[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 presentations): * 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 amazing. 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 something. 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 intriguing. 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 research. 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.