Vol. 25 Issue 3 Reviews
13th Colloquium on Musical Informatics

L’Aguila, Italy, 3-5 September 2000

Reviewed by Lawrence Fritts
Iowa City, Iowa, USA

The thirteenth biannual Colloquium on Musical Informatics (CIM) was held in L'Aquila, Italy, 3-5 September 2000. The conference was hosted by the Associazione di Informatica Musicale Italiana (AIMI) and the Istituto Gramma and was organized by Maria Cristina De Amicis. Seeking to promote the integration of scientific research and musical production, the colloquium featured 48 presentations and 31 compositions from researchers and composers around the world. Invited guest speakers were Curtis Roads, Xavier Rodet, and Tamas Ungvary. All sessions and concerts were held in a large 16th-century Spanish castle, renovated with modern lecture and concert halls (see Figure 1).

The research sessions included papers on Sound Analysis and Synthesis, Musical Systems, Musical Informatics: Expression and Performance Analysis, Music Analysis and Cognition, Music Archives, and Teaching and Communicating Electronics and Computer Music. The Sound Analysis and Synthesis papers were particularly interesting, describing some important new work being done in the field. Gianpaolo Evangelista and Sergio Cavaliere's "Representation and Modification of Time-Varying Sound Signals" showed that the Discrete Laguerre Transform can be generalized to allow undo-able frequency warpings, such as adding or removing vibrato. Andrea Albanese and Nicola Orio's "Timbre Space and Technical Gesture: A Study on the Traverse Flute Sound" presented a model for identifying and characterizing such technical nuances of flute performance as consonant articulation, legato, and noise. Agostino Di Scipio's "Ecological Modeling of Textural Sound Events By Iterated Nonlinear Functions" demonstrated how clouds of sonic droplets can be synthesized. Implemented on a Kyma system, the results produce very rich and complex simulations of such ecological sounds as rain and thunder. Pietro Polotti and Gianpoalo Evangelista's "Sound Modeling by Means of Harmonic-Band Wavelets: New Results and Experiments" described a wavelet-based analysis model that represents the noisy components, or micro-fluctuations, of harmonic sounds. This work grew out of a previous paper given at XII CIM in 1998, for which Pietro Polotti received the Aldo Piccialli Prize for Best Paper by a Young Researcher. Curtis Roads made the presentation and delivered a touching eulogy to the late Professor Piccialli, who inspired a generation of researchers in the field of digital signal processing.

The session on Musical Systems included discussions of the technical aspects of systems as well as their aesthetic implications. Michael Hamman and Simon Pamment's "A C++ Framework for Generic Programming and Composition" described an object-oriented framework that supports the creation of composition applications. The philosophical aspects of this approach to building compositional software were further explored in Mr. Hamman's paper "From Technical to Technological: Interpreting Technology Through Composition." Perry Cook and Colby Leider's "Making the Computer Sing: The squeezeVox" discussed how each author, working independently, arrived at a different working model of an expressive-sounding voice synthesizer constructed out of an accordion modified to transmit MIDI information to an external computer.

While musical expression was a noticeable subtext of many papers at the conference, it was more directly addressed in the session on Musical Informatics: Expression and Performance Analysis. Among the most original of these papers was Ian Whalley's "Modelling Emotional Narrative Through System Dynamics: Applications To Computer Music," which described how musical dramatic forms can be created by systems dynamics models. Demonstrating a unique approach to expressive interactive performance, Paul Nemirovsky and Dan Overhold's "InterÉlastique—An interactive performance system for control of an audio-visual experience using novel stretchable sensors" showed how eRopes, constructed from conductive fibers woven into the sheath of a bungee cord, allow users to easily interact with video and sound.

The session on Teaching and Communicating Electronics and Computer Music included Mladen Milacevic's provocative "Communicating Computer Music Memes." Here, the author uses the concept of memes—ideas that replicate among a population like genes—to explain why familiarity and novelty should be important compositional considerations in computer music. Kristine Burns discussed her Web site for young women interested in music as a career in "Educating a New Generation of Women: WOW'EM." The site (eamusic.dartmouth.edu/~wowem) provides a wealth of information about educational and professional opportunities for all composers. Demo sessions included Mario Malcangi’s and Raffaele De Tintis's "LypSync 1.0, A System for Real-Time Lip-Synching and Facial Modeling," and Mr. Leider’s and Ms. Burns's "CurvePainter: A New Didactic Composition Tool," which generates and transforms curves that can be exported as ASCII text for use in Csound, SuperCollider, Max/MSP, and other environments. Among the most interesting features of this program is its ability to extract spectral features of sound files.

One of the conference highlights was the invited talk by Curtis Roads, "Sound Composition with Pulsars." This new synthesis technique was motivated by the author's interest in the musical effect of the forward masking of microsounds, whereby the rhythmic speed of pulsed sonic particles crosses a perceptual threshold to produce tones. Implemented in SuperCollider, Pulsar Synthesis allows composers to traverse perceptual time-spans by manipulating the pulsar's period (comprised of a duty cycle and silence), waveshape, and amplitude envelope to produce corresponding changes in pitch, spectra, and formant structure. An excerpt from Mr. Roads's composition, Half-life, showed the expressive range of this powerful and malleable new synthesis technique. Xavier Rodet's "Sound analysis, processing and synthesis tools for music research and production," described the continuing evolution of analysis software developed at the Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique (IRCAM) and discussed the new Sound Description Interchange Format (SDIF). This new standard for analysis files, developed in collaboration with IRCAM, the Center for New Music and Audio Technologies (CNMAT), and the Audiovisual Institute of the Pompeu Fabra University, will allow composers and researchers to develop new tools for work in the spectral domain and will facilitate the sharing of analytical data. Tamas Ungvary's "Three decades (of problems): a composer-researcher-pedagogue of electroacoustic music" provided a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the early years of the Electronic Music Studio in Stockholm. Excerpts from a 1974 film highlighted some important accomplishments of this pioneering digital studio.

Like the paper sessions, the concerts were carefully programmed, showcasing interesting new work being done in interactive and acousmatic computer music. The opening concert, presented in the castle's garden, featured a sonically and visually arresting performance of Michelangelo Lupone's Gran Cassa. Here, bold and brilliant gestures, performed with mallets, were processed and projected by six parabolic fiberglass loudspeaker reflectors arrayed behind the performer. This material evolved into a lyrical counterpoint of processed sounds produced by various scrapes and taps of the membrane, growing into a beautifully melodic ending in which the gran cassa virtually seemed to sing. Among other notable works for percussion and live electronics were Silvia Lanzalone's Tracciati for percussion and planephones—percussion controllers constructed of wood, metal, and plastic panels with transducers. The planephones were processed on a Sonorous Drawing Plane, a graphical interface for sound processing designed by the composer. Laura Bianchini's richly-textured Fiaba 1, 4-3 seamlessly integrated percussion, tape, and live electronics in a particularly thoughtful and expressive manner. Mr. Di Scipio's Natura all sprecchio was a beautifully atmospheric work for percussion, two narrators, 8-channel tape, and 8-channel interactive processing on a Kyma system. The combination of percussion and sonic droplets generated by the composer's Function Iteration Synthesis technique created a sound field of enormous depth and richness.

The conference also featured several concerts of acousmatic works projected on a 24-channel acousmonium designed by Denis Dufour. His own work, Terra Incognita, features rhythmically-interlocked layers of percussive sounds that dissolve into watery textures, which in turn are reconstituted in a rhythmic counterpoint of train-like, mechanical sounds. Jonathan Prager's spatial projection highlighted the interrelationship of timbre and rhythm in this clearly masterful work. Elsa Justel's Pieza en forma de tè is a deeply evocative composition whose spare, haunting harmonic textures grow out of a series of slow, low-pitched chords. Diego Garro's Six Dreaming Jewels is a wonderfully inventive set of miniatures, each carefully composed and finely honed. Mathew Adkins's Mapping made an immediate impact as a particularly interesting and assured work, composed of strong, original gestures and rich in detail. Thomas DeLio's Decker is based on a spoken text by the poet P. Inman. The combination of this modernist text, radical sound processing, and stark silences give this work a beautifully unsettled, enigmatic quality. Another conference highlight was Elainie Lillios's dark and compelling Arturo, which integrates the spoken voice of a tarot card reader and the processed sounds of the cards themselves. In this thoughtful and deeply engaging work, the composer draws the listener ever closer to her subject, until one's immersion in Arturo's world is complete.

From selection process to final presentation, a great deal of careful planning went into XIII CIM. The paper sessions were extremely well organized and the concert presentations were uniformly excellent, allowing the participants to experience under the best possible circumstances the range of ideas, aesthetics, and values that underlie current research and compositional practice. AIMI's commitment to the goal of integrating the scientific and artistic communities makes these biannual conferences one of the most vital and significant events in the field of computer music.