Tagged: ICMC SMC 2014

A Week at a Music Technology Conference

I sat on the plane with my full nose, occasionally bursting into bouts of coughing thinking about my immediate future which went a li’l something like this: 10 hours in this seat, until I got to Zurich, followed by a 3 hour layover, and then a 2 hour flight to Eleftherios Venizolos International Airport in Athens. I was on my way to the ICMC-SMC 2014, the International Computer Music Conference + the Sound & Music Computing… conference.

Surprisingly, by the time I got to Athens I felt a lot better, despite my nose being red after expelling gallons of goop. After I dropped my bags off at the hostel, I got a city-wide public transport ticket and used it to get to the University of Athens where I registered and found a spot to place my tired self as the opening ceremony began.

Announcements were made, people were introduced and the theme of the conference was expounded upon: Music Technology Meets Philosophy: From Digital Echos to Virtual Ethos. (Echos {not a typo on echoes} — pronounced Eh-Koss, means sound in Greek.) This was followed by the inaugural concert. The first performer played a piece on a large wooden device which had a discrete range of notes that were activated at varying velocities, either individually or in concert, by depressing black and white wooden keys which served as the interface of the device; a piano. The piece¬† was played using live audio processing as well having the performer play in a slightly less than traditional manner. The result: quite an intense sound. This, coupled with my congestion, body on antibiotics and lack of sleep almost caused my brain to explode. The following piece actually did cause my brain to explode. And I mean absolutely no disrespect to the intricately composed work, which requires nothing short of mastery of the violin to perform, but by this point I really needed sleep. After I scooped my brain off the surrounding walls, I left the concert early, and dear sweet Hypnos, did I sleep.

The next day I felt oodles better, but the short monologue I had prepared explaining my research was delivered into the mic with a congested monotone. It ended up being worth it; later, while I was hanging out, keeping up a vibe by my poster during the session of posters (more commonly referred to as a poster session), a few people took some real interest and I ended up having some interesting conversations, one of which led me to another poster 2 days later which exposed me to a really cool piece of work involving neural networks for audio synthesis.

Like many of my sandwiches, the rest of the week was jam packed with awesomeness. It was impossible to attend everything, so one had to choose wisely. I think I chose pretty well — some of my highlights were: open source stompbox design (why not have Linux running on your guitar pedal, I ask?!), talks on the philosophy, works and amazing life of Iannis Xenakis (composer, technologist, known for stochastic music and other awesomeness), night concerts (see Figure 1), Brainswarm (Brain computer interface, swarm intelligence, watch the vid), a guitar sensor which did palm mute detection and could identify the onset of a note before it was played, due to varying pressure signatures which means that you can apply an effect to a note before that particular kind of note is played… AND loads and LOADS of other really cool and exciting things. One talk which really stood out for me was given by 80 year old John Chowning, discoverer/inventor of the FM synthesis algorithm. Aside from a stimulating presentation, he came across as a really modest guy who at the end of his talk said something along the lines of his not having accomplished what he did because he was any smarter, but because he had persevered. Of course he said it in a shit-ton more eloquent manner than my lazy ass just did.

Night Concert

Figure 1. Figure 1 presents the “night concert.” It occurred at night. This is an example of a poor attempt at a “panorama shot.”

Zeh Concert

Figure 2. Megadeth were on next.

sound

Figure 3. Sound is what a tree either does or doesn’t make when it falls in the woods and nobody is around to hear it.

cthulhu

Figure 4. The Dark Lord Cthulhu.

Aside from Zeus’ smiling happily down upon us mere mortals scratching away at the infinite, Athens was an awesome place to visit. The food was great, the people were lekker, the food tasted really nice, the Acropolis was epic, the Ouzo was… strong, and the food was awesome. I hope to make it back to this conference next year. Till then, I think it’s important to keep in mind what the great Devin Townsend once said about music (after gently suggesting to the listener that he shut his face, and take a seat, because after all, he’s just talking meat). And I end with this, not to make light of what is probably the best thing we’ve come up with as a species (the ability to set our thoughts into sound), but because after all is said and done, we ought to celebrate it for what it is:

…and music? Well, it’s just entertainment, folks! – Devin Townsend

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