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Explicating, Playing Electroacoustic


The original loudspeaker orchestra.

The Goethe-Institut Boston in collaboration with the Cultural Services of the French Consulate, Harvard University, and Northeastern University will be presenting a very interesting three-day festival of electroacoustic music. Sound in Space Festival, bringing together prominent representatives of top-notch institutions in Germany, France, and the USA, will create performance opportunities for composers enrolled in North American institutions and will commemorate the beginnings of electroacoustic music in the 1950s. The festival will run from November 17 to 19 at Northeastern University’s Fenway Center, 77 St. Stephen Street, Boston. The Awards Ceremony and Closing Reception will be at the Goethe-Institut Boston, 170 Beacon Street, Boston

The “performers” at these events will be the 32 loudspeakers of the Harvard University “Hydra” Speaker-Orchestra, a sound projection system designed for the performance of electroacoustic music with or without the participation of instrumentalists. Distributed both horizontally and vertically, in order to provide a wide range of sound planes and perspectives, the speakers are controlled by two interfaces with 32 faders, permitting real time control and configuration for each work performed.

Similar “speaker orchestras” include the Acousmonium, conceived and developed at the Groupe de Recherches Musicales (Radio France) in the early 1970s, BEAST (Birmingham Electroacoustic Sound Theatre) developed by Jonty Harrison at the University of Birmingham, GMEBaphone, IMEB, Bourges (France) and the loudspeaker orchestra of Musiques & Recherches in Belgium.

The festival considers electroacoustic music interpretation and gives composition students and the public insight into its possibilities. Prominent representatives from top-notch institutions in Germany, France and the USA will be presenting for the first two dates, and the final round of the Sound in SPACE Competition will be for students of North American institutions. The six finalists present their works in two concerts following participation in interpretation workshops and coachings. Further concerts feature the French and German composers-in-residence as well as recent North American electroacoustic works. A panel discussion frames the debate on interpretation of electroacoustic music in Europe and North America. The festival ends with an awards ceremony. All concerts, workshops and panel discussions are free and open to the public.

GRM Bayle Acoustimonium from 1970

While such festival are somewhat novel in the US, in Europe there continues to be a great deal of interest in presentation of sound-images. The advancement of loudspeaker orchestras has permitted much more development in this discipline. Further innovation in music performance has brought new requirements for interpretation theory and implementation in live performance. Ideally, each and every space requires a studied interpretation of the sounds of a given composition, its changes in dynamics, and its compositional gestures.

Two key cultural institutions for this revolutionary music are currently the GRM (Groupe de Recherche Musicale) in Paris and the ZKM (Zentrum fuer Kunst und Medientechnologie) in Karlsruhe. Their regular cooperation in the promotion and performance of electroacoustic music in the past fifteen years has opened up new sonic worlds for audiences through international artistic collaboration, innovation, and experimentation.

The term ‘orchestra’ in ‘Loudspeaker Orchestra’ is appropriate, not only because of the deployment of individual ‘loudspeaker-instruments’ in space but also because of the different registers and timbral qualities of each loudspeaker. However, the setup of a speaker orchestra is not fixed. The largest “Speaker Orchestra” in the world is the GRM Acousmonium with 80 loudspeakers. It groups very different types of loudspeakers into an imposing spatial setup.

Ludger Brümmer, director of ZKM | Institute for Music and Acoustics in Karlsruhe (Germany)

Harvard's Hydra Orchestra

Daniel Teruggi, director of GRM | Groupe de Recherche Musicale (France).
Hans Tutschku, professor & director of electroacoustic studios at Harvard University
Mike Frengel, professor at Northeastern University
Elainie Lillios, professor at Bowling Green State University

Complete Schedule:
Thursday, November 17, 2011
4:00 PM  Interpretation Workshop
7:30 PM  Competition Finalists Concert
9:00 PM  Portrait Concert – Daniel Teruggi

Friday, November 18, 2011
4:00 PM  Interpretation Workshop
7:30 PM  Competition Finalists Concert
9:00 PM  Portrait Concert – Ludger Brümmer

Saturday, November 19, 2011
4:00 PM  Panel Discussion with invited composers
6:00 PM  Curated concert of recent electroacoustic works from North America
8:00 PM  Composition Competition Awards Ceremony

For more information visit or contact Annette Klein at or (617) 262–6050 ext 11

This program is supported by the Elysée Treaty Fund for Franco-German Cultural Events in Third Countries.


2 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. Incentivized by this article I attended last night the “hydra” concert. I really do not like what I heard.  Well, I like what they do but what they do is absolutely self-contained method of self-amusement and has as no relation to music, in my view. I am not against the concept of “electronic music” but the sequencing of sounds that they demonstrated yesterday was, again in my view, not music but test tones that were organized in some semi-harmonic structures. This principle for organization I very much question as it was very clear (to me) that they were driven only by façade superficial side of the specific media they use. I think even in their media it is possible to come up with more meaningful sequencing of sounds than just a sound-carpet in a provincial motel. I also question the sounds they use. Individual sounds produced by conventional musical instruments have reference to humanity and to culture. We experience certain feelings from keys, notes or their combinations. The Sounds that they play last night had absolutely no path in me to anything sensible. If too long to look at the lights of night city from a hill then one might begin to recognize some patterns. Eventually the sequence of lights and dark areas might convey own meaning by organizing themselves into streets and bridges. However, it has nothing to do with painting…

    Comment by Romy The Cat — November 19, 2011 at 10:35 am

  2. Romy The Cat raises several interesting points – historical context, cultural relevance, personal sensibilities.

    I attended the same concert Romy did. Yes, I agree with the point about how this concert affected his own musical sensibilities. The revolutionary aspects (to the American ear) of this concert series and its effects on Mr Cat is analogous to historical events wherein listeners where unable to internalize the art that they were exposed to. Further, a cursory look at the history of performance spaces themselves reveals just how habituated listeners are to certain norms. The repudiation of Stravinsky’s “The Rite Of Spring” is just as telling as the repudiation of the acoustical treatment of Lincoln Center by Bolt Beranek and Newman in the last century.

    For my own part, I was inspired, amazed, transfixed and motivated by my listening experience. For me it was a new beginning of my musical experience. And that is after a lifetime of composing and performing live and recorded works.

    I intend to help push this new frontier forward.     

    Comment by Steve Greene — January 27, 2012 at 6:46 am

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