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  • 15 May 2019 - 21:50

    May 2019 - Beast Feast

    by Giuseppe Pisano

    Right after Malmö I took another flight, this time to go to England.
    Me and my classmates were invited to attend BEAST Feast, a famous and very prestigious festival of electroacoustic music held in Birmingham, at the University. Four days packed with concerts and conferences, so much music it was very hard to keep up with.

    The BEAST (Birmingham ElectroAcoustic Sound Theatre), the system they install each year for the festival, truly deserves its name. It is an extremely complex loudspeaker orchestra featuring over 100 units distributed in space. It was originally meant to perform music in stereo format, as the French acousmonium, but the philosophy behind it is radically different. While the original acousmonium is mostly operating frontally, on stage, and with a strong visual component, as a real orchestra, Jonty Harrison designed BEAST with the idea of developing a more immersive environment. The speakers are therefore placed on a wider plane, enlarging the stereo picture and therefore the listening sweet spot. A radically higher density of speakers hanging from the ceiling produces a very convincing sense of elevation which, used wisely and with the right kind of material, can provide very dramatic gestures over the listener’s head. Also it is a site specific installation: apparently not meant for traveling, the BEAST in its completeness is always installed in the same hall and responds to it in a perfect way.
    I must admit that when I first saw that system I really wanted to play on it, but I also guess that pretty much everyone would have the same reaction.

    In Birmingham I encountered some known people and a lot of new ones. Especially I met Brona Martin, who I had met before in Oslo, when she came over to give us a masterclass. She was extremely kind and helpful to get me and the others acquainted with the space and the local music environment, orientating and introducing us around, creating connections. Davide Gagliardi, a composer and friend from Italy, based in Graz, was also there and it was very nice to meet him.
    Among the interesting moments I experienced at the festival I must definitely mention Robert Mudd’s presentation and concert about a system to do physical models of impossible instruments that I found laying somewhere in between amazing, grotesque, scary and very fascinating.
    Also I met Jean-François Denis, who runs a pretty famous electroacoustic music label in Canada called Empreintes DIGITALes, but also is a very funny and interesting person, very down to earth and cool to talk to.

    Despite these very nice moments and people, the rest of the festival really didn’t interest me that much, instead I honestly felt very uncomfortable there.
    I might perhaps be a bit too critical writing this, but entering that crystalized reality of academic electronic music felt like being trapped inside an Ivory tower. A system totally detached from reality and shaped into a form that I found very unappealing. The more time I spent there - especially after the time spent in Malmö, performing at a festival that belongs to the underground side of experimental electronic music - the more my original idea of doing a PhD in the UK became oppressive and felt like a bad idea.
    The worst aspect of all this was the networking frenzy people fell into. Students and scholars were raving, obsessively trying to spot, detect and talk to the “relevant” people. Impolitely enough, they wouldn’t be afraid of cutting a conversation with you if someone important was passing by.
    All this was very disappointing and I got anxious. I was completely out of place.

    Coupe of days later, in London, I was tired for all the doubts overwhelmingly coming to my mind. I felt very insecure and I was probably surrounded by too many people, so I entered the toilet of a bar and fainted.