the sound installations
In June 1993, the international conference "Challenges to Information Technology" took place in Dresden, with participants from Europe, America
and Japan, on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Research and
Technology in Bonn and in cooperation with the Organization for Economic
Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris; it was organized by the Fraunhofer
Society. The subject dealt with in the conference were the challenges cultural,
environmental, social, economical and working conditions present to information technology.
The computer provides new tools for the conveying of art and culture, for saving
resources, for dealing with everyday problems, for improving the
organization of labour and for many further tasks.
It is about time for those who make use of the tools provided by information technology to get involved in their development and to express their needs more consciously and accurately, so that investment failures can be avoided and, at the same time, the different tasks can be handled more effectively. That is why, unlike many fairs, this conference did not focus on the presentation of technological achievements, but on the current demands presented by culture, environment, society, economics and labour, and on the question as to how technology can be helpful in meeting these demands.
Information technology is employed by art and culture as a mediatory artistic tool in the same way as other technologies have been used in the past, e.g. the alphabet, book-printing, the piano, photography and sound recording. So what is new about the challenges of the present? And how can these challenges actually be met?
On behalf of the Fraunhofer Society, Sabine Schäfer composed "TopoPhonicSpheres" for the Dresden conference; she was chosen because in her compository work she has found an exemplary answer to the question of how composers should deal with new technologies and what information technology can offer them. Her work is directly connected with the conference, it is in itself the subject of the conference rather than simply serving for decoration or entertainment purposes. Faced with the achievements of information technology and its failure to meet specific demands, Sabine Schäfer had special hardware and software developed to suit her compository demands: she did not want to spend her time dealing with technical problems but rather dedicate herself entirely to her compository work.
Sabine Schäfer creates spaces for music to move through. Sounds are no longer tied down to a specific location. They wander not just between two loudspeakers, the way they do in stereo music, but travel freely through the entire room. A virtual sound space is created: virtual, because the sound sources themselves are not moving although they create a sense of movement. Movement in space becomes a new element in composition. The listener perceives an analogy with his real, organic acoustic environment, in which sounds and noises perform a flowing movement determined by the movement of people and the movement of objects.
So what is new about this way of composing? For many decades there have been composers such as Luigi Nono and Karl Stockhausen who wrote analog and digital music for several loudspeakers distributed in a room. Meanwhile, that is since the sixties, the generation of synthetic sounds has evolved from what was then a time-consuming effort into a rather simple procedure. However, the technical realization of the compository idea remains a complicated process: composers still have to learn about programming. Their compository skills are limited by the skills they acquire in the field of informatics and by the considerable amount of time it takes to realize a project.
The new aspect in Sabine Schäfer's composition is that she has overcome these limitations. She is able to concentrate her energy on composition. She succeeds in controlling the timing of the movement of sounds in space and in mastering the compository aspects of the new technical facility she has created. In cooperation with the informatician Sukandar Kartadinata she has developed a technological system which enables her to compose without being distracted from the actual composition by the need to program a machine.
Sabine Schäfer and Sukandar Kartadinata have developed what is in the language of information technology a userfriendly interface. The composer has defined her demands on technology and has thus created a tool leading to a new aesthetic expression. She is one more in a line of composers that initiated the technical development of musical instruments in the past, and her work demonstrates, which are the demands artists have on this technology.
Sabine Schäfer incorporated a computer-controlled grand piano in this composition, demonstrating how classical instruments and digital sound sources can be combined, and how information technology provides new possibilities of performance to classical instruments.
The fact that today composers using information technology discover, or rather rediscover, space does not concern composers and the concert audience alone. Similar to what happened in the Renaissance, spatiality is a property that does not gain importance in the musical realm only. The parallels established between physics, architecture, painting and music in the Renaissance are still valid. The subject of spatiality is of growing importance to our society, and this is what lies behind the discovery of space as a compository principle, or behind the development of a new visualization technique like virtual reality. To acquire the ability to project one's self into space is bound to seem an attractive goal to many people, and it is based on a number of latent desires, emotions and experiences. One aspect of the complex of causes and consequences of the grwoing importance of spatiality the earth being looked at from outer space. The desire to project one's self into space and to experience space with whatever senses will determine the future development of information technology.