The following are some thoughts on the 2011 Berlin trip from Electronic Production major, and recent Berklee graduate, Matthew Hines.


I recently returned from Berlin, as a member of a trip organized through Berklee’s Electronica Club, led by Electronic Production and Design Professor Michael Bierylo, otherwise known as eMBee.

During the 10 days that my peers and I were there, we experienced a city rich with historical significance and perhaps more importantly to our trip, a culture that embodied the very heart of all things electronica.

In addition to the Club Transmediale (CTM) and the Transmediale (TM) festivals, that were a huge motivating factor in attending the trip, we also visited Ableton and Native Instruments headquarters, reconnected with Berklee alumni and performed several times, went boutique vinyl shopping and also spent many hours in Schneider’s Buero – which is to synthesizers what Bodega Boston is to sneakers.

Phew! 

Still, one thing at a time…

Berklee EP/D major Matt Hines making beats on the plane.

The CTM/TM festival was a varied affair, consisting (in the day) of audio/visual installations, exhibitions of technological advances and many unique performances and lectures. The Braun Tube Jazz band was a particular favorite for some, but for others it was also the opportunity to hear such luminaries as Morten Subotnick speak and perform. The highlight of the day however, was the sensational Recombinant Media Lab – a 360 degree, 8.10 surround sound video display system, for which audio/visual works had to be specifically composed. Robert Henke, an Ableton Live founder who visited Berklee in the Fall ’10, stole the show as his alter ego ‘Monolake’ in conjunction with the video artist Tarik Barri.

The evening was when the music began in earnest, and once it had begun, it never stopped. We soon learned that in Berlin, a venue might start the music at 9pm on a Friday and remain open until 9pm on a Sunday. There seemed to be an insatiable appetite for top quality electronic music, (which by the way, is like almost nothing that we have here in the USA), so much so that the clubs would remain full for almost 48 hours straight. The performers were truly diverse, traveling from as far as the USA and Japan to be in Berlin.

To be immersed in an environment in which our work was no longer a musical niche, but considered to be mainstream by the ordinary person was a liberating experience. Hearing Aphex Twin for instance, in a McDonalds, a store, or a club seemed to be normal for Berlin. This also seemed to be reflected in the incredible amount of street art that adorned almost any extended wall space in the city. Berlin lives, breathes art and music. It wasn’t something I truly appreciated until returning to Boston, incredibly relaxed, inspired and motivated to compose.

That is perhaps why companies such as Ableton Live and Native Instruments originated and are based out of Berlin. To visit their facilities and see first hand how the respective companies work was a valuable educational experience. In each case the Electronica Club got to sit down for 1-2 hours and talk with the programmers, product and sound designers behind the products that we use every day in our work. We also got a sneak peek at what each company has planned for the future.

There certainly wasn’t much sleep to be had all trip, because if we were ever at the hostel we were either making beats or making plans as to what to go and see next. eMBee, aside from being an excellent travel agent, was an excellent tour guide. If at any point we had some time, then we were off around the city to visit various landmarks, such as the Reichstag, the Brandenburg Gate, the Berlin Wall and also some of the more harrowing historical sites, such as the Holocaust Memorial and Museum and the site where the Gestapo HQ used to stand. 

All in all, we came back to Boston with fresh minds and fresh ideas, great contacts in the industry and a greater appreciation and understanding for our art. What is Electronic Music? Go to Berlin, you’ll understand!

 

Since my time in Berlin during a spring 2010 sabbatical, an area of interest for me has been the electronic music and art scene in Europe. This year’s Transmediale/Club Transmediale Festival that took place February 1-6 provided an opportunity to reconnect with some of the sounds, ideas, and people I encountered last year in the city of Berlin. When I originally started planning for travel during the 2010-11 academic year, my idea was to attend the festival on my own. However, when I returned to the classroom in Fall 2010, I found there was significant interest among students in visiting Berlin and attending this festival. By the end of the semester, this turned into a field trip for twelve Berklee students.

The Berlin Radio Tower

In planning the trip I wanted to include activities beyond festival events. Two of the major manufacturers that produce software included in the Electronic Production and Design Department’s major bundle, Native Instruments and Ableton, are headquartered in Berlin. I had contacts at both companies and was able to arrange visits. In addition, I wanted to give the students an opportunity to perform while there, and I, along with Nick Meehan, a Berklee alum working in Berlin, was able to include performances at two clubs for the majority of students on the trip.

We arrived in Berlin a few days before the start of the festival, giving us some time to explore the city over the weekend. The students wasted no time getting to some of the best known dance venues in Berlin, Watergate and Berghain, the evening we arrived, only to find that showing up doesn’t automatically mean getting in. Popular clubs can afford to be picky and control to mix of patrons by choosing who gets in and who doesn’t. Although their enthusiasm was somewhat dampened by this, all were able to return to Berghain later in the week as part of the festival.

Relaxing on the U-Bahn

Saturday was a day to explore Berlin as a group. While the city is rich in cultural tradition, it’s hard to escape the twentieth-century legacy of World War II and the country’s divide, symbolized by the Berlin wall. We visited the Topography of Terror museum, built on the site of the World War II SS and Gestapo headquarters where there was a detailed accounting of the rise and fall of the SS. Visiting the Holocaust Memorial at sunset, while beautiful, was a stark reminder of the atrocities suffered by the European Jews in the Nazi era. The Germans hold back on in dealing with the darker periods of their recent history, and the experience was a moving one for all.

A week of club music started out with stops at a couple of smaller venues in the Kreuzberg area of Berlin, near where we were staying. While the large Berlin dance clubs focus on DJ sets, some of the more interesting electronic music happens in these smaller venues. The evening started out at Madame Claude. The headliner this evening was a solo Jamaican artist from the UK living in Berlin named Infinite Livez. While most live electronic is performed using a laptop computer these days, Livez’s live rig consisted solely of various hardware devices, a drum machine, looper, and effects pedals, all run through a hardware mixer. The set was a tour de force of live looping and structured improvisation over basic song forms. Livez was a very capable singer and performer who was able to seamlessly integrate all of his technology resources into an engaging live set. While the table he set up on looked more like the window of a pawn shop, the tools became transparent once he started playing.

Infinite Livez

Later that evening, most of the group met for a performance by Robert Henke, in a small, intimate setting that was essentially a neighborhood bar. Most of the students had met Robert on his Fall 2010 visit to Berklee. At that time they saw one side of his work as a sound and visual artist, but this was the first time they were able to experience the dance-oriented side that most of his German audience think of as Monolake. This show was one part of a very busy week for Robert that included new audiovisual work for the CTM Cine Chamber series and Tau, a sound field piece at the Berlin Arts University. The set was a combination of classic Monolake, as well as some new material prepared for upcoming 2011 performances, This featured his characteristic polyrhythmic beats and bass-line motifs, as well as more textural sound design elements found in his sound art work. I spoke with Robert afterward and he mentioned that the set was more improvisational than what he would usually attempt, and the that he was going further with live effects processing than in his previous live work. He had abandoned his custom Monodeck controller in favor of a more generic one that fostered flexible mapping to individual effect parameters. This approach affords him a greater ability to shape the sound using realtime control of effects, which was abundantly clear from his performance that evening.

Robert Henke at Cine Chamber Live

On Sunday and Monday we had some free time that gave everyone the opportunity to explore Berlin on their own. I, for one, spent much of this time preparing for my upcoming live gig on Tuesday night, February 1. The venue was Cafe Wendel, where I had previously played during my visit in August 2010. For this performance, I invited a couple of students, Austin Stone and Tyler Randall, collectively known as Phonoride, to play their own set, and for a piece with the three of us. Another student, James Frame, provided live video for all of our sets. While most of the students on the trip knew me as a teacher, none of them had seen me perform as an electronic artist. In preparing for the show, the three of us worked together to prepare the material we would play together. I was very impressed by their ability to work collaboratively with electronic instruments and live video processing. The discussions we had centered more on elements of form and the texture and density of sound than specific keys or motifs.

The Transmediale/Club Transmediale festival got it’s official start the same night as the Cafe Wendel gig, so we missed some of the opening events. However, the keynote presentation and opening concert from American electronic music pioneer Morton Subotnick came the following day. While most of the artists performing at CTM were from Europe, Subotnick’s work is held in high regard and he was honored at this year’s festival. For the concert, Subotnick performed a revised version of his pioneering work from the 1960′s "Silver Apples of the Moon," in collaboration with video artist Lillevan and pianist Soojin Anjou. His main instrument was the Buchla 200e, the same type of modular synthesizer recently acquired by the EP/D department. This was quite a tour de force, demonstrating the instrument’s vast capabilities, including it’s native multichannel architecture, that provided quadraphonic sound diffused throughout the concert hall. The concert was sold out, and not all of the students were able to get tickets, but those who could attend were duly inspired by the work. In a keynote presentation the following day, Tape Recorders, Transistors, and the Credit Card: A Personal History, Subotnick provided a revealing and entertaining view into the early days of electronic music in the US and his development as an artist.

Morton Subotnick speaks.

 

The Transmediale/Club Transmediale festival had events scheduled for both day and evening times, and seeing and hearing everything was impossible. Individual students choose the events that interested them and later shared their experiences with each other. Transmediale was more of an electronic art festival that was housed in a central location in Berlin’s House of World Culture. The highlight is a juried show of installation pieces from around the world, along with a number of workshops and symposia. Many of the pieces offered a reflection on current technologies.
One of these, Mirror Piece, used face recognition technology to scan the faces of willing attendees and match the image with a database of nefarious figures from the twentieth-century. Participants were surprised when their features matched profiles of murders and alcoholic writers, and this pointed out how flawed such a technology could be in identifying potential criminals. Another of these, the Braun Tube Jazz band, used discarded video monitors as playing surfaces for electronic instruments. Despite the name, the music had nothing to do with Jazz as we know it. Most of the students on the trip had never really seen much in the way of media art, and for them, it offered a completely different way to contextualize the ubiquitous technologies that surround them.

Mirror Piece

Most music events at CTM were club nights in various venues in and around Kreuzberg. Again, since multiple venues programed artists each evening, it was impossible to see to see everything. This was a drawback, as there were some though choices to be made throughout the week. I’ll focus on just a couple of events I attended here. Many of the more cutting edge music events took place at Festsaal Kreuzberg, which was more of a concert club about the size and vibe of a House of Blues in the US, than a dance club. The Wednesday night concert featured one of the artists I met during my visit for the 2010 festival. Masayoshi Fujita, known as El Fog, is a vibraphone player who performs with electronics and incorporates a kind of "prepared" vibraphone approach on some pieces. He explores the textual aspects of the instrument more than traditional melody-harmony relationships, and the preparations, which include draping tin foil over the bars, expand the timbral possibilities of the instrument, while his use of Ableton Live allows for looping and further electronic processing. For this performance Masa was joined by electronic composer/producer Jan Jelinek. The two have been collaborating for several years and their first CD, Bird, Lake, Objects, was released in 2010, just prior to their festival appearance. Jelinek performs with hardware devices, without a computer, and is able to supplement and complement both the acoustic and electronic aspects of Masa’s playing. Their set ranged from ambient textures, to rhythmic explorations.

Earlier that evening, I had to opportunity to dine with another one of the artists performing that evening. Tujiko Noriko is a Japanese avant singer/songwriter, living in Paris, who is among a growing number of artists in this category who perform with a laptop computer. While her solo act stays close to the recorded versions of her material, and the laptop is used mainly to provide backing tracks, she often seeks to perform with other artists who expand on her music in more of a live, improvised setting. For this performance, she used two musicians, Lawrence English and John Chantler, who accompanied her using analog, modular synthesizer rigs. Over dinner, Tujiko mentioned that she had never worked with these particular musicians before, and that she depends on a high level in improvisational skill from her collaborators.
While her music is rooted in pop music, her minimal approach gives the sound of a kind of electronic art song. The performers on the bill this evening were well known to the Asian electronic music community in Berlin, so I had the opportunity to reconnect with Raster Noton artist Aoki Takamasa and Berklee alum Juno Kang who I spent time with during my winter 2010 visit.

Tujiko Noriko stage set-up

For most of us, the high point of the festival was the Cine Chamber series of events. Cine Chamber is an outgrowth of the former Recombinant Media Lab in San Francisco. Here, multimedia artists were offered residencies in the labs facilities to develop work for their unique immersive media environment that combines 10.2 multichannel sound with a 360 degree viewing surface that uses twelve HD video projectors to provide an unbroken surround viewing experience. When RCM lost it’s lease in 2008, director Naut Humon decided to configure two systems, one for Europe and one for North America, that could be in residence at festival events on both continents. This year’s CTM Festival was the inaugural run for the European system, and in the month prior, four teams of artists had time to work with the system on site, developing new work to be premiered during special live performances. The two most notable of these were from the three founders of Raster Noton label performing together as Signal, and from Robert Henke and Tarik Barri performing as Monolake Live. Along with these special performances, there were screenings of prior work developed for the cine chamber system from the Recombinant Media Labs archives.

EP/D alum Barry Threw has worked with the Recombinant Media Lab project since 2006, and was the technical director for Cine Chamber Berlin. All twelve streams of video and twelve streams of audio run from a single computer, a technical marvel when it works. Unfortunately, the system was plagued by various difficulties, and Barry spent much of the week scrambling to keep the system running. Talking with Barry provided a fascinating view of how precarious the intersection of art, commerce and high technology can be.

A number of students on the trip had been working with live video processing using software they developed, and for them, The Cine Chamber events provided an opportunity to experience highly developed work they would normally not see in Boston. Stylistically, the work shown here ran the gamut of approaches, from abstract, computer generated animation as in see in Tarik Barri’s work, to patterns of geometric shapes that characterizes the work from Raster Noton artists Signal, to processed still images and video from others. Sound for these ranged from the dance influenced rhythmic work from musical artists like Robert Henke and Signal, to the more abstract soundscapes many of the other artists chose to explore using the multiple-channel format.

Monolake Live, Fundamental Forces.

With a vital electronic music community in Berlin, it’s no wonder that two major manufacturers of music software, Native Instruments and Ableton, are based there. Ableton has an educational outreach program and my contact there, Yukio Van Marin King, was instrumental in helping to set up a tour for our group from Berklee. While there isn’t much to see in the offices of a software company, our hosts gave us a tour of the facilities while explaining the functions of the various departments, essentially how the company works. Interesting as this may have been, the high point of the visit came with a hour-long workshop and question and answer session with one of the resident product specialists, Dennis Fischer. Many of the students were already accomplished users of Ableton Live, and the discussion quickly moved to advanced topics, which I think impressed the folks at Ableton. While many academic music programs use Ableton Live in their curriculum, the company doesn’t often have the chance to directly connect with these users, and this visit was a useful experience for all.

Visiting Ableton

Likewise, Native Instruments had never hosted a student group, and our presence was somewhat of a curiosity for the office staff. Our host for this visit was, Florian Schneidmadel, the head of product design at NI, and he was joined by two of the software engineers I met on my visit the year before. I was frankly surprised and impressed that we would meet with someone that high up in the company. While some topics, like upcoming new products, were understandably off limits, they were quite forthcoming about the process of developing new products and structuring their product line. They admitted that, like Ableton, they experienced rapid growth, and as a result, had too many products. The line became difficult to maintain, and didn’t allow for the resources to develop and market new products. The students never realized the amount of work it takes for a software company to ensure that their existing products are compatible with a range of operating systems, plugin formats, and host programs. At the time of our visit, they were busy converting their entire product line to be 64-bit compatible, as well as working on a major update to their flagship DJ software, Traktor.

While they approached these visits with a certain reverence, taking pictures in the lobbies to document their visit, students saw that there is a wide range of employment possibilities in this field. They could sense a difference in the corporate culture between Ableton and Native Instruments that perhaps influenced their product focus. They were equally surprised to learn that both view themselves as international companies, and as such, they were bilingual, with much of their business conducted in English.

A recent EP/D grad from the class of 2010, Nick Meehan started work at Ableton in September 2010. Nick was very helpful to our group, spending time with us and acting as tour guide to after-hours electronic music events, along with setting up a showcase gig for the students. Nick was very interested in maintaining some sort of ongoing relationship with Berklee, perhaps setting up an alumni group in Berlin. In February, he was in the process of securing a loft space to present workshops, clinics, and performances, in a series of events called B-Vision. I was very impressed with Nick’s energy and enthusiasm, and look forward to working with him on future collaborations.

Early morning in the Berlin U-Bahn

One of the things I learned about Germans while in Berlin is that they love their hardware. While two of the most important music software companies on the planet, Ableton and Native Instruments, make their home in Berlin, just about everyone I met on my trip there earlier this year had at least one piece of gear that was a source of great pride. Laptop jams came into vogue around 2000 when seeing someone on stage with one was a novelty, so at this point, performing with software is taken for granted. So what gets an audience’s attention these days? Cool hardware, and not just a couple of hot-rodded speak and spells, but lots of it, piles of it.

Groupshow is a Berlin-based electronic performance collective trio that is known for extended improvisations using tables full of vintage electronic gadgets and gizmos. For CTM 2010, Groupshow put on an extended performance accompanying Andy Warhol’s film Empire. Or perhaps the film accompanied Groupshow since Empire is eight hours long and consists of a single shot of New York’s Empire State building made from 6 hours and 36 minutes of 24 fps footage slowed down to play at 16 fps. Both the film and Groupshow’s extended performance consider the issue of art as process, and as such, it was an ideal event to drop in on, not necessarily to sit through. That said, the members of Groupshow were able to coax a lot of interesting sound from their collection, and the result was something that just couldn’t possibly come from software.

 

Ryoji Ikeda

Mar 26 2010

The CTM and Transmediale festivals I attended earlier this year each had a different focus, however the clear connection was in how each explored relationships between sound and vision. Pattern Recognition was a concert performance sponsored by both festivals that featured two works. Materia Obscura by Jürgen Reble & Thomas Köner clearly focused on visual imagery while Test Pattern by Ryoji Ikeda was a stunning, immersive experience exploring sound mapped to visuals. Ikeda is primarily known as electronic sound artist, although his performances are always constructed around some sort of visualization of the sound elements he’s working with. His work examines the relationships found in data structures, and he uses patterns found in various types of computer data to generate both sound and image. From this, he has created a body of work that includes both performance and installation pieces. Transmediale 2010 included both with data.tron (3 SXGA+version) as an installation along with his Test Pattern performance.

Ryoji Ikeda

Ikeda’s work extends from the idea that data itself, the actual patterns of ones and zeros, can be perceived as sound and visual elements in an artistic presentation. When asked about his influences in a 2008 Japan Times interview, Ikeda lists not musicians or visual artists, but mathematicians, and in examining raw data, he uses mathematical relationships to create form and structure. His conversations with Harvard mathematician Benedict Gross have led to the data.tron series of installations that include (3 SXGA+version) exhibited at Transmediale. In this large scale video projection that covers an entire wall of a gallery space, Ikeda creates a kind of 21st century pointillistic mural using raw data taken from complex predictive models scientist use to predict future events, to create a blizzard of numbers and geometrical shapes.

data.tron (3 SXGA+version) at Transmediale 2010

In Test Pattern, raw data is converted to bar codes, the kind found on just about everything you buy in a store, and mapped to a variety of noise sources, presumably generated from the same data. The bar code patterns are projected at a high rate on two sectors of a large screen. The synchronization here is very tight, and the visual patterns represent a kind of rhythmic visualization where placement and width of the bars represent attack and duration patterns in the sound. In performance, Ikeda plays with relationships between left and right stereo channels and the patterns appearing on the screen sectors. Part of what the audience experiences is a kind of manipulation of perceptual coordination. This can be jarring for some, and indeed there is a warning before the performance that those with epileptic tendencies might want to excuse themselves.

Test Pattern (live) at Transmediale 2010

So what does all this actually sound like? One of the points in Ikeda’s work is that data has a structure that can be assembled into recognizable patterns. These in turn, can be interpreted as rhythmic structures, so what we hear from this are clearly recognizable patterns that might sound like they’re coming from a drum machine on steroids. Nothing sounds random, and bursts of pure noise, clicks, and beeps punctuate these patterns, giving them a kind of musical form and structure. It’s hard to say whether this is the result of algorithmic processes or of painstaking orchestration through digital editing. While Ikeda is on stage for the performance, it’s not clear what he might be doing to effect the piece in realtime. While we’re used to seeing a clear correspondence between gesture and sound in a musical performance, perhaps one can think of the performer more as the captain of some sort of multimedia mothership in this type of work.

While "glitch" has become a recent buzz word for all sorts of music that incorporates noise, the work Ryoji Ikeda is doing here has a deep connection to a larger artistic vision, and in that sense, it transcends the whole idea of a popular style or genre.

Recommended:

  • Cyclo (with Carsten Nicolai; Raster-Noton, 2001)
  • Dataplex (Raster-Noton, 2005)
  • Test Pattern (Raster-Noton, 2008)

raster-noton

Mar 11 2010

While the CTM Festival was truly an international event, featuring artists from around the world, there was a significant showing from German artists, and in particular artists featured on the label Raster Noton. Several upcoming blog entries will feature reviews and thoughts on specific artists, but to put things in a context, I want to take a look at Raster Noton.

Scenes and styles in general are often associated with specific labels. While there are a number of artists and labels that one might categorize as IDM (Intelligent Dance Music), Warp Records is recognized as the mothership of that particular genre, being the home of artists such as Aphex Twin and Squarepusher. To me, one of the most interesting things happening in electronic music right now is minimal noise techno, and if there’s an aesthetic motherlode for this music, it’s Raster Noton. The label was founded by three like-minded German artists, and came about through a merger of Olaf Bender and Frank Bretschneider’s Rastermusik and Carsten Nicolai’s Noton labels in 1999. The three are active performers, Bender as Byetone and Nicolai as Alva Noto. All three come from a background in visual arts, and visual presentation is a strong component of Raster Noton releases, as well as their artists’ performances.

 

Minimal noise techno really has two roots, German club music and a variety of noise musics. Minimalism in the arts has had a German home since the Bauhaus movement in the early 20th century. Bauhaus as an aesthetic seeks to strip elements of design to the bare essentials, combining form and function, finding beauty in commonplace objects. German electro-pop music going back to Kraftwerk has this kind of stripped-down elegance, where only the bare essentials are part of an electronic arrangement. Techno music, which had it’s origins in late 1980′s Detroit shares this aesthetic if only by virtue of the spare means of production available to it’s early practitioners. While it’s roots are still in the Motor City, (or what used to be the Motor City) Techno, and a multitude of sub-genres, thrives in Germany.

 

Noise in music goes back to the early 20th century with Luigi Russolo’s Art of Noises manifesto. Since then, waves of concert music composers, experimentalists, sound artists, and pop producers have used various kinds of noise as a structural element in their music and art. As visual artists, many of the Raster Noton artists look to pure sound and it’s relation to rhythm, form, and structure. Notable works among these are Ryoji Ikeda’s Dataplex, that uses various sounds from malfunctioning computers as source material; Alvo Noto’s Xerrox 1 and 2 that use environmental noise, and Noto’s Unitxt that uses data from Microsoft Office documents, as well as other file types, converted to audio data. These artists are looking for all sorts of connections between the audio and visual worlds, and their work offers a fresh approach to electronic music that’s radically different. I’ll be talking a closer look at some examples of this work in my next several blog entries.

A Maze. Interact…

Feb 27 2010

The theme of this year’s CTM Festival was "Overlap, Sound and Other Media." While the opening concert with Jacob Kirkegaard, Transforma, and Hiroaki Umeda gave rich examples of sound overlapping with other performing media, the festival’s conference series explored many other connections. Perhaps the most powerful of these was the series of events that formed a kind of mini conference called "A Maze. Interact… Celebrating the Convergence of Games, Art, and Music." As part of this, there was a symposium, workshops, exhibits, a night of chip music, and something called the Global Game Jam.

The keynote for the symposium was delivered by Japanese game developer Keiichi Yano, founder of the company iNiS. The company develops rhythm-based games in which the player must develop a kind of musical interaction with the game. His address dealt with a couple of practical issues from a developer’s point of view. First, he pointed out that advances in gaming really were dependent on hardware innovation, and the creativity involved in game design really comes from exploring the potential each new platform offers. While early gaming systems may have had limited resources, especially for audio, the games that were successful found clever ways to use these, especially the game controllers themselves. The second point Yano talked about was culture. To be successful, a developer needs to understand the culture of the intended audience. Some of the games developed by iNiS, such as their popular Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan, are intended for release only in Japan, and some of the game trailers Yano showed clearly brought this point across.

Keiichi Yano

While Yano’s opening remarks where general observations, the next speaker, Leonard J, Paul, went directly into some of the concrete issues in game music and sound design. In his talk "Droppin’ Science – Adaptive Music Design," Paul spoke of the idea of adaptive music design as a way to construct musical ideas and transitions that can be called on in response to choices made in gameplay. The "Adaptive Music Matrix" shown in the table below shows a way to organize the design of transitions between two sets of five options. In this example, there are five scenes at a given point in a game when the player could make a move that would trigger a transition to one of five other scenes. Each scene has a distinct musical theme, but abruptly ending one and going directly to the next results in a soundtrack that would disrupt the flow of the game. The solution is a musical transition that would lead one section into another. In a typical song, there is some musical idea that sets up a move to the next section, verse to chorus, let’s say. At any point in a game there could be an action that triggers a change in music. Let’s say a player is in scene 2 and triggers an action that goes to scene 5. According to the matrix, transition 8 would be called to get from one to the next. Paul maintains the Video Game AudioWebsite which has a wealth of information he has assembled.

1
2
3
4
5
1
X
1
2
3
4
2
5
X
6
7
8
3
9
10
X
11
12
4
13
14
15
X
16
5
17
18
19
20
X
The Adaptive Music Matrix.
Bold indicates scenes, numbers are for transitions. 

The next two presentations examined game music as an extension of electronic music in general. In his talk, Michael Harenberg made connections between game music, especially early game music, and early electroacoustic music, citing examples from Louis and Bebe Barron’s score for the 1956 film Forbidden Planet as well as Tron, the 1982 film with a score by Wendy Carlos. He also points out that game music is the first popular musical form to arise directly from digital media.

Leonard J. Paul

Julian Oliver followed with "Computer Games as Musical Instruments," discussing how game-player interaction can be seen as a form of musical expression. He made the connection with the following statement: "Playing any game can be read as the joy of working with and within the confines of a unique and defined system." That just about sums up what can be said about interactive computer music. I would maintain that developing interactive electronic performance skills is good way to develop a knack for developing game sound strategies. This kind of convergence was really what all the CTM conference sessions were about.

A Maze Interact was far more than talk. There was an exhibition of seventeen key electronic music-based games running on their original platforms, starting from Moondust for PC from 1983 all the way to last year’s DJ Hero. These showed how far the development of game sound has come over the years, and in some cases, how one game influenced another. For example, the technology developed by Harmonix for their 2001 game FreQuency provided the basis for the gameplay design in Guitar Hero and later for Rock Band.

CTM also hosted Berlin’s contribution to the Global Game Jam. The idea here was for teams to develop a game in 48 hours. This was indeed a global event with 120 locations participating, and in the end, we saw what a little creativity and lots of caffeine could produce. Nothing here was going to take a bite out of Guitar Hero’s market share, but this event was more about fostering a sense of community, bringing many diverse talents together to share ideas.

Greetings from Berlin, Germany. I’ll be spending the month of February here with the generous support of the Newbury Comics Faculty Fellowship, that funds innovative projects undertaken by Berklee faculty members. I’m here to learn about the electronic music and multimedia performance scene here in Berlin, and I’m hoping to share some initial observations in the coming weeks.

To start things off, I’m attending the CTM/Transmediale festival and conference. The CTM festival is focused on electronic music and related forms, while Transmediale is a conference that provides "critical reflection on the role of digital technologies in present-day society." Together, these are two important events that explore current electronic practice, featuring international artists and speakers.

I arrived Wednesday January 26 and used the first few days here to get settled into my apartment, the time zone, and of course… the weather. Berlin ist kalt…

The opening event of the CTM Festival on Friday night cut to the core of the festival’s theme, "Overlap," with a multimedia concert that featured three very different approaches to blending sound and video. First up was Berlin-based artist Jacob Kirkegaard who’s work "focuses on the scientific and aesthetic aspects of resonance, time, sound and hearing." His piece, "Sabulation" explored the resonances inherent in the sound of wind using field recordings and video from the Singing Sands in the deserts of Oman. By using various microphone techniques, Kirkegaard was able to capture the sound of this environment in totally unexpected ways. The accompanying processed video, in black and white, presented images that gave the impression of a kind of ancient, living sculpture.

Transforma: Operators

Next up was the Berlin-based video performance collective Transforma. Their piece, "Operators," featured studio footage they had shot for the piece, and then processed in real time for the performance. Sound artist Markus Hübner contributed a rhythmic, beat-driven score that provided a tempo reference for the piece. The pulsing images of an industrial work environment and a human "operator" posed the question of who was in control, man or his work.

The highlight of the evening for me was Japanese artist Hiroaki Umeda and his piece "Adapting for Distortion." This really cut to the core of the aesthetic I’m looking to explore here in Berlin. Umeda is a multidisciplinary artist who is well known as a dancer and choreographer. In "Adapting for Distortion," he explores the relationship between projections of simple geometric shapes and bursts of all sorts of noise. He did a masterful job of building tension and release by structuring the complexity of the images in juxtaposition with the density of the noise bursts. The noise elements came from different sources, with a variety of timbres and durations. Overall, while the piece had a minimalist, futuristic feel, along the lines of (no pun intended) Tron, it had a sophisticated, organic sense to it, and Umeda as the central figure, struck a balance as the sole human figure, adding shadows to the projected light and reacting to the bursts of noise.

 

Adapting for Distortion

While most of the music being presented at CTM is in a club setting, this evening’s event served good introduction to the types of multimedia pieces currently in vogue here in Berlin.