Learn to feel the pulse

Dr Adrian Moor
Dr Adrian Moor

WITH the start of the main concert series still almost three weeks away on February 19, the Department of Music’s spring series of concerts at Sheffield University got underway yesterday (Wednesday) with what is described as a four-day festival of electroacoustic music.

The event takes in talks, concerts and workshops exploring compositional methods in electroacoustic music under the title From Tape to Typedef. It is free and open to the public from today, Thursday.

A particular welcome is extended to five concerts at the University Drama Studio on Glossop Road – two today at 1pm and 7pm, two tomorrow (Friday) at the same times and one on Saturday at 1pm.

The never-ending development of computer technology in recent years has seen a seismic expansion of electroacoustic music, all of which is created by electronic technology.

It was once known simply as electronic music usually involving a tape recorder, if you can remember what one of those is.

It is the expansion of ‘tools’ for creating electroacoustic music that prompted Adrian Moore, Sheffield University’s electronic music ‘guru’ in the Department of Music, to convene the four-day tape to typedef event.

Typedef, apparently, is a term used in computer programming languages to define a variable’s type: integer, floating point, character, or whatever.

“We’re trying to offer something new and exciting. And, thanks to Arts Enterprise funding from the university, the festival is free so people are spending their money on travel and accommodation,” he says. “We have workshops with schools (Wednesday), concerts at lunchtimes and in evenings and, perhaps a little academic, papers and talks in the morning and afternoons. But we are a university after all!” he adds. “That said; the event is open to all.”

He describes electroacoustic music as “music made with recorded sound, manipulated by computer and played back, in this case, to a seated audience in a concert situation.”

The amiable Moore runs the University of Sheffield Sound Studio housed nowadays in a state of the art Soundhouse Studio facility, which caters for every aspect, theoretical and practical, of electroacoustic music.

As such, it is one of leading centres in the country and is growing, he says.

“We offer a unique mix of music creation and computer music programming with distinctive Masters’ programmes in sonic arts and composition and many PhD students composing, writing software, interactive installations, music for film, sfx and much more. It not only provides creative opportunities but encourages students to programme their own tools for developing sound.”

Highly active in the field as a composer himself, he neither expresses delight nor disappointment that From Tape to Typedef has attracted what seems to be an impressive line-up of 45 pieces of new electroacoustic music and 23 papers for discussion on the subject nationally.

“The papers are, broadly speaking, about the creative process and compositional methods,” he says.

“I hope to tease out the similarities and differences between music being made now and the preoccupations of the early pioneers, Pierre Schaeffer in particular, and ask questions about why and how, aesthetically and procedurally, a piece of music came into being.”

It bothers him that electroacoustic composers rarely document their creative procedures, a situation not helped by a lack of a formalised language that enables them to articulate the internal and external processes in their creative activity and, ultimately, denies access to listeners and analysis.

Electroacoustic music is surely a free form of expression largely through experimentation and maybe improvisation, is it possible to impose compositional procedures or rules and not compromise this?

“Interesting question. Yes, there is a great deal of freedom stemming from the experimental approach, and it would be wrong to figure out rules and impose anything.

“Interestingly, though, not only are composers today using very similar tools, these tools have been used for decades. We still shift sounds in speed and pitch, one of the first techniques used with the tape recorder.

”Once a composer starts to work with sound, or notes for that matter, they must surely impose upon themselves some control that allows them to select and reject which, hopefully comes from listening to what they’re creating.

“I wonder whether, from composer to composer, some of the these ‘controls’ are similar. It is most definitely not a free-for-all, though sometimes given the often concept-driven nature of contemporary culture, good music is often sacrificed at the expense of a neat headline.”