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Dr John Dack, Co-organizer


Universiti di Padova


University of Aalborg


Milano Castello


DREAM – Digital Re-working of Electro-Acoustic Music


Digital Re-working/Re-appropriation of Electro-Acoustic Music


The DREAM project (Digital Re-working/Re-appropriation of Electro-Acoustic Music) was a EU-funded research initiative which aimed at preserving, reconstructing, and exhibiting the devices and the music of the Studio di Fonologia Musicale di Milano della Rai. During the 1950s and 1960s, this studio (established by the composers Bruno Maderna and Luciano Berio in 1955) was one of the leading European locations for the production of electroacoustic music, together with Paris and Cologne.

The equipment of the Studio di Fonologia Musicale has recently been transferred to the Milan Museum of Musical Instruments at Castello Sforzesco. Consequently, this technological and cultural heritage is now accessible to the general public as a permanent museum exhibition. However the electronic devices and sound generators are not currently functioning and they are exhibited as ‘mute’ instruments. Visitors can only listen to recordings of musical compositions created by these devices. Thus, it is not possible to fully appreciate the variety of timbral and expressive possibilities of these ‘instruments’, which can be fully experienced and appreciated only by direct interaction. Focusing on the Studio di Fonologia Musicale della Rai, the original setup of the studio will be virtually re-created during this project to perform the compositions that have been realized precisely with this equipment.

The roles of the three partner institutions were as follows:

UNIPD at the Università di Padova, Italy, led by Prof. Federico Avanzini, was the coordinator of the project, and was responsible for the technical and administrative management of the project. Furthermore, UNIPD led 5 activities: technological requirements, music workshop installation, final event, scientific dissemination, visibility and publicity.

The Lansdown Centre for Electronic Arts (Middlesex University) UK, led by Dr John Dack undertook the activities related to the musicological analysis and to the validation of the virtual electronic ‘instrumentation’ produced by the project. Dr Dack collaborated in the final event and the music workshop installation, providing musical and aesthetic suggestions and supporting the dissemination of Pousseur's composition Scambi.

Aalborg University (IMI), (Denmark), under the direction of Prof. Stefania Serafin, was responsible for the activities related to sound synthesis and simulations. Sound synthesis was performed by using physical models, a powerful synthesis technique in which both IMI and UNIPD have great expertise. Aalborg University was also responsible for designing the appropriate interfaces for the models, both in terms of software and physical interaction design.

One of the main objectives of the project is the re-appropriation of a historically important electroacoustic composition: Scambi by the Belgian composer Henri Pousseur. This musicological/analytical aspect of the project was the responsibility of Dr John Dack. Writing about his work in 1959, Henri Pousseur concluded his text by envisaging the time when technology would allow listeners to make their own realizations of the work (whether they followed his connecting ‘rules’ or not) with active, perhaps even semi-improvised versions in real-time. The analogue technology in 1957 (the year of Scambi’s composition) precluded such real-time realization. Dr Dack was particularly qualified to investigate this prescient vision of Pousseur’s as they had previously worked together on the ‘Scambi project’.

Pousseur’s work methods in the studio di fonologia are significant. He concentrated on material which could be produced easily as he had only six weeks for the realization of the work. Pousseur did not want to measure, and then cut and paste: he needed to realize everything in real-time. Thus, by contrast with many electroacoustic techniques at the time, control by ear was very important. Pousseur produced section of ‘noises’ modifying them until he was satisfied with the results. By means of dynamic filtering with the Lietizzatore (a custom-built device), Pousseur extracted irregular impulse patterns from noise frequency bands at different fixed pitch levels which, depending on the fine tuning of the filter, extended from a few single impulses to whole impulse swarms. Through mixing and montage of different tapes produced in this way he obtained four basic models in which only one of two parameters respectively was changing, either the tempo or the pitch; these models could also be played backwards. Afterwards multi-layered reverberation treatment was added and finally processed again with dynamic filtering in order to insert division into the continuous sound. Since Pousseur executed only a part of the possible combinations in each work process, the resulting 32 sequences display a limited number of parameter constellations at their beginning and at their end. Pousseur’s intention was to ensure a transition without breaks from one sequence to the next. The identity of the work is preserved by the homogeneity of the material which, even in different arrangements, always creates the same general impression. Pousseur wrote in the booklet accompanying the Acousmatrix compact disc: “Several sequences (which begin with a same character) can even be superposed and thus lead to a polyphony of divergent situations – until they come together again on a common point”.

An important part of the musicological research concentrated on developing a system for real-time creation of versions of Scambi. This was achieved by he use of a reactable – a table-top interface. On this table perspex blocks were placed which activated specific sequences. These were arranged in sequences and could be played simultaneously or continuously. They could also be decelerated to produed different pitch levels (permitted by Pousseur). This system was designed and built by an ex-student of Sonic Arts at the Lansdown Centre for Electronic Art. Robin Fencott interrupted his doctoral studies at Queen Mary, University of London to develop the vision that Pousseur had over 50 years previously: a real-time method of creating versions of Scambi.

Two events were organised in London by Dr Dack:

The Scambi Workshop – 17th May, 2011

Middlesex University, Cat Hill Campus

Three composers were invited to produce versions of Scambi. Pousseur’s guidelines were made available but the composers were not obliged to use them. These version will be placed on the ‘Scambi Project’ website in due course. The composers were: Dr Aki Pasoulas, Dr Thor Magnusson and ‘Scanner’ (Robin Rimbaud). Robin Fencott’s rectable device for real-time creation of versions of Scambi was also available for use. This was an all-day even and open to members of the public as well as students, teachers etc. Entrance was free.

Technology and Musical Thought – 13th December, 2011

Institute of Musical Research, Senate House, University of London

This symposium extended Dr Dack’s concentration on Scambi for the DREAM project by investigating the broader area of how technology influences musical thought. The symposium was chaired by Dr Dack. Six speakers were invited:

Dr. Craig Ayrey (Goldsmiths College, University of London) – analyst, musicologist.

Prof. Clarence Barlow (University of California, Santa Barbara) – composer.

Prof. Marc Battier (Université Paris-Sorbonne) – musicologist.

Prof. Pascal Decroupet (Université de Nice) – musicologist.

Prof. Elena Ungeheuer (Universität Würzburg) – musicologist.

Dr. John Young (De Montfort University) – electroacoustic composer.

This event was open to the public and admission (and lunch) was free. Participants were invited to use Robin Fencott’s reactable to explore the real-time creation of versions of Scambi.