George Caird, Principal of Birmingham Conservatoire, interviewed me for the Fanfare magazine in 2001.
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Composer and Music Technologist, Lamberto Coccioli came to the Conservatoire in September 2000 to take up the newly created post of Head of Music Technology. George Caird spoke to him about Music Technology and his particular interest in new technologies applied to music performance.
GC With our diaries the way they are, interviewing for an article in Fanfare will be a very good way of catching up with you on all that is going on in the Music Technology Department. I suppose the first and most obvious question is: why did you decide to come and work in England?
LC The main reason was that the new Head of Music Technology post here offered the chance to do something “from scratch”. My experience is that it is much harder to undo habits and established ways of going about things and it seemed possible at the Conservatoire to move forward very quickly. I was also interested in the artistic possibilities for Music Technology which you seemed so open toward.
GC And we were very interested in this approach too. You are a composer who also has become expert in music technology. For you, what is music technology?
LC The expression “music technology” covers a vast range of interrelated disciplines. My specific approach to technology is to look at it from a performer’s point of view. We need to consider technology just like another instrument – albeit a very multi-faceted and complex one – and learn how to play it. It is a powerful tool for composers and performers alike. Technology can amplify and project musical ideas and gestures. Technology can help expand and unmask what is latent in the music. But musical ideas should always remain the starting point of any technological process applied to them.
GC For many of us, Music Technology can be a confusing term. The explanation you have just given does not include recording technology for example.
LC That’s right. As I said, Music Technology is a byword for many things and covers recording and production, live sound, music for traditional and new media, and many other areas of application. We are covering all of these areas within the department , with a specific emphasis on technology in performance.
GC When you came to the Conservatoire, our facilities were not very advanced. Since then, we have invested quite a lot in new facilities for your department.
LC I’m very pleased with the consistent and generous support for the department. We now have an iMac lab with 8 fully equipped music workstations running the latest software, 2 editing suites, one for audio-visual projects, and three recording studios: we have completely renovated the recording studio for the Adrian Boult Hall and we are now building a new digital studio for DVD authoring and surround sound in addition to the existing recording studio in the Ground Floor Extension. Both these studios will feature state-of-the-art ProTools HD3 systems and the new Yamaha DM2000 and 02R/96 digital mixing desks.
GC What about staffing?
LC We have also been lucky to appoint Simon Hall as Assistant Head of Music Technology. Simon is Course Director for the new BSc joint course in Music Technology which we are running with UCE’s Engineering Faculty at the Technology Innovation Centre. He is a composer and contributes to our work on performance with technology. Matthew O’Malley, our studio manager, is himself an accomplished musician and ensures the smooth running of our facilities.
GC Tell me something about the creative work which the department is doing.
LC We are working with the Conservatoire’s composition students using live electronics. Some of our students, notably James Hoult, David Denholm, Liz Johnson, Chris McClelland, have taken to this medium with great imagination and new works have been performed on a number of occasions over the past two years.
In addition, some instrumentalists and singers have shown interest in this kind of work. Pianists Laure Pinsmail and Katharine Lam have performed with live electronics in the past year and soprano Sarah Busfield’s performance of Jonathan Harvey’s From Silence with the composer in attendance was a memorable highlight this year.
GC What are your artistic aims for this area of performance?
LC To perform important works by leading composers like Harvey, Boulez, Nono, Reich, Francesconi, etc., in order to establish a continuity between existing repertoire and new works. I want to promote the use of technology in performance to convince artistic directors and conservatoires that this is an important, growing area of creativity. My dream is to establish here a Centre for Performance and Technology, a place where students and professionals can work together.
GC Of course, you are primarily a composer and you worked for many years with Luciano Berio. Are you finding time for composition and what are you working on?
LC I am writing but I certainly need more time! After my experience with Magma I’m planning to write another operatic work with new technologies. Magma involved amplified actors, singers, and orchestra, live electronics and real-time video manipulation. It explored musical gesture and ritual structures, using technology as a means of revealing hidden archetypes. I am interested in how technology can add layers of meaning to the music, “extracting” meaning from a kernel.
GC What other works have you written recently?
LC I’m working on an orchestral piece based on recordings I made of Indian songs and natural sounds from the Orinoco basin in Colombia. Here I analysed the harmonic spectrum of the sounds and then used them to create with the orchestra a sort of “blurred photograph” of the original soundscape, filtering sounds into a complex score. Last year I have also finished river teach me, a work for soprano and string quartet on a text by the late Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert, performed recently by the Thallein Ensemble in the Conservatoire.
GC What would you like the Conservatoire to do in response to your ideas on new music?
LC To be more aware of what is going on creatively. To move towards more varied creative ensembles and away from the conventions involving larger orchestras. I would like to see us involved in more cross-faculty and cross-arts work with new media and interdisciplinary creativity, especially with BIAD. We will be showing some possibilities at next year’s Music Xtra Festival in March.
GC I agree that we must look at the potential in all these ideas. It is very exciting to see the Conservatoire responding to the possibilities created by you and your department. Lastly, you are a fine musician and an expert in Music Technology. You also speak four languages fluently and you and Gloria just had a third child…how do you manage so much?
LC Of course I have been lucky to grow up in the center of Europe where speaking more than one language is common. But I am interested in the power of possibilities, in lateral thinking and in taking opportunities as they arise. All these things bring new cultures and enrichment to us all.