Vol. 28 Issue 1 Reviews
Electric Rainbow Coalition Festival

Hopkins Center for the Arts, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, USA, 22-24 August, 2003.

Reviewed by James Harley
Moorhead, Minnesota, USA

Organizer Eric Lyon declared as his intention in putting together the Electric Rainbow Coalition (ERC) to:

present every known form of electroacoustic and computer music including but not limited to the following: Spectro-Morphology, Granular, Ambient, Glitch, Interactive, Sonification, Computer Music, 4Beat, Electronische Musik, Collage, Synth Pop, Electronica, Breakbeat, Timbral, Horspiel, Musique Concrete, Electroacoustic, Intelligent/Dolphin, Trance, Plunderphonics, Organized Sound, Interactive Cross-Modal Synthesis, Text/Sound, Electro-Metal, Bio-Feedback, Tape Music, Electronic Music, Stochastic, Adaptive, Industrial, House, Digital Hardcore, Internet Music, Turntable Music, Phonography, Algorithmic, Organolectric, Drum 'n' Bass, Bruitisme, Psytrance, New Age, Acousmatic, Noise, Soundscape, Jungle, Doltish/Dodo, Techno, Acid Jazz, Trip Hop, Multimedia Art, Live Electronics, Idm, Recombinant, Sound Lowercase, Cut-Up, Digital Poetry, Assemblage, Remixology, Microsound, Mashup/Bootleg, Samplephilia, Junk Music, Sonic Detournement, Disorganized Sound, Systems Music, Circuit Benders, Futurism, Cybersonics, Microtonal Music, Homebrew, Sinewave, Oral History, Cinema Sonore.

This gathering, which took place 22-24 August, 2003, at Dartmouth College in the picturesque hills of western New Hampshire, was certainly an opportunity to hear an extremely wide range of electroacoustic work. The selection of pieces contained no bias toward “academic” work, as is so often the case at other conferences/festivals (there was no “conference” element to the event, in any case). There is apparently a generation, or “class,” of composers who feel no aversion to creating techno-oriented works one could dance to, or to structuring their works in clear song-forms. While such music would likely not get through the screening process of a “peer-review” selection committee, there is interesting work being done in such pop-oriented styles nonetheless. It was great to have a venue such as ERC to hear these styles programmed right in with everything else.

The musical part of the festival took place over two days, with pre-recorded works being programmed to run non-stop for 12 hours each day, from noon to midnight. (The third day was reserved for “recovery,” consisting of a vegetarian brunch on a balcony overlooking an idyllic pond just off of the golf course.) The Warren Bentley Theater was equipped with an octophonic sound system (some pieces were multi-channel, although this was only apparent from advance knowledge or careful listening—no such indication was given in the program), and the central floor area of the space was outfitted, to the great relief of many, with mattresses and pillows (apparently Jon Appleton’s idea, although he declined to take credit for the tie-died coverings!). Mr. Lyon organized a team of student diffusers to man the mixer (yes, they were men, Dartmouth-ites, one and all: Steve Pierce, Masaki Kubo, Brent Reidy, Eric Lyon, Yuri Spitsyn), and they kept the music rolling, along with a projector announcing the composer and title of each selection as it came up in the cue. They had each rehearsed their portion of the show, and all proceeded relatively smoothly, and the usual complaints of lack of rehearsal time, unfamiliarity with the board, and composers diffusing their own works at excessive levels, were entirely avoided.

In presenting a marathon of music, one of necessity imposes upon the listeners the need to make choices, to “program” the listening experience. In order to eat, sleep, chat, clear one’s head, one must decide which pieces to listen to and which to miss (the printed program was very helpful in listing the diffusion time for each piece, so one could make a point of getting into the theater to catch the pieces one especially wanted to hear). Traditionally, a presenter would decide on the works and the order, and would provide a break in between each piece (applause, cue up next piece, etc.), and would wrap things up before everyone was too exhausted to listen further. The marathon is an interesting approach to programming, as it empowers the listeners, challenging them to become co-artistic directors of the experience. On the other hand, it risks propagating the “sample-and-forget” syndrome, whereby listeners drop in and out, literally and in terms of concentration, sampling bits of this and that, and perhaps drifting off into reveries while lying comfortably on a mattress in a darkened room. After several hours of listening, it is difficult for even the most dedicated listener to distinguish one piece from another, at least to be able to recall them a few hours hence. A number of attendees took notes to help them keep track, a discipline that goes some way to alleviating the problem.

That said, Mr. Lyon took great care to try to program each work so that it would sound well within the context of neighboring tracks. Long pieces were balanced by shorter ones, beat-oriented ones by “cinematic” ones, and so forth. The ordering worked quite well, and it helped listener appreciation that the playback levels were held to comfortable levels throughout (even when particular pieces cried out for more decibels because of aesthetic intent).

There were 199 works programmed in the continuous stream over the two 12-hour days. The lengths ranged from under a minute to almost half an hour; it was my experience that the perception of duration became protracted, so that long pieces came to seem VERY long, but this is not necessarily a negative value judgement. Pieces were submitted from around the world: the program included works from USA, Canada, Poland, Russia, Columbia, Germany, France, Austria, Australia, Japan, Korea, UK, Israel, Brazil, Argentina, and Italy.

Rather than report on my highlights of this portion of the festival, I will instead provide a pseudo-random sampling of the pieces presented (for full details, consult the ERC Web site: music.dartmouth.edu/rainbow/): Jan Jacob Hofmann Metal Clouds, Flip Martin Attack of the Drones, Gary Rawding Le Bongít Concrète, Aaron Brocken Mechanical Ocean, Howard Kenty Don't Come Any Closer, Jeff Lee Trance VS Rave, Eve Beglarian Written on the Body, Michael Rhoades Madman's Prayer, Maciej Jasiobedzki Intr01, Bruce Bennett Stretch, Fernando Bitencourt UFPR Brazil Passagens II - Synthesiser Performance, Erik Belgum Blabbermouth, Michael Gogins Triptych, Galen Brown "Mille Regrets" (After Josquin), Edson Borth 'mova', Ketty Nez Melting Into Green, Kathryn Marciniak Beautiful, Sabin Levi Kaleidoscope, Jason Thomas Through the Course of Hours, Darren Cleare Deep Dark Secrets, Paul Lansky Ride, Giorgio Klauer su., Dan Warburton W, Wolfgang Peter Menzel Energy Playing Mills, Ice Cream Creatures Very Awake, Allen Strange Sideshow, David Braden Dreaming Basement, James Wilson New Generation, Nate Harrison Midsummer’s Hotwire, Roger Alsop Cycle, the LOGIK Trippy, Christian Banasik Das Blindenspiel, Coryn Smethurst Black Sun Bloody Moon – for Katy Wilmhurst, Lucas Van Lenten Dogs Are Nations, FBF Squelchy, Stephan Dunkelman Dreamlike Shudder in an Airstream, Steve Wilson Electropian, Peter Traub Retour, Ken Moodie Fez Dispenser.

The other stream of the festival in Dartmouth was the series of four Live Electro-Acoustic Music Concerts held concurrently in the Faulker Recital Hall. On each of the two days, these concerts took place at noon and at 6 p.m. Many people felt awkward or disappointed about having to choose between attending the live concerts and hearing big chunks of the recorded works. It would be hard to hold to the continuous stream of music in one room and concerts in another wtihout any overlap, but in future festivals, it might be possible to solve this issue more satisfactorily.

That said, everyone appreciated the live element, and these concerts were well attended. A few highlights: Rieko Otsu, who traveled from Japan to sing through her iBook computer; Yuri Spitsyn, running a Kyma system by means of a Theremin; Meg Schedel, processing her cello in such a way as to produce low-frequency feedback through a sub-woofer; John P. Young, wailing away on his didjeridu, and Bonnie Miksch, who added vocal sounds to her didgeridoo playing (joined by Christopher Penrose triggering soundfiles on his notebook computer); Scott Lindroth’s Bell Plates, a beautiful exploration of bronze sounds and processed extensions; and Nathan Davis, wielding a microphone and processors à la Stockhausen’s Mikrophonie to explore the timbres of a set of triangles. A surprise guest, Margaret Brazill, contributed a humorous, theatrical work, Emotion II, to the Saturday evening concert, combining ancient technology (wind-up phonograph) with more modern elements, and adding tap-dancing to the mix.

The technology for these concerts was relatively elaborate: there were computers everywhere, and much else besides! There were few glitches, and all proceeded quite smoothly. One wouldn’t say that the technology was transparent, but in many pieces, the gear or the processing techniques were secondary to the music and the communication process.

Mr. Lyon is to be congratulated on gathering an eclectic, interesting group of people and compositions. Hopefully, the Electric Rainbow Coalition will live on, tie-dye and all.