The Electro-Acoustic Music Association of Great Britain was inaugurated in January 1979 and held its first Annual General Meeting in May of that year. On an Arts Council initiative, a survey of electronic music studios in the UK was carried out by Simon Emmerson during 1977 and 78; this was followed up by a series of meetings and a weekend conference in York in 1978. Directors of studios, composers and technicians met to discuss mutual problems and decided that the formation of a national group to promote the interests of this area of music was essential. The UK was in many respects behind in the provision of facilities for research and composition and the greatest effort would be needed to catch up — both in hardware and in actual studio experience.
While EMAS roots lie in a relatively 'elitist' tradition of serious music composition, most members are fast becoming aware that there cannot be a divide between 'traditional' electronic music studios and more advanced 'popular' studios. The weight of investment and development is now firmly with the latter.
It is therefore essential that the experience of sounds which comes naturally to the studio composer should be allied with the new technologies in the development of the studios of the 1980's — microprocessors and digital recording especially. EMAS holds that there are many interests in common between all aspects of electro-acoustics, from sound recording, montage, mix-multitrack works, to pure abstract electronics. EMAS has already organised concerts and a computer music conference, and administers a Sound Equipment Pool for concert hire. In forthcoming issues I want to set the scene and describe some of the composition studios found throughout the country who are members of EMAS.
But first a short history. Electronic Music studios have most commonly grown up in two types of institution: in Radio Stations or in Universities (or other institutes of Higher Education). The former tended to be the case on the continent of Europe, big studios were developed in the ORTF (Paris), the West Deutscher Rundfunk (Cologne) and RAI (Milan). In America, however, richly endowed universities tended to be the centres for such work: Columbia, Princetown, Colgate, Stanford and a host of others. Britain, sadly, fell between the two approaches: while the Radiophonic Workshop at the BBC has a great history of radiophonic achievement since its inception, it has rarely had the resources to allow 'free composition'.
Few University Music Departments had the foresight to establish studios when money was to be had, leaving it until quite recently to battle for a few crumbs for the necessarily expensive technology. Nonetheless, perseverance has produced quite a number of small, efficient studios in universities in Britain which we shall examine. Another very important development has been in much more open and democratic studios based on 'continuing education', colleges and arts centres. I shall be looking at two such (at least): West Square (part of Morley College) in London and Spectra Arts in Newcastle. Even universities are now lowering their drawbridges to allow more access to visiting composers and I hope to report on an EMAS scheme for bursaries and a prize — financed by the Performing Right Society — in a future issue.
In the long run this network of rather uncoordinated activity might be brought together so that one could encourage composers from any background through a chain of possibilities: 'Evening class — advanced study bursary — full scale composition', using facilities in his region of the country — and as we shall see London does not necessarily dominate the composition studio scene! I have visions of a microprocessor control led information network (anyone read Ivan Illich?) which would enable anyone to find out the facilities available and to contact other musicians and engineers, simply by dialling into his terminal.
Simon Emmerson Hon. Sec. EMAS, (Contact Details)
Feature by Simon Emmerson
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