Science Project or Sonic Art?

Music Professor Only Canadian Composer Chosen for International Electroacoustic Recording. Multi-channel, electronic work, generative processes, variables: factors of a science project or sonic art?

26 November 2009

Music Professor Only Canadian Composer Chosen for International Electroacoustic Recording.

Multi-channel, electronic work, generative processes, variables: factors of a science project or sonic art? Mark Hannesson

University of Alberta Department of Music assistant professor, composer and sound artist Mark Hannesson writes instrumental, electroacoustic and mixed works in attempt to draw connections between instrumental and electronic music.
Recently recorded and released on the CD Expansion Sonora (Modesti Netlabel), Hannesson's track hidden intensions - a composition developed at the University as one of a series of multi-channel works - is a combination of generative processes and improvisation.

"[Multi-channel electronic work] is music produced fully on a computer," explained Hannesson. "In this case, all the sounds are synthetic. As a multi-channel piece, it is designed to be played back on more than two speakers. The piece hidden intensions is engineered to be played back on four independent channels."
Working from a program which generates pitches based on a series of rules taught to it by Hannesson, the track was derived from a series of "choices" made by the program.

"I have a program which generates pitches based on rules I have taught it," explained Hannesson. "The program can make choices to follow different routes through the piece and so each time it runs, it generates a different set of pitches in different times. These pitches are then sent to the synthesis program to be played and recorded."
The synthesis program, Hannesson explained, allows for a huge number of variables, each one affecting the sound produced, sometimes subtly, sometimes not.

"As the pitches are being sent to the synthesizer by the generative program, I am free to change the synthesizer settings - or alter its variables - as the piece plays," Hannesson continued. "In this way I am free to creatively improvise, focusing fully on timbre rather than on pitch, harmony and rhythm as one would in conventional improvisation."
Timbre refers to the combination of qualities a sound distinguishing it from other sounds of the same pitch and volume.
Originally intended as a submission for the electronic works festival Circuito Electrovisiones in Mexico in May 2009, hidden intensions was played a number of times throughout the festival and, as a result, was chosen as one of five - and the only from Canada - to be produced on the label.
"I found out about the festival through an open call several months ago on the Canadian Electroacoustic Community (CEC) list," explained Hannesson. "They were looking for multi-channel electronic works and I had just finished doing a solo concert of multi-channel works of mine in Studio 27 in the Fine Arts Building here on campus and decided to send in one of my compositions."
Hannesson submitted a live studio recording of the piece to the festival, after which the organizers contacted him about being a part of CD.
"I knew of the Modisti Netlabel and liked what they do," said Hannesson.
Modesti Netlabel is one of a large collective of artists and organizations who use Creative Commons, a nonprofit organization which licenses creative work for free with the intention of allowing people to share and build upon the works of others while remaining consistent with the rules of copyright.
Other artists and organizations who use Creative Commons licensing include Al Jazeera, Google, Nine Inch Nails, The Public Library of Science and Wikipedia, to name a few.
"I really support the idea of Creative Commons licensing, so I agreed," said Hannesson.
Far from traditional, tracks chosen for the CD were based on a variety of works, styles and aesthetic contrasts - a musical milieu intended to keep audiences audibly interested while showcasing the varied elecroacoustic talents of each musician.
Explaining his creative process, Hannesson admits he's working more and more in a multi-channel format lately.

"It gives me the ability to control the spatial placement and movement of my sounds in the performance space with greater control than stereo would allow," said Hannesson.
Hannesson and fellow Department of Music composition professor Scott Smallwood lead X42 - a free improvisation ensemble comprised of U of A music students and electroacoustic enthusiasts who play a number of live, sometimes impromptu, shows around campus.
Listen to hidden intensions
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