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Ars Electronica Grand Prize

The 'Grand Prize' final entries at this prestigious Austrian event

Hüter's Syntouch.
Ivan Tcherepnin.
Dr Wichtl's electro-acoustic trumpet.

"The 'Grand Prize of Ars Electronica', first awarded in 1979, is an international event that gives musicians an opportunity to show their original designs of electronic musical equipment. An international jury, chaired by Robert Moog, along with Gerhard Dellmann, Bertha Sarasin-Baumberger, Prof. Dr. Werner Kreitzfeldt, Bruno Spoerri and Tom Darter, awarded the prize in 1982 to 'the most original and future-orientated new development in the field of electronic sound production'. Here are comments about the seven final entries judged at last year's 3rd Ars Electronica festival.

Serge Blenner (Fr.) His live performance used the PPG Wave 2.2 Computer, PPG Waveterm video-terminal and disk memory, plus 20-channel DR mixer to analyse acoustic sounds, make resonance graphs, store 8-track compositions and dynamic polyrhythms. Unfortunately, the presentation did not show the potential of the system, which is still under development, but we've an interview in next month's issue that discusses PPG's plans.

Joel Chadabe (USA) 2nd prize. Prepared 3 pieces for the NEDCO Synclavier I, but without keyboard, and controlled by an RCA 3301-ASCII terminal. Two sound antennae (reacting from body capacitance) and an electronic handclap touchswitch were also employed, the latter for starting and stopping programs. The first piece 'Rhythms' contained random sequences that were self-generated by the system; 'Play Thins' used the antennae to control frequency and duration to create an improvisation between musician and computer. 'Solo' had the computer acting as an improvising orchestra with speed and instrumentation (vibraphone and clarinet-like sounds) changed by the antennae. It proved to be an interesting presentation, having some surprise effects even for the composer!

Hans Deyssenroth (Ger.) 3rd Prize. Presented a 'bass sequencer', based on the KIM-1 micro (6502 CPU), that controlled a Minimoog and Roland's System 100. In addition, a Fender Rhodes and an old Dynachord tape echo were used. Rhythms were generated on the Roland TR-606. The 6K bass-computer program holds two sequences at a time, claimed to be derived from biorhythms, and played two pieces that successfully demonstrated its ability to produce jazz-style bass lines.

Uwe Hüter (Aus.). Performed on his 'Syntouch' - a synthesiser shaped like a guitar, with 2 parallel rows of 19 'frets' that are really touch contacts replacing two guitar strings. His playing was disappointing, since he only used one sound, especially as the instrument does offer full synthesis control from its Curtis chip circuitry (as in the SCI Prophet and E&MM Spectrum synths). On its neck are 5 extra sensors, one for pitchbend and others for detuning. Besides VCOs, VCAs, VCF and ADSR, there's an LFO and 2 Bandpass filters for joystick control, plus string ensemble and noise generator.

Peter Kohlrusch & Benjamin Heidersberger (Ger.) 'Head Resonance Company'. Their project was a curious soundhappening that developed in a sometimes confused, yet increasingly ecstatic manner reminiscent of Cage's experiments, such as "Variations IV'. In the centre of the stage was a computer-controlled analogue multiplexer that received the sounds (via microphones) of 8 audience volunteers in arbitrary sequence. The sound material was further alienated by ring modulation treatments, mixed with taped and EMS Synthi AKS noises. Every 20 seconds, the connections changed with performers' faces displayed on video screens. The verbal expressions actually came out like part-song whimpering! Apart from the group dynamics, it lacked musical interest generally.

Ivan Tcherepnin (Grand Prize Winner) from Paris. His performance was based on the use of a Persian dulcimer, played with sticks, and treated by a specially designed SERGE Modular Synthesiser System. Incidentally, Serge Tcherepnin, the designer of the Serge System, is believed to be Ivan's brother! At the end of the signal chain was a Lexicon PCM 41 Digital Delay for special time modulation effects in the range 400ms to 1s. Between the miked up dulcimer and the Serge synth were pitch-to-voltage converters, and envelope gate voltage followers as the main controllers. The result was 'subharmonic Klangreighen' (loosely meaning 'sequences' and formed on specific chords like 'inverted flattened VII'). The overall sound impression was very complex, mainly from the echo treatment. It is worth noting that subharmonic Klangreien has been used before, e.g. by Oskar Sala on his 'Mixture Trautonium' composed in the 1930's (on Telefunken 'Elektronische Impressionen' 1979).

Dr Martin Wichtl from Vienna. Well-known for his novel musical instruments and devices, e.g. mouthpieces for flute, tubular chimes, and now - the electroacoustic trumpet, where a real trumpet is the final sound source. To get the trumpet to play, Wichtl has a flexible tube sealed to the tube where a mouthpiece is normally inserted. This carries the vibrations from the other end of the tube which is also sealed (somehow!) to the front of a loudspeaker. Since his initial sounds are from a microphone, tape recorder and synthesisers, fed into the speaker via an amplifier, Wichtl's creation is a mechanical transposition of electronic music! He readily admits his design is very simple and with a voice sounds like a vocoder. His good instrumental technique on the Lyricon produced some nice sounds and was further modified by various dampers/mutes and even beer cans - most amusing!

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Electronics & Music Maker - Copyright: Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.


Electronics & Music Maker - Jan 1983


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