I’ve never forgotten experiencing the UK premiere of Boulez’ Répons in the Royal Horticultural Hall in London in 1982. This was a piece that had been created using the amazing facilities of the then new electroacoustic centre IRCAM (Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique) in Paris. It seemed like every composer living in the British Isles was present to hear this event – something so new and exciting that everyone needed to be there. In those days, the physical size of the equipment was extraordinary and it was said that it would have been cheaper to have transported all the audience to Paris rather than bring the container loads of equipment over to the UK.
The revolutionary thing at that time was the use of live electronics. This involves not simply playing electronic sounds through loudspeakers nor just amplifying the sounds of acoustic instruments, but manipulating the sounds of acoustic instruments in real-time. The most impressive aspect was the way, in some passages, single notes played by the live musicians were programmed to trigger whole cascades of notes to emerge through the speakers. It was a breathtaking experience which sticks in my memory to this day.
Before IRCAM was established, Cardiff was actually at the forefront of developments in electroacoustic music and the reason I moved here for postgraduate studies. Occupying a whole room on the ground floor of the physics department at Cardiff University was an EMS Synthi 100 – once a state of the art tool which composers from all over the UK came to Cardiff to use. Some of the early pieces of Jonathan Harvey were made using it. (A similar Synthi 100 was used to create the music for some episodes of Dr Who). With the level of investment the French government put into IRCAM, the Cardiff studio couldn’t keep pace with developments and it fell into decline. IRCAM remains, to this day, the world’s leading institute for the development of electroacoustic music.
But things are again moving forward in Wales with many composers exploring the possibilities opened up by electronics. Developments in computing technology mean that extraordinary things can be achieved using little more than a simple laptop computer and an amplification system. One organisation that has been active in this area for many years is Electroacoustic Wales. Based at Bangor University and led by composer Andrew Lewis, it has previously mainly concentrated on music created in a studio to be performed through loudspeakers. This music follows on in the tradition of fantastic precedents like Poème électronique by Edgar Varèse or Gesang der Jünglinge by Karlheinz Stockhausen.
As a performer mainly concerned with the live experience of music, I have to admit not to have had much interest in concerts purely with loudspeakers until I heard Jonathan Harvey’s Mortuos Plango Vivos Voco in the Royal Albert Hall. Here the treated and transformed sounds of Jonathan’s son’s voice and the Winchester Cathedral bells swirling round the hall was a magical experience.
In our Professor Bad Trip project, UPROAR is collaborating with Electroacoustic Wales on a concert of music for ensemble and live electronics combining our respective skills. There are three new commissions from Welsh composers Bethan Morgan-Williams, Sarah Lianne Lewis and Andrew Lewis and we will start to bring to Wales some of the outstanding work by International composers of music for instruments and live electronics that has never previously been heard in this country. Tristan Murail’s Winter Fragments, Kaija Saariaho’s Lichtbogen and Fausto Romitelli’s Professor Bad Trip were all created after meeting and working together at IRCAM in Paris. Here they studied and experimented with the techniques of spectralism where timbre and harmony fuse together.
Romitelli’s famous Professor Bad Trip trilogy goes way further in expanding the sonic possibilities in a ‘classical’ work. Inspired by the poet Henri Michaux’s descriptions of the effects mescaline, and bringing elements from the world of psychedelic rock, it embodies sounds from the rock world – electric guitars, distorted sonorities, overdrive, fuzz. With its obsessive repetitions, seemingly beginning as a study of delicate timbral variations, it continues in ever-increasing excess to intoxicating effect.
Within sixteen months of our inaugural concert in Chapter Arts Centre at the end of 2018, we will have performed the premieres of nineteen new works from Welsh composers as well as three Welsh premieres of outstanding new work from outside Wales. There’s ‘something in the air’ for new music in Wales with many composers and institutions all eager to make new things happen. We intend to be a big part of this movement, bringing adventurous new music to audiences throughout Wales and taking new Welsh music to the world.
We are grateful to all our funders who made this project possible including: Arts Council of Wales, Diaphonique, PRS Foundation, Garfield Weston Foundation, Foyle Foundation, Wales Arts International, Tŷ Cerdd, Italian Cultural Institute, Hinrichsen Foundation, Oakdale Trust and RVW Trust.
Professor Bad Trip – Schedule 2020
28 Feb Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff Tickets £15, Concessions £12, Under 25 £7.50
Pre-performance Talk 6.30pm
13 Mar Aberystwyth Arts Centre Tickets £16, Concessions £13
Pre-performance Talk 7.00pm
21 Mar Galeri, Caernarfon Tickets £15, Concessions £12
3 Jun Festival KLANG, Montpellier Admission Free