A Spatial Composition

for two pioneering instruments

Helder Tenor Recorder & Icosahedral Loudspeaker


by Susanne Fröhlich, Gerriet K. Sharma

I have never experienced a collaboration that close and intense before, and it was the first time ever I was responsible for my recorder part. The time frame of two years, the step-by-step growth of the piece as well as the unique setting of two prototypes joining a dialog, exploring the aesthetic possibilities of spatial composition, are what makes this work special and forms its strength. During my first year, Gerriet was finishing his doctoral studies at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Graz and when I listened to his electronic music for the first time,I was immediately caught by hisextraordinary sound world. It felt very comfortablelistening to his music, especially because of both its delicacy and intimacy. He treats sounds, silence, rhythm and timingvery respectfullyand I had a strongfeeling that I could add something to hismusical universewith mynewinstrument. While getting more familiar with Gerriets’ compositions, I was sure to be able to use as much as possible of the Helder Tenors new potential and that our piece “Semaphor” will turn the usual sound world of the recorder upside down.

When I “met” the IKO for the first time, I felt like in electronic wonderland.

Gerriet introduced me to its possibilities, capabilities and even physicalities and although I have already heard the IKO in action before, I was astonished how I can literally physically enter the various soundscapes. Here I want to point out, that Gerriet has done a big research on electronic sound worlds and their sculpturality for his doctoral thesis at the KUG1and has become an expert of performing with the IKO like performing on an instrument. This expertise pared with his deep comprehension for space leaded us to the theatrical staged spatial composition “Semaphor”. The title refers to a visual telegraphy system for transmitting information from one tower to the other through for example flags.

I would like to point out a few general aspects, which are interesting to know about “Semaphor”. First of all, I could not imagine any other recorder model performing in this setting, speaking the same language as the electronics. Except for the Paetzold bass recorders, which share a similar contemporary sound world like the Helder Tenor. But since the IKO is a spatialising instrument, their static playing position might be a huge restriction. For in this piece we tryto discover the shared perceptual spectrum of both instruments in dialogue and thus to expand the aesthetic possibilities of spatial composition in the present.Furthermore, I am exploiting the instrument from its dynamic side, using a wide range going from nienteand pppup to fffwithin three octaves. I would like to mention, that at a certain point of our collaboration we have specifically decided to work acoustically to get both as much spatialization as possible and as much realistic sound quality as possible. Besides this, I found out through the further developed Sound Unit of the Helder-Jahn Tenor, that I could use different block positions not only for a distinctive timbre of the instrument10, but also for an optimum sound quality of various playing techniques used in every section.



In the practice of composition AND performance for and with the IKO a very important question lingers at the interface of theory and practice: Are loudspeaker arrays musical instruments?

For a sheer playback or reproduction approach it is a tool, maybe an advanced one, fullfilling a simple purpose to reproduce what was formerly developed, composed, recorded somewhere else. But different motivations in the approach towards spatiality and space in music and sonic art show that the mindset has changed. If we take art as a highly liable sensor for current streams of societal issues and trends [1] we can assume that we are here at the brink of what will be aesthetically daily business in our lives may it be in concert halls, shopping malls, augmented or virtual realities. For the works of present and contemporary utilization of these entities it seems to be crucial being able to understand and therefore use loudspeaker arrays as musical instruments if composers of spatialized electronic music want to make artistic use of the contingencies of such systems. Therefore we need to and can approach these objects on multiple levels of instrumentality as described above.

That does not mean to lose traditional aspects of instrumentality, on the contrary, we have to examine virtuosity, interaction or liveness in the light of a more and more mediated environment to find meaningful categories for orientation.

Furthermore we could enter a sphere of spatial composition that works media-specific, actually building spaces according to ongoing discourses and not only filling them. That would actually redeem the claim of sound sculpting and 3D objects. For engineers working in the related fields it is fundamental to anticipate artistic perception-based research may it be art, entertainment or marketing and PR as cultural practices in every day live.

This attitude towards the contemporary loudspeaker techniques is fundamental once the human-performer steps into the unique atmosphere of the so called "acousmatic music".

For Dugal McKinnon [2] loudspeakers in acousmatic music are typically used to create vibrant aesthetic experiences in the absence of live performers and any significant visual element. Such acousmatic contexts,
while not conventionally live, use sonic immersion, spatial articulation of sound and the experience of sound as invisible matter to create a unique form of liveness. Overcoming this gap between these two world concepts of "human" an "machine" liveness was and is the main task of the work on Semaphor.

In the cases both of music and of science, detachment involved the use of mechanical aids: scientific instruments helped discover a world, musical instruments to build
one [3].

[1] Attali, J. (1985): Noise - The Political Economy of Music. University of Minnesota Press.

[2] McKinnon, D. (2016): Experiencing Liveness in Contemporary Performance - Interdisciplinary Are
Loudspeaker Arrays Musical Instruments? by Gerriet K. Sharma, Frank Schultz Perspectives, chap. Broken Magic - The Liveness of Loudspeakers, 267{271. New York: Routledge.

[3] Burrows, D. (1987): Instrumentalities. In: The Journal of Musicology, 5(1):117{125.

I mean that [artist’s work] is originially engaged in the question of the sensibility of the other.

(Bernard Stiegler, Symbolic Misery, 2005)