lamberto coccioli

on music and beauty

Tag: Integra project

Seminar on live electronics at the Royal Academy of Music

Philip Cashian, Head of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music, kindly invited me to give a seminar to the students of his department. The title I chose for the talk today was “A new approach to composing music with live electronics”. I gave an overview of live electronics in practice, and the challenges and frustration that often accompany performances involving technology. Referring to my experience with Luciano Berio’s musical actions with live electronics (Outis, Cronaca del Luogo), I remarked on the sad absence of these seminal works from the repertoire today and outlined the challenged posed by technology in performing works created only 15-20 years ago. I went on presenting the philosophy of the Integra project and its role in developing the Integra Live software, with the intention to address the caducity and unfriendliness of live electronic systems developed using programming languages like Max.

Showing Integra Live in action I was able to demonstrate how the software and its different views tried to mimic the creative process and the workflow of a composer. From an initial exploratory, imaginative phase (Module View), to a more structured stage where events start being organised in time (Arrange View), to a rehearsal and finally performance phase (Live View), where things are fixed and the most important thing is reliability and control of every relevant aspect of the performance.

I hope I conveyed to the students my salient point: always ask yourself why you should use technology, and if you do, make sure it is borne out of your musical ideas, and is an integral part of your musical thinking. I enjoyed very much the interaction with them, they were curious and lively, and asked interesting questions, among others, about the future of Integra Live in a hypothetical post-coding world, and – this one more technical – about using MIDI notes to control partials in the various spectral modules of the software, highlighting the need for a built-in MIDI note to frequency converter in all spectral modules. At the end of the seminar Philip took a straw poll among the students and the overwhelming majority voted in favour of trying Integra Live in their own music. Not bad!

Visit to Graz

Two days in Graz, the second town in Austria, to meet Gerhard Eckel, who works as a research professor at IEM, the Institut für Elektronische Musik und Akustik at the Kunst Universität, and discuss their participation to the Integra project. We seemed to understand each other very well, and our conversations progressed with – I should hope – mutual pleasure. Gerhard is the perfect host: apart from introducing me to IEM’s facilities and illustrating all the activities taking place there, on the night of my arrival he invited me to Iohan, a trendy restaurant in the centre of the city with a very original, minimal decor and fantastic Austrian/International cuisine.

I’m looking forward to Gerhard’s contribution to Integra, as I am sure that he will bring a very sharp and personal angle to the project. We will probably meet again at the end of May, in occasion of the Integra scientific group meeting in Belfast.

Organised Sound article

Modernising musical works involving Yamaha DX-based synthesis: a case study

This article written in collaboration with Jamie Bullock has been published on Organised Sound, issue no. 5 2006.

We describe a new approach to performing musical works that use Yamaha DX7-based synthesis. We also present an implementation of this approach in a performance system for Madonna of Winter and Spring by Jonathan Harvey. The Integra Project, “A European Composition and Performance Environment for Sharing Live Music Technologies” (a three year co-operation agreement part financed by the European Commission, ref. 2005-849), is introduced as framework for reducing the difficulties with modernising and preserving works that use live electronics.

Download the Organised Sound article.

Lettre ouverte à Yann Orlarey

[in French] A letter I sent in November 2004 to Yann Orlarey, Scientific Director of GRAME in Lyon, France. The letter was in response to Yann’s decision not to participate in the Integra project. The text of Yann’s letter I was replying to is at the bottom of the post.

* * *

Cher Yann,

D’abord merci beaucoup pour tes commentaires si détaillés, et je te prie de m’excuser si je n’ai pas répondu avant, mais j’ai eu une semaine assez terrible, et je voulais dédier à ma réponse le temps nécessaire.

J’ai beaucoup de respect pour tes opinions sur le projet, et bien sûr, je partage avec toi certaines de tes réflexions plus générales sur la musique et les technologies. Mon point de vue, si tu veux, cherche à trouver un compromis entre la liberté de la création et la nécessité de la diffusion. Je suis – en tant que compositeur – prêt à céder une partie de ma liberté si j’obtiens par là une diffusion plus grande de mon œuvre. Si la diffusion est presque inexistante, comme il en est le cas pour la musique avec dispositif électronique, mes raisons deviennent d’autant plus pressantes.

Je pense toujours à la technologie « live electronics » comme à quelque chose qui appartient à la musique, qui est engendrée par la musique (conceptuellement avant de l’être dans la pratique), et qui suit les mêmes lois qui gouvernent la communication entre musiciens et publique. Dans ce contexte, les limitations n’ont jamais posé d’obstacles véritables à la création musicale. Au contraire, dans l’histoire de la musique il y a beaucoup d’exemples où les contraintes ont eu l’effet de stimuler et concentrer la créativité des compositeurs. Les instruments de musique utilisés dans nos concerts sont eux-mêmes des « standards » assez limités, mais qui assurent la transmission d’un message extrêmement complexe et diversifié.

Le vrai problème de la technologie aujourd’hui – et il s’agit d’un problème philosophique et esthétique avant que pratique – consiste en ses possibilités illimitées et auto-fécondantes, qui dépassent largement notre contrôle et notre capacité d’interprétation. Laissée à soi-même, la technologie n’a aucun sens. C’est pour ça que je ne vois pas comme un attentat à la liberté des créateurs si on essaie de limiter la technologie pour la reconduire à une dimension simplifiée, voire plus humaine, comme si c’était un instrument qu’il faut apprendre à jouer comme les autres.

Je sais très bien que mes considérations risquent d’être utopiques. Mais il faut bien que l’on commence à réfléchir sérieusement sur ces thèmes dans notre coin – d’autant que la simplification de la technologie est en train de devenir une notion de plus en plus importante dans d’autres branches de l’informatique appliquée.

Je suis tout à fait d’accord avec toi sur la standardisation : on ne peut pas l’imposer. Mais si assez de professionnels adoptent un « standard », il y a des chances que petit à petit ce standard prenne pied, surtout si le résultat est une diffusion plus grande des œuvres. C’est pour ça que si Integra sera financé il faudra partager les activités et les résultats avec le plus grand nombre d’institutions et musiciens.

Tu as parfaitement raison sur les coûts de développement, surtout pour réaliser la simplicité dont on parle: notre démarche est peut-être trop optimiste. J’espère pourtant que, sur la période de trois ans, on arrivera au moins à jeter les fondations d’un travail plus long à terminer.

C’est dommage que Grame ne veuille pas participer à Integra. C’est toujours mieux quand on a des opinions différentes au sein du même projet, et l’on va perdre l’occasion de nous confronter à fond sur des thèmes qui nous passionnent! J’imagine que tu seras assez occupé après le voyage en Chine, mais si tu as le temps de continuer ce dialogue à distance, j’en serais reconnaissant!

Bien à toi

Lamberto

_________________________

Cher Lamberto,

De retour de Chine, je voudrais clarifier la position de Grame concernant la partie scientifique du projet INTEGRA.

Tout d’abord et comme j’ai eu l’occasion de te le dire au téléphone la question posée par le projet : production, diffusion, patrimoine, perennité des oeuvres avec electronique et informatique est très importante et nous intéresse donc directement. Par contre nous avons beaucoup de réserves concernant la solution proposée à savoir : le développement d’outils standards et faciles d’accès, etc. Je me permets donc de te livrer quelques réflexions qui recouvrent sans doute les tiennes en grande partie.

1/ Simplicité : Bien entendu tout concepteur souhaite que ces outils soient les plus faciles à utiliser. Malheureusement la simplicité et la facilité d’utilisation n’est pas une qualité que l’on décrète comme la couleur ou la taille d’un objet. Les outils commencent bien souvent par être compliqués et il faut énormément de travail (et donc de moyens de développement) pour les rendre éventuellement un peu plus simples.

2/ Standardisation : on ne peut pas décréter de standard tout seul. On peut essayer de définir un standard en réunissant un nombre suffisant de partenaires influents, mais sans aucune garanties. Dans le domaine des nouvelles technologies les exemples d’excellents standards qui n’ont pas reussi à s’imposer sont nombreux. A l’inverse des solutions mauvaises ont réussis parfois à devenir des standards.

3/ Standardisation (bis) : La démarche de création s’accommode très mal d’outils standards. On est bien souvent dans le bricolage, la nouveauté, le prototype. La création est un domaine où tous les moyens sont bons et ou il ne peut y avoir de restrictions de moyens. Il me parait donc illusoire d’essayer d’imposer une restriction à des outils standards.

4/ Développement : le développement de nouveaux outils est très coûteux notamment en termes de mois/hommes. Ce n’est probablement pas le rôle d’un projet culture 2000 qui n’en aura, en outre, absolument pas les moyens.

En résumé, ce volet du projet est trop ambitieux pour des moyens trop limités. Nous ne voulons donc pas nous engager pour un objectif dont nous pensons qu’il ne pourra pas être atteint, et ce d’autant plus que cela ne nous parait pas être le bon objectif !

Alors quel doit être l’objectif ? A mon avis il faut profiter de ce projet et du consortium (très intéressant) pour réfléchir, tous ensemble, à la question posée, pour faire un état des lieux précis et exhaustif des problèmes que pose la circulation, la diffusion et la conservation des oeuvres avec dispositif. Et pour faire cela de manière efficace et utile, il faut éviter soigneusement la question de la création des oeuvres et des outils de créations. En d’autres termes il faut supposer l’oeuvre créée, faisant appel à toutes sortes de moyens, d’outils et de bricolages non standards, et à partir de là définir une démarche et des stratégies (voir des outils, mais qui ne seront pas des outils de création) visant à la rendre pérenne et facilement diffusable.

Toute autre démarche me parait utopique, mais bien entendu je suis à ta disposition pour qu’on en discute et nuancer les choses.

Très cordialement

Yann

Integra, a novel approach to music with live electronics

Anders Beyer invited me to write an article on the Integra project for Nordic Sounds. Here it is. Read on or download the magazine issue.

Integra, a novel approach to music with live electronics

A desire to empower composers and performers to work with live electronics technology in a musical and user-friendly way is at the heart of the Integra project, an international collaboration of research centres and new music ensembles supported by the European Commission. Thanks to a programme of interrelated activities along the three main axes of research, creation and dissemination, Integra seeks to initiate a widespread change of perception towards technology among all the professional actors involved in contemporary music creation and diffusion in Europe.

Integra started taking shape during many long and inspired telephone conversations that I had with Luca Francesconi, the renowned Italian composer and professor of composition at the Malmö Academy of Music, in September 2004. Luca must also be credited for the project name – Integra – a simple and powerful way to remind us of our real focus: the integration of artistic and scientific elements in the creation and performance of music with technology. After agreeing on the project structure and strategy, Richard Shrewsbury (formerly project administrator of Connect, another large European music project) and myself started to establish a network of partner institutions and we completed the final application in October 2004.

While drafting the project, we set out to find concrete answers to pragmatic issues. Inevitably, we ended up making strong assumptions on the philosophical and aesthetic implications of technology in music. The fundamental issue with technology lies in its unlimited potential and its self-replicating nature: technology is inherently meaningless. If we are going to use it in music we will have to ask ourselves some hard questions. Why do we need it? How can it be musical? How can it be controlled?

In order to be harnessed, technology should be brought back to a human dimension, and considered just like another musical instrument – a polymorphous one, to be sure, but still an instrument – that we can learn and play. To achieve this, Integra aims to simplify live electronics technology, and to establish a standard vocabulary to describe it. The word “standard” is often disliked, but we should not forget that the musical instruments employed in our concerts are themselves “standard”, in fact quite limited ones: nevertheless, they allow the transmission of an extremely complex and diversified musical message.

Integra is not alone in this effort towards more user-friendly technology, although it is only recently that usability, good interface design and a preoccupation for how humans interact with machines have started to appear in technology products. Sadly, as far as the history of music technology is concerned, we are still living in the colonisation phase. I like to compare our current experience with the Wild West: new territories are conquered every day, there are no common laws, survival depends from individual initiative. And we are all still digging in search of that elusive gold mine. This explains the proliferation of do-it-yourself systems over the past three decades, when each work, even by the same composer, required a different technological setup (hardware, software, or both). The often-poor documentation of the electronic parts and the rapid obsolescence of the original hardware and software have prevented the adoption of a core repertoire of works using live electronics in mainstream concert programmes.

True to its name, Integra brings together research centres (the scientific group) and new music ensembles (the artistic group): two often-different worlds, with different agendas and priorities, will share their experience and work together. This is possibly the single most important aspect of Integra: all the activities of the project are designed to allow the findings of the scientific group to feed back into the events organised by the artistic group, and vice-versa.


Research

The research activities will cover two main areas: the modernisation of works that use obsolete technology, and the development of a new software-based environment for the composition and performance of music with live electronics.

These two activities are closely related: during the first year of the project the research centres will transfer the technology of around thirty works, chosen together with the artistic ensembles for their musical and historical relevance. The transferred music will include works by Gérard Grisey, Jonathan Harvey, Tristan Murail and Arne Nordheim among the others. This migration process will mainly consist in adopting standard software-based solutions in order to emulate faithfully the original set up and overcome the inherent problems of accessing and maintaining old equipment. Most of the migrated works will quickly find a place in the repertoire of the artistic members of the project, and, it is hoped, of many other contemporary music ensembles around the world.

The knowledge and experience acquired in this vast migration exercise will be used as one of the two starting points for the development of the Integra environment, the other being the feedback from the ten composers that will receive the Integra commissions. By combining the lesson of the tradition with the requirements of contemporary creation, we ensure that the Integra environment will be flexible and robust, spanning an ideal bridge between past and present technology.

Usability and sustainability are the key words here. The Integra environment will be easy to use, and first and foremost a musical tool for composing and performing with electronics; it will also define a new vocabulary to represent electronic events in a standard, software and platform-independent way to ensure their long-term maintenance and survival. More in detail, the environment will be composed of four distinct elements:
1. Database – The back-end of the environment, a standard online database to store modules, performance data and documentation, initially for each transferred and commissioned work.
2. Namespace – An OSC-compliant (Open Sound Control) Integra XML namespace to represent and share all live electronics data among the various elements of the Integra environment.
3. Interface – The front-end of the environment, an intelligent graphic user interface designed around the needs of musicians and for maximum ease of use.
4. Engine – the actual DSP engine of the environment, an extended collection of analysis, synthesis, processing and control software tools.

The concept underlying our modular approach is the representation of the audio network, the control network and their behaviour over time independently from a specific implementation. In other words, we propose a higher level description of live electronics that can stay the same while technology changes.


Creation

Ten European composers will receive Integra commissions, with each new music ensemble commissioning two composers from other European countries. The recipients of the first five commissions are Malin Bång (Sweden), Natasha Barrett (UK/Norway), Andrea Cera (Italy), Tansy Davies (UK) and Juste Janulyte (Lithuania). These five composers will be writing for small chamber ensemble (from three to five players) and live electronics. The works will be premiered between January and September 2007.

The second set of commissions, for large ensemble and live electronics, will be announced at the end of November 2006. The creations of these works will happen between January and July 2008. Mixed-media interaction will be encouraged, as well as site-specific performance events.

Integra will retain exclusive rights on the performance of the commissioned works for three years after the creation, thus enabling every ensemble to perform all the works commissioned by the other ensembles.
Each composer and the performers involved in the piece will be working with a research centre in producing the electronics. This collaboration, extended over a period of two visits (four for the larger works), will allow the composer to work with the tools being developed for the Integra environment. The feedback from the composers will be used to help design tools that are intuitive, powerful, and above all musical.


Dissemination

The success of the Integra environment will be measured by its public support and widespread adoption by composers and performers in Europe and around the world. We aim to build a community of musicians and researchers to look after Integra once it arrives the end of its official life in September 2008. To achieve this ambitious goal we are devoting a considerable effort to create a network of institutions and individual contacts. We are also keen to establish links with ongoing projects in related areas (digital content preservation and storage, Human-Computer Interaction, etc.), promoting standards and ensuring interoperability between Integra and other related applications.

In rough numbers, during the life of the project we will be delivering: thirty individual training sessions on live electronics technology for the commissioned composers (each lasting three days), and forty individual training sessions for the performers of the new music ensembles (some of these sessions will overlap, to allow composers and performers to work together on the commissioned works); a minimum of fifteen concerts and performance events, featuring the commissioned works and many transferred works from the existing repertoire.

We will run open workshops before the concerts for local musicians and composers and produce an innovative DVD on the project documenting the Integra activities and presenting the Integra environment through practical demos. The DVD will be distributed to all new music actors in Europe. We hope that the Integra environment will become a de facto standard for the preservation, composition and performance of music with live electronics. If the project will be successful, the repertoire of European contemporary music ensembles will grow accordingly and performances of music with live electronics will become more frequent, while forgotten works using obsolete technology will become again active agents in our musical life. Integra will also contribute to the creation of a new breed of highly mobile professional musicians: empowered by light, accessible and reliable technology, they will be able to travel and perform around Europe with their expanded repertoire, helping to bring down the barriers that still today prevent many musicians from using technology in the first place.


Fact Box

Integra – A European Composition and Performance Environment for Sharing Live Music Technologies is a €1,035,048, 3-year cooperation agreement part financed by the European Commission through the 2005 call of the Culture 2000 programme [ref 2005-849]. Started in September 2005, Integra is led by UCE Birmingham Conservatoire in the United Kingdom. The project partners are:

New Music Ensembles

Ensemble Ars Nova, Malmö
Athelas Sinfonietta, Copenhagen (co-organiser)
Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, Birmingham
BIT20 Ensemble, Bergen (co-organiser)
Court-circuit, Paris (co-organiser)

Research Centres
CIRMMT, McGill University, Montreal
Krakow Academy of Music, Krakow
La Kitchen, Paris
Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre, Vilnius
Malmö Academy of Music, Malmö (co-organiser)
NOTAM, Oslo
SARC, Queen’s University, Belfast

Association of European Conservatoires

The composers commissioned so far are:
Malin Bång, Sweden (Athelas Sinfonietta)
Natasha Barrett, Norway (Ensemble Ars Nova)
Andrea Cera, Italy (Court-circuit)
Tansy Davies, United Kingdom (BIT20 Ensemble)
Juste Janulyte, Lithuania (Birmingham Contemporary Music Group)

www.integralive.org

Lamberto Coccioli, an Italian composer currently working as Head of Music Technology at Birmingham Conservatoire, is Integra’s Project Manager.

Ensemble Network Meeting in Copenhagen

I have been invited by Anders Beyer from Athelas Sinfonietta and Stein Henrichsen from BIT20 Ensemble to present the Integra project to the first meeting of the Ensemble Network, a network of new music ensembles in Europe. The first aim of the meeting was to establish if the setup of such a network was a good idea, and everyone agreed to it.

Among the participants I was delighted to see again Filippo Del Corno after many years. Filippo and I studied both in the same composition class at Milan’s Conservatoire, and share many musical memories… Filippo came as artistic director of Sentieri Selvaggi, an Italian new music ensemble representing an unusual success story in the often dire landscape of contemporary music promotion and performance in Italy.

Highlight: Bent Sørensen talking about the responsibilities of the ensembles: they risk becoming too institutionalized, like symphony orchestras. Innovation and flexibility are the key concepts here: innovation in the presentation of new music, flexibility in the instrumentation, to avoid the “sinfonietta” curse, with hundred of works written for the same instrumental setup and all sounding quite the same.

I met lots of very nice people, and many of them spoke Italian. It is amazing how many musicians from Nordic countries know how to speak Italian! Flattering, really.

Integra

I’m currently managing this exciting project, with great partners and even greater ambitions! Integra – A European composition and performance environment for sharing live music technologies is a €1,035,048, 3-year cooperation agreement part financed by the European Commission through the 2005 call of the Culture 2000 programme [ref 2005-849]. Started in September 2005, Integra is led by UCE Birmingham Conservatoire and the project partners are:

New Music Ensembles
Ensemble Ars Nova, Sweden
Athelas Sinfonietta, Denmark (co-organiser)
Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, United Kingdom
BIT20 Ensemble, Norway (co-organiser)
Court-circuit, France (co-organiser)

Research Centres
CIRMMT, McGill University, Canada
Krakow Academy of Music, Poland
La Kitchen, France
Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre, Lithuania
Malmö Academy of Music, Sweden (co-organiser)
NOTAM, Norway
SARC, Northern Ireland, UK

Association of European Conservatoires, The Netherlands

The composers commissioned so far are:
Malin Bång, Sweden (Athelas Sinfonietta)
Natasha Barrett, Norway (Ensemble Ars Nova)
Andrea Cera, Italy (Court-circuit)
Tansy Davies, United Kingdom (BIT20 Ensemble)
Juste Janulyte, Lithuania (Birmingham Contemporary Music Group)

This is the Integra team at Birmingham Conservatoire:
Lamberto Coccioli, project manager
Richard Shrewsbury, project administrator
Jamie Bullock, technical administrator
Jeanette Davey, finance administrator

Integra project website

Interview on Integra

I have been interviewed on the Integra project by John Robert Brown. The article was published on the February 2006 issue of Classical Music, a UK magazine. You can read it online.

Modernising live electronics in Harvey’s works

Together with Jamie Bullock we have started this ambitious project in 2004. Collaborating with Jonathan Harvey, we are modernising live electronics in his works that make use of obsolete technologies, to ensure their long-term preservation and allow for future performances. The modernisation usually involves moving from a hardware-dependent electronics set-up to a software based one, using as much as possible standard, open source tools.

The aims of this project are very close to those of the Integra project. Indeed, we are porting to the Integra environment two of Harvey’s works – Madonna of Winter and Spring and Wheel of Emptiness as part of the repertoire migration activities of the project. We intend to carry out the porting of the electronics of other works by Jonathan outside the Integra project, as part of the Conservatoire’s research activities. Although the modernisation is not advancing as fast as we would like to – due to time constraints and the need to harmonise this project with other research efforts at the Conservatoire – we have been able to achieve some very interesting results.

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