The MUTEK Festival, in Montreal, is the largest electronic music festival in North America. This year’s festival took place over five days, June 1-5, and featured eighty performances, as well as workshops, panel discussions, and artist interviews. The performances in this year’s festival had a strong visual component, featuring some outstanding examples of cutting edge visual design. While the focus of the festival is music, VJs and visual designers have become an important part of the most compelling electronic music performances.

In promoting the festival, the organizers said their focus would be on presenting live performances and not DJ sets. While I didn’t see a single turntable, it seemed like many performers used the laptop computer as little more than a playback device, with some artists using a hardware mixer as a performance tool for live mixing. An artist I spoke with told me he rendered his entire set as a single stereo file, and applied various effects as the performance. One of the biggest over-arching questions in the field of electronic music is what constitutes “liveness” in a performance. I’ll consider that as I discuss some of the shows I saw.

Microsoft was a big MUTEK sponsor this year, with product demos and workshops where artists discussed how they used Windows-based software in their work. This seemed like an obvious attempt to stem the tide of artists choosing to work on the Mac. While Apple had no official presence at the show, the Apple logo was center stage at most performances, glowing from the back of laptop screens.

The MUTEK schedule is daunting, but concerts and event are organized into various series. The free MUTEK iPhone app is a useful guide to the festival, providing schedules as well as links to individual artist pages. While there were a few big names headlining the festival, for the bulk of the performers a little research was needed to plan your time. MUTEK is an international festival, nonetheless many of the lesser know artists were Canadian, and as a recipient of government funding, part of MUTEK’s mission is to promote the work of these home-grown artists.

A/Visions

While all performances at MUTEK had a visual component, the pieces in the A/Visions series can be thought of as combined audio/visual compositions. These performances were in a concert hall. The performers here were either established multimedia artists or music producers embarking on collaborations outside of their normal work. What follows are a few highlights.

Purform is a collaboration between Canadian sound artist Alain Thibault and visual partner Yan Breuleux. Their three-screen multimedia performance called Whitebox, is a composed piece based on an installation of the same name. The images are computer generated abstract shapes, while sound design is based on granular processing of samples. Each component influences the other, with the sound dependent on the motion and complexity of the images. The frequency, amplitude and timbre of the sound influences the images. According to the artists, the interaction of sound and visuals was based on self-regulating systems theory. For the performance, both artists were on stage, although their exact role in shaping the piece was unclear. That said, the piece was impressive both for it’s scale and the connectedness of the sonic and visual gestures.

 

Puform/Whitebox

 Art music often finds its origins in dance music and this year saw a couple of producers who are well known in the Dubstep genre expanding into concert presentations. Emptyset is a collaboration between producer James Ginzburg and Paul Purgas where they explore art music from the bass-centric genre of Dubstep. Their sound sources are mainly sine wave tones and noise, processed and mixed through a variety of hardware devices. The music itself didn’t reflect or draw attention to the tools used to produce it. Their improvisational set was mainly textural with a strong bass theme appearing as the piece evolved. In an interview later that week, they discussed how the music in this project is based on process, bringing to mind similar work by Brian Eno. Emptyset was accompanied be a video piece done in collaboration with designers Clayton Welham and Sam Williams. There was no clear connection between the music and visuals which served more as an ambient backdrop to the performance than an integrated part of the piece.

Perhaps the most clever performance in the A/Visions series was Studies for Automated Piano by Seth Horvitz. Here, a Yamaha Disklavier was the sole instrument onstage, and the composer began the piece by starting a MIDI sequence and then walked offstage. While a piece for digital player piano might be thought of as a rather mundane concert experience, the accompanying visuals transformed this into an engaging multimedia experience. The visual accompaniment here was a projection of the front view of the piano keyboard. The piece is as much a construction of visual patterns as musical ideas. The musical composition was obviously influenced by the visual patterns which are created from using certain musical devices. The cadences were as much visual as they were musical. The resulting visualization here reflects the underlying patterns of the musical work. Visualization of music is often based on the properties of sound pitch, dynamics and timbral changes, and in the case of electronic music, this can make abstract work based on pure sound more engaging. What Horvitz has done here is created a visualization based on more traditional musical elements. The effectiveness of the piece really lies in it’s simplicity.

Study No. 4 for Automatic Piano

 Comaduster is a sound designer for game company Bioware by day, and an electronic music producer, active on the Canadian scene, by night. Scrape, the 40-minute piece he performed at MUTEX was his first multimedia work. The music for this was a combination of processed textural sound along with active IDM glitch elements. The visuals were projected on a single large screen and were striking in their originality. The source images for Scrape were all from a DSLR using a macro lens and various tubes and dollies to capture images at very close perspectives and from unusual angles. The result was a visual presentation that had an otherworldly, yet organic feel. While the music didn’t appear to be tightly synchronized, there was a strong connection between the sound and images.

Comaduster – Scrape Preview from Comaduster

Perhaps the most compelling work in the A/Visions series was from Murcof + AntiVJ, a collaboration between Mexican ambient-techno producer Murcof and video artist Simon Gelifus (AntiVJ). For this work, the visuals appeared as 3D images projected on a translucent scrim arranged in a three-screen system that filled the stage. The abstract, computer generated images took on different sizes and shapes throughout the piece, and the sound worked to reinforce this. The visual images roughly followed a mapping of size to loudness, shape to timbre, with the density of sound often corresponding to the density of the images. While these might be obvious connections in the visualization of sound, the scale of the piece as well as the 3D imagery were quite impressive.

Murcof + AntiVJ

Spiderman

May 31 2011

For most of us, the Broadway musical represents a very traditional, distinctly American, form of entertainment, something we don’t associate with high technology, let alone the kind of music technology used in contemporary music production. That rather quaint notion of musical theater is apparently giving way to the type of high tech spectacle we’re now used to experiencing in a typical concert performance. I had the opportunity to see Spiderman – Turn Off the Dark while visiting New York City this week. In spite of the mixed reviews and a very public reorganization of the show’s creative direction, the revised show I saw last night was spectacular.

Hiro Iida

To anyone familiar with superhero scenarios, the story line is familiar: geek kid, bullied in school, accidentally gets fortified with supernatural powers that he uses to battle the forces of evil, and gets the girl of his dreams. The music here is by Bono and Edge, and while it has a strong U2 flavor, ii’s really their take on musical theater, familiar to both avid theatergoers raised on radio, and to a younger generation used to music videos and iTunes. While the set and lighting design was decidedly high tech, employing massive LCD video panels, the technology never distracted from the storyline. In fact, for a generation that is coming of age in an era of sensory overload entertainment, the level of visual immersion here is probably essential to keep a large portion of the audience engaged. This is no Annie Get Your Gun….

The real treat for me was a backstage tour and conversation with Hiro Iida, a friend and former colleague at Berklee who was deeply involved with implementing the music technology used in the show. Hiro is truly passionate about electronic music and is an absolute wizard at anything to do with synthesizers. For Spiderman, he worked closely with the show’s lead keyboardist Billy Jay Stein on the electronic music design for the show. Stein is a journeyman New York keyboardist and producer whose resume runs the gamut of popular music. For Spiderman, Bill and Hiro spent months creating each synthesizer patch used in the show. That currently runs about 200 for the main keyboard parts Stein covers live as well and perhaps another 150 used by a second keyboard player and an electronic percussionist. As the show matures, these are revised and updated to match changes in the music.

The system Hiro and Stein designed to support this is made up of eight Power Macs, four running the show and four as backups, ready to step in at the first sign of trouble. Like any major concert production, the technology supporting the show is "mission critical," as nobody wants to tell an audience to hold on while a computer reboots…. All performance patches are made in Apple’s Mainstage using Native Instruments’ Kontakt sampler and Spectrasonics’ Omnisphere as the uber-synth of choice. In addition, the keyboard rig includes a Moog Voyager for special touches of analog beef at select times during the show. All patch switching is done using foot controllers to simply scroll through the Mainstage presets sequentially.

The Spiderman keyboard rig.

While the music for the show is performed live by a band that includes two keyboardists, three guitarists, two bass players, drums, two percussionists and a small pit orchestra, Ableton Live is used throughout for some loops, sampled effects and to provide a click when needed. Tempos can be set by the conductor using Live’s tap tempo function. While Live has many powerful tools for performing, the conductor and music director in the pit only use a handful of these during the show or in rehearsals. Changes often need to be made immediately to a few key parameters, such as transposition and loop length. To make this as easy and intuitive as possible, the show commissioned New York Max for Live wizard David Linnenbank, a Berklee alum, to create a custom interface for controlling Live in the "heat of battle." Linnenbank made great use of the Max4Live API to gain deeper access to the program than available using the standard MIDI mapping functions. The result is a full screen interface tailored to the exact needs of the Spiderman music crew.

Max 4 Live user interface.

My backstage tour included a visit to the band room. While a typical show has an orchestra pit directly in front of the stage, where the conductor has a clear view of both the actors and musicians, the amount of isolation needed to create an effective, studio quality live mix of the music demands that the musicians are in a completely separate studio space, isolated from the stage. The conductor watches the show from a video monitor and the actors, in turn, follow the conductor from LCD video monitors in front of the stage. The amount of technology used to effectively produce the live music and sound for the show is quite impressive, and really demands a completely separate set of skills of to mange the show on top of traditional musical skills from the key musical players.

The Spiderman conductor podium.

I also had the opportunity to chat with one of the guitarists, Ben Butler. Being a guitarist myself, I was fascinated by his work in the band. The show uses the entire gamut of guitar sounds and techniques found in current pop music, so his guitar rack was filled with everything from a Gibson Les Paul, a Martin acoustic, a Jerry Jones baritone guitar, and a Rickenbacker twelve-string electric made for the Edge especially for the show. Both Bono and the Edge were deeply involved in producing music for the show, and Ben said the Edge helped develop some of the specific guitar parts.

Spiderman guitarist Ben Butler

The technology surrounding the music for Spiderman was truly a tour-de-force of techniques and strategies used by modern musicians both on stage and in the studio.

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

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.