Electro-Acoustic Music at Huddersfield
The latest activities at one of the UK's lesser-known electro-acoustic music studios, put into perspective by its mentor, Phil Ellis.
One of the UK's lesser-known educational studios surveyed here by its Director, Phil Ellis.
Serving a Department of Music of about 200 students pursuing a degree or graduate-equivalent in music, the Electronic Music Studio at Huddersfield Polytechnic was opened in December 1979. At this time the basic equipment comprised one RSD 16-4-2 mixer with Penny & Giles faders, four Revox B77 two-channel tape recorders with remote control and varispeed, and one TEAC A3340S four-channel tape recorder. Electronic sound generation and treatment was limited to two VCS3 synthesisers, with one DK2 keyboard and 256-note sequencer and one EMS eight-octave filter bank.
Signal routing in the studio is via a 60 x 60 matrix patchbay and output levels are monitored through four BBC-pattern PPMs. Four Tannoy Berkley loudspeakers are powered by Quad 405 power amps.
The studio has been set up and maintained by Mark Bromwich, the full-time studio technician. Since 1979, considerable improvements and additions have been made including some equipment custom-built by Mark. We quickly replaced the mixer with a Soundcraft Series 400 18-4-2 model with Ernest Turner PPMs. A modification to this allows quadrophonic sound diffusion using two Penny & Giles quadropans. To enable four-channel work to be carried out, a second four-channel tape recorder was obtained, an Otari MX 5050 BQII, and a Studer B67 two-channel tape recorder was also taken on board for producing master recordings. Noise reduction - dbx - was also introduced and we now have eight dbx 155 and two dbx 150 units: this allows dbx recording/playback using up to 20 channels of simultaneously encoded/decoded sound! Most recently we have acquired a Sony PCM F1 digital tape recorder for field recording.
In 1981 we installed a custom-built 10-channel vocoder. This covers a frequency range of 30-16000 Hertz with the facility, via a small patch field, of taking the speech detector voltages and feeding these into any of the carrier VCA inputs. This will also allow computer control of the 10 VCAs via DACs - a facility currently under development. We have recently installed a Roland System 100M modular synthesiser system to complement the two VCS3s, while a Klark Technik DN27A graphic equalizer has proved a most useful addition. A Musico 'Resynator' pitch-to-voltage synthesiser/converter provides a sophisticated sound generator. A Valley People 'Dynamite' dynamics processor is useful for microphone recording - in the studio we have three C-ducer contact microphones, four Calrec CM652Ds, and two AKG D200s.
Reverberation was, until recently, provided solely by a GBS reverb system (discounting the VCS3 reverbs!). However, we now have a highly sophisticated digital sound processing and reverberation capability. This is provided by an AMS DMX15R digital reverberation system (complete with a remote terminal) and an AMS DMX15-80S digital delay with two pitch-change cards, 3.25 seconds of memory and a deglitch card.
Digital sound generation is available via an Apple II computer system, with alphaSyntauri five-octave keyboard and Metatrak and Soundchaser software. We also have an Apple IIe computer with Mountain Computer 16-channel D-A and the Gibson light-pen system. This second computer is used mainly for research and development by Mark Bromwich.
Currently under development is a computer-controlled quadropanning facility which will be confined initially to the studio, though it will eventually be used also in live performance.
Custom-built equipment includes a standard interval timer which, apart from its function as a clock and counter, allows remote control of the four Revox recorders - these can be individually stopped or started in record or playback mode according to a pre-programmed time series. As quite a lot of the studio work involves the combination of tape with slide projection, a programmable digital dual slide fader has been designed and built. This allows manual control of two slide projectors with independent fading and slide change. Alternatively a sync tape can be produced to allow perfect synchronisation of slides and music.
Initially, the studio was housed in a large room converted for the purpose, with the technician's room being adjacent. However, we recently moved into purpose-built accommodation which is a vast improvement. The studio is now virtually soundproof and when we have completed the acoustic treatment it should provide an excellent working environment. It is housed in a separate building and when all work is completed, the unit will comprise the studio, technician's room, editing room, computer room and the author's teaching room.
All students in the Department of Music have access to the studio, electro-acoustic music being available as an option on both BA and Graduate Diploma courses. Students choosing to take this option need no previous experience in the medium of electronics, and the course consists of a two-hour weekly session in the studio with the students usually in groups of six. Beginning with tape techniques and musique concrete, the course is structured so that if students continue with the option for two years, they end up with a thorough working knowledge of an analogue studio, plus experience of the alphaSyntauri computer music system.
Each weekly session includes a practical assignment which students have to complete before the next meeting. Because of this, the studio is available for use 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and it tends to be used very heavily!
After adequate technique has been acquired, students are able to submit tape composition for assessment as part of their course. (All BA and most Graduate Diploma students have to take composition as an important subject area for at least two years). Students who are particularly able in the medium can pursue electro-acoustic music as the sole composition element of their course, dropping notated composition completely, although many choose to submit a mixture of electro-acoustic and notated composition. Any student who has worked in the medium prior to coming to Huddersfield, having presented composition of suitable quality at interview, can pursue electro-acoustic composition as a major area of study from the beginning of the course. However, the subject is not compulsory for any student except those who come to the Department on a composer's syllabus within the Graduate Diploma course. Such students have to take the subject for one year and produce a tape composition: thereafter they may discontinue the option if they wish.
As mentioned above, quite a lot of the composition produced in the studio combines slide projection with tape and we have excellent replay facilities available in St. Paul's Hall, a former church which has been converted into a most attractive concert hall and is on the Polytechnic campus. We have a small recording facility in the hall which enables recordings of concerts and recitals to be made. The original studio mixer (RSD16-4-2) is used for this purpose and recordings can be made on a Revox B77 with dbx noise reduction or onto cassette. Four LED custom-built PPMs are available for monitoring purposes.
When an electro-acoustic concert is given we use four Tannoy SRM 15X and two Tannoy SRM 12X speakers, driven by three Amcron DC300A MkII amplifiers. We have an AHB 16-4-2 mixer for performance purposes. Polyphony is a group based on the studio at the Polytechnic which is dedicated to the performance of new electro-acoustic music, and concerts given by the group feature pieces produced mainly in the studio. Performances are given annually as part of the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival and in various venues in the North of England.
Although our studio still a 'young' facility, electro-acoustic music composition has succeeded in establishing itself firmly within the Department of Music. With the possibility of specialisation in this medium on both courses offered within the Department, the Polytechnic provides a stimulating environment for the production and performance of studio composition. Who says there's no life in Huddersfield?
For further information about the courses offered and entry requirements contact: (Contact Details). Enquiries specifically about the studio facilities should be addressed to Phil Ellis at the same address.
Feature by Phil Ellis
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