Music Tech Fest London - Day 2

The second day of Music Tech Fest 2014 kicked off in true hybrid style, and featured exciting collaboration, innovation and experimentation.


Tech, Sound Art

Bergersen String Quartet and the Brainwave Quartet Andrew Dubber

Bergersen String quartet and the Brainwave Quartet

We were treated to a collaboration between the Bergersen String Quartet and the Brainwave Quartet with Eduardo Miranda. Comprising of four people hooked up to EEG scanners, a number of musical scores were chosen depending on the brain activity of the wearers. This was then played by the traditional string quartet seated opposite them. The end result was a haunting combination of melody and dissonance, which was at times slightly unsettling but resolved to great beauty. As the piece progressed, we couldn’t help but wonder who was playing who as the brain patterns of the Brainwave quartet responded to the playing of the strings.

Intelligentsia - duet with wearable technology

Intelligentsia followed on the theme of combining traditional music with technology. A duet between an opera singer and a musician with wearable technology and drum pads, this was a futuristic and traditional convergence of cyberpunk, electro and opera. A series of lights worn across the two performers were synchronised to the songs, turning their piece into an interactive live show. We were particularly impressed with the body drum and the bodysuit.

Intelligentsia Music Tech Fest

Neoscores - paperless sheet music

Another meeting of old and new, Neoscores are a company that create paperless sheet music. Looking to be the ‘iTunes for sheet music’ they have created Java based scores, meaning they can be automatically sized to any screen. In addition, users can highlight, annotate and share their scores with others. This looks like a nice refresh on an old concept; many musicians now use iPads but there is still a lack of reliable standardised software out there. To demonstrate, the Bergensen Quartet came back to play a beautiful rendition of Robert Schumann’s 3rd String Quartet.

Gaynor O’Flynn - brainwaves and light performance

Artist Gaynor O’Flynn was exploring the link between technology and our minds, particularly when in a state of meditation or relaxation. Curating the Kathmandu international art festival, she has worked with many experts in the field of meditation. In her latest piece, she measured her brainwaves whilst performing and meditating and translated them to a visual representation of circles of light in reaction to her mood. Nick Rothwell created the visuals interface.

Gaynor O’Flynn’s brainwaves Music Tech Fest

Gaynor demonstrated this marvellously with the Bergersen String Quartet as they played a piece that ranged from experimental, non-traditional noise playing to calming and smooth classical material. We were able to watch on the monitors as the circles of light slowed and calmed with her state of mind, and became jagged and frenetic as the music shifted.

Gaynor O’Flynn with the Bergersen Quartet Music Tech Fest

Melomics - computer compositions

Moving beyond the convergence of music and technology to music that is made by technology, we were given a fascinating insight into the future from Francisco Vico at Melomics. Comparing the underlying compositional information in a piece of music to the genetic code that decides the nature of an organism, they were able to build a computer that composed music entirely on its own, free from any human intervention. It is able to create compositions in its own style, or develop on a theme of a piece of music. As the genome of an organism develops and grows from one generation to the next, so does the piece of music.

They have built the Iamus computer to do this, and its compositions have been performed by the London Symphony Orchestra. It is also behind the first complete album ever to be entirely composed by a computer. Further than just a novelty concept, this has wide ranging implications not just on a philosophical level, but also practical applications. One such is the use of ‘empathetic players’ in music therapy- music that measures the response from its listener and that adapts to their needs in real time.

LSO projects and Play interface

The amazing space in which Music Tech Fest was being held is in fact the headquarters of the London Symphony Orchestra’s community and music education programme, LSO Discovery. LSO St Luke’s is an 18th-century Grade 1 listed Hawskmoor church and has been restored to become the modern and sophisticated venue the festival was being held in.

It seemed only fitting that we heard about some of the projects that the LSO has been getting up to, particularly LSO Play and LSO Soundhub. An immersive and wide-ranging media experience, LSO Play came out of a live video recording of a performance of Ravel’s Bolero at the Barbican. Rather than an edited version, the organisation has created an interface in which you can experience the performance in an uncurated form, choosing which camera angle and aspect of the orchestra to focus on. This becomes a very exciting educational tool, allowing you to for example focus in detail on the composer for the whole fifteen minutes of the piece, something which was just not possible with an edited video. In addition, there are media visualisations, masterclasses from players and guides to the composers, as well as teacher’s packs, creating a much richer experience.

LSO Soundhub however, represents a community of composers across all genres. By offering industry seminars, recording studios and even performers from the LSO itself as well as performance space, the organisation seeks to support and develop new talent.

Harkive - music listening research

Harkive is a long term study into music listening habits, created by Craig Hamilton at Birmingham City University. As an online crowd-sourced method to collect stories from people on how they listen to and talk about music, it operates on a single day each year. People tweet using a hashtag about their experiences, and these are then collected to be studied as part of a larger analysis. This is the second year that the project has run, and was a success – it was the largest trending music item on twitter on the day that it was happening. The data is available to anyone who would like to interpret it, and some of the insights gleaned are very interesting- such as the realisation that people often choose an inferior technology over an available superior one. This is most apparent in the use of old analogue radios in the kitchen, even when a mobile smartphone is more than capable of providing radio. We were also introduced to the concept of ‘Liquid Modernity’ in which technology trends change before we have a chance to form habits around them. The study will continue to run in the coming years, and should provide a fascinating archive to track some of these kinds of changes.

Craig Hamilton from Harkive Music Tech Fest

Sound & Music - new projects

Sound & Music is a national agency for new music and sound. From their headquarters in Somerset House they support and incubate a number of projects across a broad range of styles of music. We were introduced to two of their recent projects.

‘Late London: Sonic City’ is an event to launch Scanner’s new sound installation inspired by the Museum of London Docklands exhibition ‘Bridge’. Consisting of an immersive river of voices, created from readings of moments related to the bridges of London, the polyphony of voices practically envelops you as you listen.

‘Living Symphonies’ was an ambitious installation piece by James Bulley and Daniel Jones, set in a number of forest locations around England in the summer of 2014. With help from the Forestry Commision, they have created an ecosystem generated symphony, where minute details of the forest are tracked and then transformed into sound. These sounds are then played back into the forest using a number of discretely placed speakers, resulting in a forest that comes alive with sound; the very trees are given a voice!

Metable - expanding music recording data

Up until now, music recording metadata has been mostly limited to Artist, Name of piece and genre from a possible list of twelve. Tom Allen from Metable is looking to change that. By simplifying catalogue management, they aim to provide a much richer set of data about the recordings. They have recently partnered with the British Library who aim to catalogue everything released, and are expanding metadata to include many more details about performers, recording dates and original releases which is not only useful from a academic perspective, but also is vital for royalty collection agencies such as PPL, especially in more musician intensive fields such as classical music.

Andrew Faraday - collaborative instrument

Andrew Faraday is a web developer who last year had created a project that took text from twitter and converted it via a piece of his software to music. Building on this idea, he devised a way of turning numbers into musical sounds, and made a collaborative instrument that allowed many people to make music together via a web protocol.

Instructions on how to connect to the music-over-internet protocol Music Tech Fest

To demonstrate this, we were asked to log on to an IP address in the concert hall, and were able to play a keyboard that was on our screens. This then created a symphony created entirely by the audience members in attendance! Whilst the end result was somewhat of a cacophony, the concept worked perfectly and was a fascinating insight into the possibility of real-time remote collaborations.

The instrument each audience member had on their screen as they played together Music Tech Fest

Fiona Soe Paing and Zennor Alexander - ‘Tower of Babel’

Fiona Soe Paing is an electronic musician and vocalist, who collaborates with animator Zennor Alexander. As someone who is half Scottish and Burmese, she explained to us that she was seeking to recapture some of her roots, particularly linguistic, and as part of her new work ‘Tower of Babel’, has created a made-up language to sing in. Consisting of parts of Burmese as well as Scottish dialect mixed with English, alongside an inventive font from Alexander, she really experiments with the musical feel and sonic texture of words. We were treated to a couple of excerpts from her music which were accompanied by amazing worldscape animations.

Opera projects and 3D printing

We were introduced to a number of projects coming out of Finland and Germany including a 3D printed ocarina where the dimensions conform to prime number sequences and a mobile opera called Omnivore in which short musical pieces are made specifically with mobile phone viewing in mind.

The You are Here project seeks to combine opera with the media of the future. Their aim was to create an abstraction of an opera house by connecting interior spaces in Glyndebourne to exterior spaces outside the opera houses in Berlin. Six artworks with QR codes hang around the building in Glyndebourne and when activated, connect with videos of musicians performing in Berlin.