Vol. 28 Issue 2 Reviews
International Computer Music Conference 2003: Paper Sessions

Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, National University of Singapore, 29 September–4 October, 2003

Reviewed by Ian Whalley
Hamilton, New Zealand

The 29th International Computer Music Conference (ICMC2003) was organized by Ho Chee Kong, Mara Helmuth, and Bernard T.G. Tan, with Mr. Tan being the Technical Committee Chair. The outstanding venue for the event was the Center for the Arts at the National University of Singapore, and the Lion city provided a vibrant backdrop to the occasion. The intimacy of the venue and its distance from the city made for a free flow of formal presentations and informal interaction, with easy access to different concerts and parallel paper sessions.

This year’s theme was “Boundaryless Music.” The Chair of ICMC2003, Ho Chee Kong, noted on the Web site:

While in the last century we had experienced the benefits of the narrowing of gaps in worldwide communication and the bringing together of world cultures, one of the unexpected results of the process was the creation of barriers. For some, the rapidly changing landscape presented too fast a change in well-established traditions and cultures, and they who live in these societies set up boundaries to stem the erosion of their way of life. Though there are valid reasons to believe so, it need not be the case, especially in music… This year's conference theme, “Boundaryless Music,” celebrates music without barriers of cultures or genres, without prejudice of the traditional or the contemporary perspective, without discrimination against the old or the young. We cannot totally remove all barriers, but we can make them more permeable to the flow of information, ideas, resources and energy. Celebrate an open and sharing environment, experiment with new processes and technologies, and cultivate new approaches to learning and teaching; all of which involve interconnected processes instead of isolated ideals.

In response to the call, Mr. Tan notes in the Conference and Concert Program (p. 6) that:

103 full papers in 20 pre-determined conference categories were submitted online… This resulted in a total of 77 full papers, 6 demos, and 6 posters being accepted… All papers receiving a minimum of two “C” Grades were short-listed for acceptance.

The move toward reviewing full papers, together with the SARS scare, may have resulted in a smaller number of paper submissions in comparison to the 193 made (reduced to 121 acceptances) at ICMC2002 in Sweden. However, one is left with the sense of few weak papers, and a solid collection of work that ranges from the speculative to the concrete, with a balance of contributions that might differ if the event were held in America or Europe.

The Conference Proceedings are the main focus of this review (available from www.computermusic.org), along with the various sessions I was able to attend at the event.

The central theme of “Boundaryless Music” held out great promise for a cohesive set of submissions, but the opening plenary session seemed to largely carry on with an ICMC technical “business as usual” approach. The session included “Signal-based Music Structure Discovery for Music Audio Summary Generation” by Geoffroy Peeters and Xavier Rodet from IRCAM. “Wavetable Matching of Pitched Inharmonic Instrument Tones” by Clifford So, and “Polyphonic Audio Matching for Score Following and Intelligent Audio Editors” by Roger Dannenberg, followed.

The largest group of papers under a single heading belonged to the sessions on Computer, AI Music Grammars, and Languages, although there were a number of papers not presented that appear in the proceedings, and the quality was at times uneven. Johanna Devaney presented “An Algorithmic Approach to Composing for Flexible Intonation Ensembles,” followed by an imaginative paper called “ChucK: A Concurrent, On-the-fly, Audio Programming Language,” by Ge Wang. The obligatory automation area was covered in “Algorithmic Composition in Contrasting Music Styles” by Tristan McAuley and Phillip Hingston, and “New Strategies for Computer-Assisted Composition Software: A Perspective” by Kevin Dahan, Guy Brown, and Barry Eaglestone. Also included was “Some Box Design Issues in PWGL” by Mikael Laurson and Mika Kuushankare. An interesting addition was “Emergent Behavior from Idiosyncratic Feedback Networks” by Christopher Burns.

Three papers examined aspects of machine learning: Rafael Ramirez’s “Learning Sets of Musical Rules;” Emir Kapanci and Avi Pfeffer’s “Learning Style-Specific Rhythmic Structures;” and Masatoshi Hamanaka’s (co-authored with a number of others) “A Learning-Based Quantization: Unsupervised Estimation of the Model Parameters.”

The Interactive and Virtual Music Interfaces sessions had some interesting byways, including Todd Winkler’s “Movement-Activated Sound and Video Processing for Multimedia Dance/Theatre,” and “Encoding 3D Sound Scenes and Music in XML” by Guillaume Potard and Stefan Ingham. The work here ranged over topics as diverse as “Cutting the Cord: In-circuit Programmable Microprocessors and RF Data Links Free the Performer from Cables” by David Malham, to “Constraint-based Shaping of Gestural Performance” by Guerino Mazzola and Stefan Mueller, and “Interface Decoupled Applications for Geographically Displaced Collaboration in Music” by Alvaro Barbosa, Martin Kaltenbrunner, and Gunter Geiger.

Five papers were put forward in the two sessions dedicated to Compositional Systems, Techniques, and Tools. Nick Collins outlined “A Microtonal Tempo Canon Generator After Nancarrow and Jaffe,” and Christopher Ariza presented “Ornament as Data Structure: An Algorithmic Model based on Micro-Rhythms of Csángó Laments and Funeral Music.” Other contributions were “Rudiments Mapping—An Axiomatic Approach to Music Composition” by Hsin Hsin Lin, “New Developments in Data-Driven Concatenative Sound Synthesis” by Diemo Schwarz, and “A Sound Modeling and Synthesis System Designed for Maximum Usability” by Lonce Wyse.

It was interesting to note the increasing number of presentations in the area of Interactive and Realtime Performance Systems. Two papers concentrated on PD interfaces: “Paradiddle: A Code-free Meta-GUI for Musical Performance with Pure Data” by Adam T. Lindsay and Alan Parks, and “GrIPD: A Graphical Interface Editing Tool and Run-time Environment for Pure Data” by Joseph Sarlo. Two others looked at Multi-media/intermedia: “Soundium2: An Interactive Multimedia Playground” by Simon Schubiger-Banz, and “The Gestures of Flowing: Using PureData as a Backbone for Interactive Sculpture Animation, Video and Sound” by Andreas Mahling. Stephen Pope and Chandrasekhar Ramakrishnan put forward “The CREATE Signal Library (“Sizzle”): Design, Issues, and Applications.” Additional offerings were “M.A.S.: A Protocol for a Musical Session in a Sound Field Where Synchronization Between Musical Notes is not Guaranteed” by Yuka Obu, Tomoyuki Kato, and Tatsuhiro Yonekura, and “Melodic Pattern Anchoring for Score Following Using Score Analysis” by Ozgur Izmirli, Robert Seward, and Noel Zahler. For me, the highlight was Georg Hajdu’s “Quintet.net :A Quintet on the Internet” because it is an immediately pragmatic system and overcomes in a musical way some of the limitations of internet-based performance systems.

Only four papers made up the Aesthetics, Acoustic, and Psychoacoustics sessions, conducted over two sittings. It seemed an odd mixture of work juxtaposed under this title. David Hirst presented “Developing Analysis Criteria Based on Denis Smalley's Timbre Theories,” a fitting contrast to the conference as a whole noted for its lack of aesthetic discussion. The three other papers largely concentrated on acoustics. This included Andrew Horner’s “Discrimination of Sustained Musical Instrument Sounds Resynthesized with Randomly Altered Spectra,” Bert Schiettecatte, Axel Nackaerts, and Bart De Moor’s “Real-time Acoustics Simulation using Mesh-Tracing,” and Aline Honingh’s “Measures of Consonances in a Goodness-of-fit Model for Equal Tempered Scales.”

Studio Projects and Reports made up two sessions and mixed the two areas. The second section was particular long, with six papers. I have always thought studio reports would be better placed in poster sessions, as the papers are usually straightforward to read and the questions arising are often interesting but comparatively too short. An alternative might be to shorten presentation time and increase question time. Reports came from institutions such as Florida International University, the University of Miami, the Sonic Arts Research Centre in Ireland, and CREATE in the USA. The “Projects” section had a wide gambit of well-known “works in progress” together with some recent innovations. These included “After the first year of Rencon” by Rumi Hiraga, Roberto Bresin, Keiji Hirata, and Haruhiro Katayose, “Realtime Performance Strategies for the Electronic Opera K.” by Momilani Ramstrum and Serge Lemouton, and “Physical Interaction Design for Music” by Michael Gurevich, Bill Verplank, and Scott Wilson. Roger Dannenberg’s work looked at “Sound Synthesis from Real-Time Video Images,” John ffitch and Richard Dobson submitted “MTRC-Dream: Music in a Mathematical Environment,” and Rodney Berry outlined work on “The Music Table” for Advanced Telecommunications Research (ATR) in Japan.

Topics with only one session incorporated Audio Analysis and Resynthesis, with seven offerings. The work ranged from a focus on Asian instruments in “Synthesizing Trills for the Chinese Dizi” by Lydia Ayers to mainstream synthesis subjects such as “Discrete Cepstrum Coefficients as Perceptual Features” by Wim D’haes and Xavier Rodet. In context, a stimulating tangent in a developing area was “Audio and User Directed Sound Synthesis” by Marc Cardle, Stephen Brook, and Peter Robinson, that looked at techniques to simplify the production of soundtracks in video by re-targeting existing soundtracks.

The Physical Modeling/New Instruments gathering had few contributions in comparison to recent ICMC gatherings, with only four papers. Only two concentrated on physical modeling. The new instruments papers included “peerSynth: A P2P Multi-User Software Synthesizer with New Techniques for Integrating Latency in Real Time Collaboration” by Jörg Stelkens. This looked at a simple process that integrates network latency into individual musicians’ collective playing, one of the only papers directly reflecting an aspect of the technical possibilities of “boundaryless music.” “Pocket Gamelan: Developing Instrumentation for an Extended Harmonic Universe” by Greg Schiemer and others rounded out the session.

Shahrokh Yadegari’s interesting paper titled “A General Filter Design Language with Real-time Parameter Control in Pd, Max/MSP, and jMax” was the only paper presented in the Digital Signal Processing category.

Two presentations in the Machine Recognition of Audio and Music group examined polyphonic music: Benoit Meudic’s “Musical Pattern Extraction in Polyphonic Context,” and Yohei Sakuraba and Hiroshi G. Okuno’s “Note Recognition of Polyphonic Music by using Timbre Similarity and Direction Proximity.” A third input in the session was by Stephen Hainsworth and Malcom McLeod titled “Onset Detection in Musical Audio Signals.” Most interesting to the layperson was “Studies and Improvements in Automatic Classification of Musical Sound Samples” by Arie Livshin, Geoffroy Peeters, and Xavier Rodet. A question arising was how this system might respond to non-Western instruments.

Three contributions made up the spatialization session: “Techniques for Multi-Channel Real-Time Spatial Distribution Using Frequency-Domain Processing” by Ryan Torchia and Cort Lippe; “Application of Wave Field Synthesis in the Composition of Electronic Music” by Marije Baalman; and “Spatio-Operational Spectral (S.O.S) Synthesis” by David Tropper, Matthew Burtner, and Stefania Serafin. Each made a unique offering, making this one of the most engrossing collections.

The Visualizing Music collection also included only three papers. “A Protocol for Audiovisual Cutting” by Nick Collins and Fredrik Olofsson explored an algorithmic composition system for live audio cutting to the realm of video, through a protocol for message passing between separate audio and video applications. “ENP-Expressions, Score-BPF as a Case Study” by Mika Kuuskankare and Mikael Laurson demonstrated a music notation program with a rich set of notational attributes. ENP2.0 was written in Common Lisp, CLOS, and OpenGL. “BRASS: Visualizing Scores for Assisting Music Learning” by Fumiko Watanabe, Rumi Hiraga, and Issei Fujishiro outlined an interactive digital score environment for assisting the user to browse and explore the global structure of music in a flexible manner.

Two papers represented the Music Education group, although the classification of “ Introducing the ElectroAcoustic Resource Site (EARS)” by Leigh Landy and Simon Atkinson under this title did not quite seem to fit. This project outlines resources for those wishing to conduct research in the area of electroacoustic music studies. “Education on Music and Technology, A Programme for a Professional Education” by Hans Timmermans, Jan Ijzermans, Rens Machielse, and Gerard van Wolferen will be of interest to anyone having to lead a tertiary (graduate) program in electroacoustic music, outlining a comprehensive approach.

A small number of demo sessions appear in the Proceedings, including Günter Geiger’s “PDa: Real Time Signal Processing and Sound Generation on Handheld Devices,” Michael Clarke’s “Real-time FOF and FOG synthesis in MSP and its integration with PSOLA,” and Chikashi Miyama and Takayuki Rai’s “ Introduction of DIPS Programming Technique.”

The few poster sessions covered topics as diverse as “GDS (Global Delayed Session) Music—New Improvisational Music with Network Latency” by Yoichi Nagashima, and “Setting Up of a Self-organised Multi-agent System for the Creation of Sound and Visual Virtual Environments Within the Framework of a Collective Interactivity” by Jocelyne Kiss and Chen Chu Yin. The presentation space suited the medium well.

The main theme of the conference seemed ambitious, bold, and timely. It was a pity that more material could not have been addressed more directly to this. Much of the offerings appeared generic of the predetermined categories and could have appeared at any computer music event. Regardless, the Proceedings include many significant highlights. Congratulations to the organizing committee are well deserved for their professionalism and commitment to producing such an outstandingly successful event under some testing circumstances.