Wednesday, 4 January 2012

The 'Music Technology Days' Conference, Norway 2011

 The Rockheim Museum

The Music Technology Days (Musikkteknologidagene) is an annual Norwegian academic conference. In October 2011 it took place in Trondheim’s own museum of rock, Rockheim. It was hosted by the Department of Music at The Norwegian University for Science and Technology (NTNU). NTNU has over the last decade established itself with a very solid Music Technology stream both for under-graduate and post-graduate students.

The interactive wall of Norwegian recorded music

At Rockheim you can test your DJ'ing skills

Yours truly behind an old SSL mixer from Fagerborg Studio in Oslo

The Music Technology Days is predominantly held in Norwegian language, but receives talks in both English and the other Scandinavian languages close to Norwegian. In addition to Norwegian papers and projects, the 2011 conference also saw a collection of presenters from Sweden, Germany and the UK and at least one visitor from Iceland. The evenings had a number of concerts by students and staff from NTNU and there was plenty of time for mingling and looking around the museum.

Below you’ll find a complete list of the presentations that took place. Most Norwegian and Swedish project titles have been translated for the purpose of this post, but originally there were a mix of English, Swedish and Norwegian project titles. Titles translated from Swedish are marked [S] and translations from Norwegian are marked [N], this to clarify when the titles are my translations of the authors’ works. I have written a few lines about the works I took most note of and have provided as many links as possible (some of the links will inevitably be in Scandinavian languages). These are my personal comments, so for further information about the presentations I encourage you to contact the respective presenters or look up their works. I would also like to stress that there is no quality-judgement between those I have written about and those I have not. Some of those I have not written about were on the borders of my areas of competence so I’ll leave it up to someone better suited to comment.

You can find the official programme for the event here. It is in Norwegian, but has all the links provided by the university in it.

Svein Berge has collaborated with Natasha Barrett on developments in higher order Ambisonics. I’m afraid some of the technicality behind what they do is beyond me, but one of the ideas is to split up auditive happenings into different frequency bands and make Ambisonics process them more like we know the human psyche does. The system sounded very natural when demonstrated. As I am more likely to be on the user side than the developer side I found it interesting how you can pan around in a sound-sphere by using a simple interface. The results sounded incredibly convincing and if you use headphones it can also be used with a head-tracker.

Håkon Kvidal and Sigrid Jordal Havre both are or have been undertaking research in Norwegian schools on the use of modern music technology:

Håkon Kvidal of the Norwegian Academy of Music has years of experience in working with music technology in education. He has also contributed with research and texts on a national level for a long time. Currently he is conducting a study where he uses iPads with a selection of apps to deliver a music module. The apps are easy to get into and create an entry point for digital literacy in music and sound, but have little in common with a traditional musicological approach. It will be an interesting space to watch since the field is totally new.

Sigrid Jordal Havre has undertaken a research project where students could use computer technology to jam with each other or play music on their own. The software used was jam2jam and it allows you to create a musical output by using a selection of software instruments. The software allows you to work as a group and rearrange other people’s choices or grab their instruments. In the first sessions this lead to a lot of digital fighting between the students (everyone tried to grab the drum-kit etc.) As the project progressed this gradually changed and the students became increasingly interested in developing a product together. All sessions were recorded on video and have been meticulously dissected.

Maja Bugge has created a project at a public library where children can come and take part in a show where all the audio is presented on headphones. The stage is the whole library where they are lead around by the narration and various actors. The project comprises narration and sound on the headphones, and dancers and actors at the premises. The story is created as a mystery and the children are in a way taking part in solving it as they explore the whole space of the library in the hunt to solve the riddle. Children were used as “consultants” in the making of the experience.

Gary Bromham ‘Man in the machine or machine in the man – the ever changing role of music technology in popular music culture” (Keynote, day 2)
A grand tour in the history of modern music production covering topics like technology developments, recording media, the sound of different types of equipment, the loudness war and much more. With Bromham’s extensive background from music production this was probably one of the most exciting talks of the whole event, but one that would be hard to sum up in just a few lines…

Musicologist Gunnar Ternhag points to three main spreaders of music production terms in education: Software, books and lecturers. He has studied the quantity of terms are in use in a number of music production softwares and he also argues that these softwares are often more effective in establishing lingual terms than the lecturers are. Books, which are often written in English present foreign terms that you may or may not wish to hold on to. Ternhag presented his method of testing and choosing effective expressions to communicate the desired knowledge.

Ternhag runs a well-recognized programme in Sound and Music Production (For English, click here) at the Dalarna College in Sweden. There is currently a new book out that he has authored together with a number of Scandinavian music production academics. It’s called På tal om musikproduktion,” that from Swedish translates into “On music production,” or more literally “Talking about music production.” It is a collection of articles that touches on a variety of topics in music production.

Andrew Scott has done a study of how people traditionally have learned a craft and how various philosophers from antiquity till today comments on different modes of learning. Scott takes a particular interest in apprenticeships and argues strongly for a practical real world approach to learning.

Professor Brantsegg and his team have together with an Irish and two other Norwegian institutes developed a system for web-based studies to train and test students’ knowledge of DSPs through listening. The system is used as a part of NTNUs regular DSP module, but it can also be delivered as an online module. For the regular students the concepts are still taught in the classroom, but with the additional web-based training they’ll have more opportunity to dive into the world of sound in their personal study time. The system is also automatically correcting your performance. If you continuously mix up chorus and flanger it will suggest you spend more time studying the sound of those processes. This feedback mechanism multiplies the time the lecturers put into each student.

Arne Nordheim was one of the great 20th century profiles in Norwegian arts music. Ola Nordal is currently writing his PhD thesis on Nordheim at NTNU in Trondheim. In his talk Nordal examined one of Nordheim’s works; how and why it was created and it’s public reception and legacy. The work was created to play continuously from a sculpture called ‘Ode to the Light,’ or ‘Ode til Lyset’ in Norwegian from 1968. You can read Ola Nordal’s blogpost from the conference here.

Tone Åse and Andreas BergslandVoice meetings – a meeting between performer and researcher’ [N]

Musician Tone Åse and researcher Andreas Bergsland, both of NTNU in Trondheim, has teamed up to examine the audience response from Åse’s vocal/ electro acoustic performances. Tone Åse was one of the concert-holders the night before, so most delegates had already seen her perform before the talk. Their research showed that what you aim to communicate is not always what comes through, and they looked at ways to develop her performance to better communicate with audiences. Seen from my more commercial angle, I think it is a brave move of Åse to develop her art along with the audience-feedback provided through the research. Åse and Bergsland have some valuable lessons to teach us in the area where new and groundbreaking arts meet an audience.

Gerhard Steinke ‘The Subharchord story
Steinke joined the East-German radio in 1947 as a sound-engineer and was one of the developers behind the Subharchord instrument. His presentation was a very entertaining and in-depth history of the instrument and the state of the current surviving instruments. –One of which (albeit currently not in playable condition) is placed at the Ringve Museum of music and musical instruments in Trondheim, where he travelled off to after the conference. Mr. Stenike will be releasing a paper on the Subharchord in German at some point during 2012.

Hadron is a synthesizer plug-in created by Brandtsegg and his team at NTNU. It performs several types of granular synthesis and has an easy to use interface that allows you to morph between these types of synthesis. Hadron has the capacity to be a useful tool both for commercial music producers and experimental sound-artist looking to create new sounds.

Natasha Barrett (Keynote, day 1): "Ambisonics, spatial ontology and invisible music"
Simon Emmerson (Keynote, day 3): "What is live about electronic music?"
Alex Gunia: "Live electronics / 300 acting spaces"
Mats Claesson: "The Kjell-Tore project"
Arnfinn Killingtveit: "Undervannshode"

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