Isabel Soveral on EAW

Posted in Arte no Tempo Talks

One of Portugal’s most illustrious composers, Isabel Soveral has been a lecturer in Composition, Music Theory and Music Analysis at the Department of Communication and Arts of the University of Aveiro (UA) since 1995, where she also coordinates the group of Composition, Theory and Technology of Music at INET-MD (Institute of Ethnomusicology – Centre for Studies in Music and Dance). As Director of CIME (Research Centre for Electroacoustic Music at UA), Soveral created the Electroacoustic Winds platform (EAW) in 2014, through which she envisages a range of activities, both in Portugal and abroad.
It is on the scope of EAW that the Electroacoustic Winds 2015 | I International Conference of Electroacoustic Music of Aveiro emerges, which is organized by CIME, INET-md and Arte no Tempo.


[AnT/EAW] The EAW platform, which will soon host the First International Congress for Electroacoustic Music, combines research with training and with musical experiences. How was this project conceived?
[IS] The University of Aveiro has gradually been investing a great deal in this field. I felt that it was important to create a project that would mirror the reality experienced in DeCA (the Department of Communication and Art at UA) where we have composers that have created important work in the field of electroacoustic music, instrumentalists specialising in the performance of contemporary music performance – with or without electronics - and theorists that discuss contemporary music (it is no coincidence that INET-MD has a group named "Composition, Theory and Music Technologies"). The EAW focused on three key issues: disseminating work which has been completed and creating partnerships with programming institutions; strengthening research, including involving other research centres; involving the business community with interests in the evolution of music technology. With regard to training, the idea was to offer workshops to complement academic studies – in particular, the training offered by companies specialising in this area.

At a time when the national economic crisis also affects scientific research, why invest in a congress in an area which is relatively marginal?
From my perspective of the arts and sciences, marginal areas do not exist. There are, however, areas with greater immediacy than others. The creation of works and ideas do not stop because the country is in crisis. It is important to realize to whom you are referring when you say "invest" - we, the composers and theorists who work with music technology, never stop investing in this area: this is our area.

Electro-acoustic music, especially when not combined with acoustic instruments, remains a "ghetto" tends not to attract the vast majority of the music community. Are the days numbered for electroacoustic music?
Electronic music is everywhere, in various musical genres. Technology is always evolving and the business world has been leading this field. New software is constantly coming on the market and, nowadays, sometimes musicians can not even keep up with so much new technology and new work tools. There are research centres which focus mainly on classical music (like IRCAM, for example), which also develop their own computer applications. In fact, all this diversity makes it harder to trace just one aesthetic line. However, it is necessary to rethink programming to win over a greater public. The theme of the next conference will be electroacoustic music and cinema. Can you imagine how fertile musical technology is in this field?
Of course, organising a festival exclusively for electro-acoustic music – as opposed to a conference in which the scientific aspect plays a prominent role - without acoustic instruments, without images, etc., may not make much sense at present. We must diversify.

Can you mention some aspects which are characteristic of EAW 2015?
As it is our first congress, we decided to invite key figures in the evolution of music technology. We sought out the "dinosaurs", like John Chowning (known as the "father of the digital synthesizer") and Jean-Claude Risset, who has made extraordinary contributions to the evolution of computer music. When these composers began their work in this area, they were head-hunted by companies who sought to create new machines and applications based on these findings. The companies realized that in most cases the universities did not offer the same potential that the findings of these composers/scientists offered. Interestingly, John Chowning now holds several Honoris Causa Doctorates, but when he was starting out, he was not understood by the university where he worked: it was Yamaha who discovered the potential of his work.

As this is called the ‘first’ congress, presumably there will be more in the future – such as the possibility of electro-acoustic music and cinema. What defines the project’s identity, and what are your aims for the next congress?
I believe that one of the guidelines for the project is based on the association of creative thinking with technological thinking, with a certain transversality. We will pursue the consolidation of a line that seeks to encourage the interaction between the work and the people involved in creation, interpretation and theoretical research, the relations between the university and the industrial sector, in addition to university programming. Only through a more comprehensive approach, can we attract new active agents (creators and researchers on the one hand, and new programmers and audiences on the other). We also have the desire to interact with other areas such as cinema, design and other forms of artistic expression. Hence, the next Congress will probably look into the relationship between electro-acoustic music and cinema.

If electro-acoustic music can be considered a fertile area, do you think that it has failed in communicating the works of this form of artistic expression? What if, instead of a congress, you were to organise a festival?
What has failed is that there has not been there a very open approach. We are not living in the 1970s. You cannot create ghettos which are too elitist, but you can involve specialised creation so that it can be appreciated. Diversity is one of the ways to counteract this ghetto and the path must pass through the creation of spaces (festivals, conferences ...) in which access to these works is as natural as access to other genres. It is up to the programmers and promoters to resolve the audience problem, but my intuition tells me that programming should diversify in order to avoid ghettos. Nowadays, it is possible to create interesting festivals, and once quality is guaranteed, you can associate different aesthetics and genres that use the same technological supports, so that works of very different characters can be appreciated.

Sometimes the scientific community has an image of an absolutely closed group, with the roles of its members alternating between performer and audience within the same circuit. What is your perspective of this reality?
There is a tendency towards this type of 'island'. If we look at American universities, we find that 70% or more of what they produce is for domestic consumption. However, this activity (comprising creators, scientists, structures, laboratories, etc.) favours the emergence of new ideas, discoveries that can change the course of things. As we know, John Chowning changed the soundscape for ever more.

As a composer, your experiences in the field of pure electronics dates back to your training. What influences you to resort to electroacoustic elements only in combination with acoustic instruments?
The creator seeks a world that has fertile means for him or her to express themselves.  The interaction between acoustic instruments and electronics has interested me from very early on. I could work on pure electronics, but I do not have time to do everything. I have always opted for works in which this instrument-electronic interaction exists. I consider both to be important genres, but it's more a question of identity. I really like to work with instrumentalists. The team work with performers is an amazing world to develop.

If you had a unique opportunity to try to persuade someone to go to a concert of electroacoustic music, what would you say to encourage them?
Any work, regardless of the medium used, reveals a message, a state of mind. A work can reveal a new thought, an emotional framework with which the listener can identify. In my opinion, there is always something new that is added to that listener’s world. Personal development cannot occur if there is no openness to what is new. On the other hand, concerts which involve music technology always invoke some curiosity, due to its novelty. It is important that people are open to this experience, which is certainly an enriching experience.

Interview conducted by Diana Ferreira in September 2015; translated by Aoife Hiney.
(partially published on Diário de Aveiro, on September 15th 2015)