Why doesn't Britain, home of so much that is good in modern music, have a central institute
for music technology development?
IMAGINE, FOR A MOMENT, that there was somewhere in the British Isles where musicians could meet, exchange ideas about new technology, undertake various programming and composing projects, and experiment with new forms of musical instrument.
Imagine that it had extensive recording facilities on-site, and that as an organisation, it encouraged the imaginative use of new technology in live performance.
And imagine that it was open to a wide range of different artists working in as many different areas of music-making as possible, not just a selected few from the academic arena.
Sounds like a pipe-dream, doesn't it? Well, I'll admit that for the immediate future, we can only dream that such an organisation will one day come into existence. But the reason the dreams seems so unrealistic is that Britain has nothing that even approaches such a place. Whereas some other countries - in Europe and further afield - have already taken steps in the right direction.
The French, for example, have Pierre Boulez' IRCAM institute. Much praised and much criticised (depending on who you talk to), IRCAM has unquestionably been the focal point for a great deal of research activity in a number of areas - computer-aided composition, instrument design, psychoacoustics, and so on. So much so, in fact, that several British musicians and composers work there regularly, fleeing the constrictions of their homeland for the cosmopolitan atmosphere of central Paris.
And as our correspondent Ron Briefel discovers elsewhere in this issue, the Dutch have a similarly influential organisation in Steim, an independent research institute based in Amsterdam. Steim is the brainchild of one Michel Waisvisz, and is unusual in being run by the artists who work there.
Unlike IRCAM, Steim doesn't concern itself only with the interests of the academic research community; it also seeks to encourage interest in new music technology among the general public, an aim in which it appears to be succeeding.
The closest Britain comes to a central institute along the lines of an IRCAM or a Steim is the plethora of University music studios (there are more now than ever), and the odd "community" facility in fund-starved inner city areas.
But honourable though the intentions of both these types of studio may be, their influence is not as strong as that of their European counterparts - partly because there are too many of them, and partly because they are open only to a limited sector of this country's music-making community. It's all very well giving academic composers and B-boy scratchers separate outlets for their endeavours, but things only start getting interesting when the two areas are merged together under one roof.
As we musicians take our first few, tentative steps into 1987, it's difficult to know where the impetus (not to mention the money) for the setting-up of a single Music Technology Centre will come from.
Will it be backed by an initiative from central Government? Will it be the result of an inspired decision taken by an enterprising local authority in a particular area? Will it be funded primarily by educationalists at school or college level? Or will it take a philanthropic rock star or three to take the plunge and open their studio to the public on a subsidised basis?
Frankly, I don't know which is the most likely. But I do know that the demand for a central research institute certainly exists, that it would certainly further the cause of new music technology were it to come into being, and that Britain, as the home of so much that is good in modern music, cannot do without such a facility for much longer.
I'd be interested to know what you think, too.