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Ars Electronica

Article from Electronics & Music Maker, December 1982

A big Austrian event that focuses on electronic music.

Dr Hannes Leopoldseder organiser of the A.E.

ARS ELECTRONICA began on September 24, 1982 - that is, 6,308 days before the year 2000 - and lasted for a week as part of the International Bruckner Festival at Linz, Austria. The previous festivals took place in 1979 and 1980 when it was conceived as a forum for electronics and new technology in the different fields the arts, from electronic music to industry. The focus of the artistic elements - concerts, symposia, workshops and outdoor events - aims to be electronic music and in the past has involved such music people as Wendy Carlos, Robert Moog, Jean-Michel Jarre, and Klaus Schulze as well as larger organisations like the Massachussetts Institute of Technology.

Ars Electronica is now a biennial event organised by the Linz municipality (LIVA) and the Austrian Radio (ORF), under the direction of Dr Horst Stadlmayr and Dr Hannes Leopoldseder. With the promise of performances that included Isao Tomita, Robert Schröder and a laser-opera 'Icarus', E&MM was keen to investigate the whole event.

Robert Schröder.

The Brucknerhaus by the River Donau.

The main street of Linz.

The main events for 1982 were centred in and around the large Brucknerhaus concert hall on the outskirts of the industrial town of Linz, amongst the scenic views of the river Donau and Austrian mountains. Others took place at the ORF Studios in Linz itself. Not only does the festival include eight premieres, but it also offers a 'Grand Prize' for the most ingenious and future-orientated new development in the field of electronic sound production. Previous winners have been Bruno Spoerri with the Lyricon wind synthesiser and Nyle Steiner playing his 'electronic trumpet' as well as notable entries from Jurgen Schmitz's Variophon, Wolfgang Palm's PPG Wave Computer and Peter Vogel's Fairlight CMI.

Ivan Tcherepnin.

The musical events were surrounded by other artistic programs - in particular, the Sky Art Conference '82 which linked its outdoor sky events to the laser-opera Icarus, the Linz Sound Cloud, Science Fiction workshops and a conference on Industrial Robots.

Although this year's event from the musician's point of view was sadly lacking in live music concerts, Ars Electronica did bring together a host of musicians from Europe, America and Japan. E&MM received a collaboration with many of the important composers, performers and electromusic engineers that was overwhelming and, to be honest, unexpected in these early days. As a result, we shall be publishing the discussions and interviews that took place in future issues, and will only very briefly survey the music and musicians of Ars Electronica in this issue.

Musical Events

Linz Steel Opera

by Giorgio Battistelli

This involved the participation of steel workers, musicians and factory machines in the Linz Town Square. Not an electronic production, but a composition with rather simple melodies and impressive but primitive rhythms made by machines and people using work tools. The sound-field was constantly modulated and experimental, yet controlled, and the mixture of noise, murmurs and real sounds was careful and sometimes surprising. Visually, the production was unimaginative considering its possibilities.



Paul Earls, an American composer, conceived and wrote the music for this so-called laser-opera which was an indoor production in the Brucknerhaus concert hall. Its laser projections by Paul Earls and Otto Piene and '2001' style projections by Ron Hays were used to give the feeling of outdoor space - the sky and the sun.

Ellen Lapham, President of Alpha Syntauri.

The programme comments called the music eclectic, with electronic processing of voices to jazz and folk music, non-pitched electronic music, the use of analogue and digital synths etc. Although the conductor, Richard Pitman, co-ordinated well the children's choir and whistles, the brass ensemble with percussion, stereo taped electronic music and Margaret Ulmer's Alpha Syntauri and grand piano playing, the use of complex technology effects and the huge Minotaur and Icarus red inflated figures was entertaining but not exciting. The use of the laser was too limited and unfortunately all the electronic music was on tape - as Paul Earls said himself, "It's a collection of computer and synthesised pieces of music over some ten years." The Alpha Syntauri merely provided organ style fill-ins and would have been better omitted. The one act piece had a few interesting moments with fine singing from soloists and choir as well as orchestral and percussive flourishes, but the piece ended abruptly with hardly any sense of climax.

Bernard Leitner.

Sound Square

Some thirty people at a time can sit in the centre of Mr Leitner's Sound Square, surrounded totally by tall screens concealing 16 loudspeakers a few feet off the floor - including 4 corner 'towers' that hold suspended speakers at top and bottom to complete the 3-dimensional sound stage.

The sounds were controlled by a computer system with interaction by the composer producing panned sounds in vertical, diagonal and horizontal planes. Lighting was subdued to focus concentration on the sounds which included Fairlight CMI sampled cellos, wooden, percussive, thunder, pitched, click tones and other musique concrete. The effect was certainly interesting and since the sound output was quite low, the audience's breathing, coughs and shuffles all contributed to fine tune one's aural perception.

ORF Studio.

Galaxy Cygnus - A

An unusual picture from Galaxy Cygnus - A.

The work was conceived by Michael Weisser for performance at the ORF Studio using his own slide pictures with a musical interpretation by Robert Schroder. Using its starting point as white noise from the constellation Cygnus, 1050 million light years away, the music then proceeded to be sequencer-based patterns that did more than hint at Schulze's influence. Once again, many who attended were disappointed to find themselves at a slide show with only taped music, and after a poorly synchronised start, the slides portrayed images of fine quality but were too much related to earth considering the subject.

Michael Weisser.

Bermuda Triangle visual by Ron Hays

Isao Tomita and his engineer, Masafumi Hayashi, mixing the sounds for the Bermuda Triangle.

Bermuda Triangle

Despite the fact that Isao Tomita did no more than control tape levels, this master of synthesised classical music managed to create an impressive aural sound scape that enveloped the audience using its 'pyramid' sound system. The latter consisted of five PA stacks positioned at the four corners of the auditorium ground floor with a fifth speaker placed near the ceiling to portray overhead UFOs and other sounds. The music played was based on Tomita's Bermuda Triangle LP plus some new music for the occasion. High levels of orchestral sound, combined with the fast moving space/computer image projections by Ron Hays made an exciting 'supercinema' event, that was best enjoyed in the centre of the auditorium.


Bruno Spoerri.

This was the only live electronic performance besides the 'Musical Electronics For Everybody' workshops in the Brucknerhaus' corridors, and was the first event with real atmosphere that brought tumultuous applause. The work was conceived by Hubert Bognermayr and Harald Zuschrader as an attempt to fuse together visual and acoustical experiences of our environment. In our forthcoming interview with Herr Bognermayr, we'll be discussing his pioneering use of the Fairlight CMI in which he has sampled over 4000 acoustic sounds for use in compositions. This performance was visually realised through dancers on stage. The musicians were five music synthesiser/computers, including 3 Fairlight CMIs performed by Bruno Spoerri, Robert Moog, Serge Blenner and S. W. Gyan Nishabda. The computer/conductors were Herr Bognermayr and Herr Zuschrader. Exciting solos came from Bruno Spoerri playing the Lyricon and Robert Moog using his exotic synthesiser controllers.

Linz Sound Cloud

In spite of 50,000 watts, only 30,000 visitors attended this open air performance by the River Donau. It was the fourth Sound Cloud, so the novelty of the event had probably worn off. The performance was Mahler's Symphony No. 5 played by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

The Grand Prize of 1982 was won by Ivan Tcherepnin and we'll be looking at his use of the Persian Dulcimer with electronics along with the runners up next month. We'll also have a look at some of the original synthesiser inventions by members of the Information Circle of Musical Electronics (IME).

In summing up this brief appraisal of the musical side of Ars Electronica, I think it is fair to say that most musicians would have liked to see much more live music. A truly international event should also encourage musicians from many countries to attend as performers and listeners, whilst the workshops should be organised to promote audience discussion and participation. Even the well publicised (as all the artists certainly were in the comprehensive colour brochure of A.E.) Joe Zawinul and Wolf Dauner were absent for their jazz and electronic workshops (some say not even informed!). Yet the fact that this event can exist on such a potentially grand scale should encourage the A.E. organisers to strive to bring together music and the other arts to its rightful level of importance alongside the technological achievements of today. And as Hubert Bognermayr, founder organiser of the A.E. programme, says: "Electro-music represents a logical centrepoint with its link to the new electronic and computer developments as well as the visual arts."

E&MM wishes to thank the organisers of Ars Electronica and the many musicians from different countries who showed their interest in the magazine by their generous help; in particular: Hannes Leopoldseder, Isao Tomita, Hubert Bognermayr, Bruno Spoerri, Robert Moog, Paul Earls, Ellen Lapham, Robert Schroder, Michael Weisser, Markus Aigner, and the press office team.

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Digital Recording

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Tokai Basses

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

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Electronics & Music Maker - Dec 1982

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