Vol. 25 Issue 4 Reviews
Music, arts and technology. A critical approach
International Symposium, Montpellier, France/Barcelona, Spain, 12-15 December 2000

Reviewed by Lina Mercier (translated by Daniel Sellal)
Montpellier, France

An international symposium on the theme of Music, arts and technology. A critical approach was held 12-15 December 2000. The first part (12-13 December) took place at Université Montpellier 3 in the historic setting of Montpellier, France. The second part (14-15 December) took place at the Universitat de Barcelona in the cosmopolitan center of Barcelona. The symposium was jointly organized by Makis Solomos and Roberto Barbanti (Université Montpellier 3), along with Carmen Pardo and Enrique Lynch (Universitat de Barcelona). This multi-disciplinary colloquium was instrumental in bringing together people from different domains for dialogue and debate. Among the people participating were art historians and theoreticians, musicologists, composers, artists, philosophers, etc. The symposium’s focus was highly relevant to modern preoccupations; a number of themes were examined, as will be outlined below.

1. The interface between different arts.
Technological advances have by now affected all arts and this tends to blurs the frontiers between them. Images, sounds, and texts all are binary information as far as a computer is concerned. This situation was discussed for two half-days during the colloquium. A distinction emerged between the opinions of the theoreticians and those of the artists. Roberto Barbanti (Université Montpellier 3), a theoretician, stated that technological evolution in art has shifted from being a media to being an ultra-media, making technology—or rather technique—omnipresent. This phenomenon has led to a reevaluation of the notion of time in art, according to him. Claire Fagnart (Université Paris 8) has examined this problem in the context of video art, with particular attention to simultaneity; experimental video has aimed at a total form of art, an interactive and immediate art.

Sven Sterken (Université de Gand) discussed Xenakis’s Polytopes. Sylvie Dallet (Centre Pierre Schaeffer, Paris) evoked Pierre Schaeffer and his views on multi-disciplinary art and went on to state that technological development in art creates a risk of confusion between reality and virtuality. She proposed that this quest for new techniques in art is akin to both the Orpheus myth and the Promethean temptation.

On the other hand, a number of artists presented their multi-disciplinary work. Jacques Rémus (Ipotam Mécamusique, Paris) talked about sonic sculptures, outlining the history of the medium as well as his own creations. Alain Bonardi (Université Paris 4) discussed interactive opera, and André Serres (Paris) discussed a recent production which blends music and light effects controlled by a robot. Stéphane Barron (Université Montpellier 3) presented his web-based multimedia works. A final intervention was made by a researcher in computer science and music, Laurent Pottier (GMEM Centre National de Création Musicale, Marseille), who demonstrated a process for intercepting bodily movements by video and using the data to trigger audio.

2. Technique, technology, and ideology.
A second important theme, “Technique, Technology, and Ideology,” was also discussed for two half-days. It focused particularly on abuses concerning technology. Jean-Marc Chouvel (Université de Reims) pointed out that change concerns the instrument rather that the essence of art, insisting on the fact that, as far as art is concerned, “[technological] progress is defective if it doesn’t help us to dig [even deeper] into ourselves.” Ricardo Mandolini (Université de Lille 3) said that, on the contrary, musical thinking is transformed, owing to this change of instrument. He then focused on “numerical ideology,” fearing that expression might become standardized.

Ray Gallon (Université Montpellier 3) evoked the links between art, technology, and economy. Martin Laliberté (Université de Dijon) looked at the origins of the concept of “new technology,” which date back at least to the beginning of the 20th century. Anne Veitl (Université de Grenoble) talked about an ongoing research project which concerns itself with the sociological study of new technologies used in music; this research alludes to a new trend called “the sociology of innovation.”

Philosopher Enrique Lynch (Universitat de Barcelona) focused of the notions of “medium” and “téchnè,” pointing out that the means tend to become ends in themselves in today’s art. Pierre Mariétan (Paris), on the other hand, argued that advances in technology not only constitute additional tools which can conform to the demands of composers, but which could also be capable of stimulating the creative process. Claudio Zulián (Universitat Pompeu Fabra) developed the idea that a form of political “resistance” should be opposed to commercialized technological evolution.

3. Transformation of our perception.
The third theme of the symposium, “Transformation of Our Perception,” is also very important with regard to the relationship between art and technology. It engages the question of change in our perception of the world due to the omnipresence of technology. However, there were only three presentations on this topic. Nelly Lacince (Université Montpellier 3), looking at dance and technology, evoked the danger of losing the sensual, carnal dimension. Pascale Criton (Paris), looking at her own work as a composer, disagreed: in the relationship between téchnè and expressiveness, there is always a direct link between a sonic dynamic and a sensory engagement, even when the sonic dynamic is infused with technology.

Carmen Pardo (Universitat de Barcelona), taking Walter Benjamin’s theses (from his famous article “The work of art in the era of technological reproducibility”) as reference, discussed the “aura” of the work of art. She evoked the possibility of creating a new type of aura which would be specific to numerical art. She suggested that we are now living the moment when the distance between an object and the perception of that object is being recreated.

4. ‘Academic’ art, ‘popular’ art.
In modern times, the traditional frontier between popular art and academic art is fading away, probably because the two disciplines are increasingly making use of the same technologies. Four presentations were made on this theme. Makis Solomos (Université Montpellier 3) discussed the existence of two technological paradigms: that of art music (electroacoustic music), which favors abstraction and listening, and that of popular music (rock), which stresses the importance of the instrument and the gesture. He observed that these two types of music tend to converge owing to recent developments (a quest for gestuality in electroacoustic music, an increasing focus on listening in experimental “techno”).

Amparo Lasen (London School of Economics and Political Science) has also noticed a recent trend towards abstraction in techno music. Played in raves (and on other occasions), this music blends with dance and light effects to the point where it acquires a tactile dimension. But, technology remains just a tool. Emmanuel Grynszpan (École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris) also discussed techno music and the role of technology.

James Harley (Minnesota State University Moorhead), examining the case of the “alternative” group The Residents, questioned the evolution of some music infused with technology: the tools can sometimes replace musicality.

The symposium also concerned itself with a number of other topics. These included the analysis of electroacoustic works (Pierre Couprie, Université Paris 4), the creation of sonic spaces (Anne Sédès, Université Paris 8), the notion of time in electroacoustic music (José Manuel Berenguer, Orchestra del Caos, Barcelona), the concept of “virtual” (Mihu Iliescu, Paris), the role of technology in vocal synthesis (Anastasia Georgaki, Ionian University), and the relationship between computer and “open” form in music (John Dack, Middlesex University).

The proceedings of this symposium have been slated for publication by the Université de Montpellier Press. For further information, the symposium Web site may be consulted (alor.univ-montp3.fr/XXESUPV).