musical diversity, and not for closing out those who aren't doing
REAL computer music.  Several people I spoke with about the ICMC95 concerts
voiced the opinion that what we were hearing is an artifact of the
statistical process through which pieces are selected.  Whatever the reason,
I think it is important for all of us, and especially future ICMC
organizers, to be affirmative in promoting diverse computer musics.  Heck,
I'll be downright "politically correct":  if there is to be an ICMC 'sound',
I sincerely hope that it is the sound of multiple and engaging musical
cultures.  (NOTE:  I'm using the term "culture" here in the broadest possible
sense, meaning diverse diverse musical styles as well as separate human
cultural groups).

Given all this, I actually did enjoy a number of the ICMC95 pieces.  Stephen
Montague's "String Quartet #1" was one of the finest pieces I've heard at an
ICMC.  The professional caliber of the Penderecki Quartet, the subtle
integration of the tape part, and the facile orchestration of the quartet
made for a moving musical experience.  I was also quite taken with Mark
Wingate's "Ode to the South-Facing Form" (the piece that proved there were
subwoofers).  This tape-only piece had a compellingly evocative sound,
weaving the chanting of Buddhist monks and some marvelous synthetic
timbres into an expansive sonic narrative.  "Swansongs" by Heinrich Taube
was also a beautiful moment.  Rick explained that for technical reasons
only the middle movement of his three-movement cello+tape piece was
to be presented.  What we heard was a slowly-unfolding and elegant
exploration of tiny melodic and timbral fragments.  I found it to be an
experience of quietude and relaxation that I rarely have in a concert;
especially an ICMC concert.  I was also amazed at the wheelchair choreography
by Charlene Curtiss for Geoffrey Wright's dynamic "Instrument of Balance and
Grace".  It was indeed.

Allen Strange's wife Patricia put forth a terrific performance in his
"Shaman: Sisters of Dreamtime".  I had never heard Pat play before, but I
knew that I was a fan of Allen's music.  I wasn't disappointed in this
virtuosic piece.  Speaking of virtuosity, hearing Joan LaBarbara perform is
almost a guarantee of a musical peak, no matter what the music.  Fortunately,
the music of John C. Nelson's "They Wash Their Ambassadors in Citrus and 
Fennel" was strong enough to support LaBarbara's talent.  John has a
finely-tuned sensibility, and it worked well with LaBarbara's immense
singing capability.  Mari Kimura delivered a similar virtuosic performance
in her own "Gemini".  As she works more and more with computer technology,
Mari is able to achieve a grace in her performance that is nearly unrivalled.
In this case, her performance was ocassionally limited by the ability of
her sound-processing gear to switch from one patch to the next.  I would
very much like to hear a studio version of this piece, in which some of the
abrupt transitions could be smoothed over.  I was also impressed by the
soprano performance of Laura Joachim Fredrics in "Vagvisa For Mitt Ofodda
Barn" by Howard Fredrics.  I began the piece with my typical "oh god,
another soprano+tape monstrosity" mindset, but was pleasantly surprised by
the warmth of Howard's writing and the humanity of Laura Fredrics'
performance.  Arthur Kampela's "Textorias" explored a virtuosity of a
different kinds, using the computer to expand an already virtuosic,
pre-recorded guitar performance.  The result sounded as if some incredibly
frantic but highly talented flamenco performer was given a guitar filled
with electricity.  Great fun!

There were several pieces that surprised me.  I'm used to Horatio Vaggione's
music being filled with a dynamism that sort of reaches out and grabs me by
the throat.  "Schall" seemed a much more quiet, introspective piece.
Conversely, Nicolay Apollyon's "CellOrganics" was radically different than
the slowly-moving minute timbral explorations I have heard from him in
the past.  I also found myself listening to Cort Lippe's "Music for ISPW and
Flute" in a manner atypical from the way I normally approach Cort's music.
Generally I'm totally blown away by the sheer technological *stuff* that
happens in his pieces; for example, I truly enjoyed watching Cort, Zack
Settel, and Rick Bassett man the ISPW machines during Cort's ICMA commission
performance in Tokyo two years ago.  In this piece, however, I found myself
attending much more to the structure of the music as well as some of the
subtleties of the timbral processing.  Whether this is by design, or whether
I just happened to be in one of those moods that day, I don't know.  In any
case, I really enjoyed the music.  Maybe I'm just getting old.

I liked Fernando Lopez-Lezcano's "Espresso Machine II" (featuring Fernando
and Chris Chafe in live performance), but I'd be willing to bet that this
wasn't one of their better performances.  I also wish that Nando had
remained less hidden on the stage (somehow there was a giant hunk of
equipment between where I was sitting and where he was performing).  Part of
my pleasure in seeing "alternative controller" pieces stems from seeing how
the devices work, and how the composer has implemented a particular
interactive strategy.  I missed this in the ICMC performance of "Espresso
Machine II".  I also had no clue what was going on with the *aXi0* controller
in David Eagle's "... heaven over heaven rose the night".  His presentation of
the controller was one of the papers I missed.  I'm not sure it would have
helped me or not.

There were three pieces that I'm still confused about.  The improvisation
ensemble "Fleabotics" presented a lengthy multimedia/performance exploration
that reminded me a lot of some of the early, downtown "A Mica Bunker"
performances (John Zorn, Fred Frith, Doug Henderson, etc.).  This music
always seems a lot more fun to do than to watch, but I really enjoyed being
a spectator to parts of the Fleabotics show.  At the same time, I really
hated other parts of the performance.  I usually don't have such
diametrically-opposed reactions to a single "piece".  Odd.

I was also not sure how to parse Larry Austin's "Variations... beyond
Pierrot".  I usually either really like or really dislike Austin's music,
but this one left me bewildered.  I was impressed with the level of attention
to performance detail by Austin in the piece, but at the same time it hit
me as a performance from a culture that I did not or could not understand.
After the concert, I told Larry that I didn't know what to think of this
piece.  I still don't.

The final ICMC performance was by Sound Traffic Control, the reinforcement
company that competently handled the demands of the ICMC concerts.  I
remained outside the concert hall for this longish piece, however, as I had
been warned that sound pressure levels in the hall were going to be pushed
towards the EXTREMELY LOUD side.  Too bad, because I think I would have
enjoyed what they did.  What I heard through the walls seemed somewhat

I had to miss several concerts, and heard from a variety of people about
some of the pieces.  Reactions to Barry Truax' performance work "Powers of
Two" were fairly evenly divided between loved-it/hated-it.  I wish I could
have seen it, because something that provokes this sort of response is
at the very least going to be interesting.  I've also been a fan of Truax'
past work.  I also heard from many people I respect that Michael Alcorn's
"The Old Woman of Beare" and Joran Rudi's multimedia presentation of "When
Timbre Comes Apart" were quite good.  I hope I get a chance to see them again
someday.  I was also looking forward to the mega-performance of David Jaffe
and Andrew Schloss's "Wildlife", which had to be cancelled because of a lack
of technical resources.  Darn.

I did manage to spend a few quiet moments in the Listening Room.  I really
wish that ICMC organizers would set up more time for participants to enjoy
this sort of space.  At Banff, the Listening Room was situated to provide a
stunning vista through floor-to-ceiling windows surrounding half of the
entire space.  Hearing Mara Helmuth's "Chimeplay" while watching the
clouds rise above the mountains behind Banff was one of the most spectacular
moments of the conference for me.  I only saw two or three other people in
the Listening Room during the conference.  Those who didn't manage to get to
the Listening Room missed a great experience.

By far the funnest music at the conference were the installations.  Carla
Scaletti's ICMC commission piece "Public Organ" was one of the snazziest
computer music 'pieces' I've encountered.  Part of the problem of our medium
is the ephemeral nature of the music we do, especially non-standard
performances like Scaletti's.  I really hope that some mechanism for
preserving, replaying, or re-performing this work can be found -- it struck
me as an activity that almost exists outside time, to be encountered in many
different arenas.  How can we facilitate this?  How can we allow greater
numbers of people to explore the richness of computer music represented by
this work, and by the "Ear Harp" sound sculpture designed by Kazuo Uehara?
I urge all of us to see this as one of the central questions facing the ICMC
and ICMA.

Final Comments

I can't end this review without mentioning the impact that the setting for
the 1995 ICMC had on me.  Banff is simply gorgeous, and some of the best
"musical moments" I had at the 1995 ICMC were up in the mountains of the
surrounding Canadian National Park.  It was sad to hear of the
financial troubles besetting the Banff Center, for that part of the world
is certainly special, and it seems that the "specialness" should help
activities there rise above the mundane and fickle vagaries of social and
political life.  It doesn't -- oh well.

In thinking about the Banff ICMC, it did feel like part of an unfolding ICMC
process.  I have commented in the past about ICMCs no longer being centered
around One Big New Thing, and (as I noted earlier) this impression
holds true for the 1995 ICMC  It seems that the interstices between
various One Big Things are beginning to be filled in.  Perhaps we are
fulfilling the Kuhnian prophesy of "normal" science.  If we are, I can't
help but feel a little sad, for I hoped that our particular field would be
one of constant revolution.  However, I can say that I don't mind the
subtlety and variety of work arising from the "fleshing out" of extant

And I must say that despite rumblings about financial troubles at the
Banff Centre (none of which seemed to affect the 1995 ICMC too terribly,
although it really would have been nice to hear "Wildlife") and taking
my semi-polemic rantings about the closing of the computer music aesthetic
with the appropriate grains of salt, I really enjoyed this
year's ICMC.  The chance to see old friends and be totally immersed in the
wild world of computer music is always a terrific way to spend a week.
I am looking forward to the Hong Kong ICMC in 1996.