December in Ireland – Sounds Electric ’05

December is my favorite month of the year, one which I always look forward to. It is a time of year when I can go home to visit family and is usually a very thoughtful and quiet time as well, a period of reflection and planning for the new year to come. It’s also the month I was born in, which is fun to look forward to. ^_^

This past weekend was the Sounds Electric ’05 conference at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, just 40 minutes outside of Dublin, which ended up being a very enjoyable and memorable event for me. I could not think of a better way to start this favorite month of mine.

I left San Francisco a couple days prior to the conference, leaving noon Wednesday and arriving at Heathrow in London at 6:00AM, then after a short layover took a flight from 9:00 to 10:00AM to Dublin. When I had scheduled my trip, I wanted to spend some time to be able to go around Dublin at least for one day, as I figured I had no idea when I’d be able to visit Ireland again and wanted to make the most of my trip. So after landing and emailing Lisa to let her know I arrived safely, I proceeded–with guidebook in hand–to go around Dublin, seeing the Book of Kells exhibit at Trinity College, Christ Church, walking down Grafton Street and the Temple Bar Area, and finishing up at the Guiness Storehouse (which I rather enjoyed very much!). After all that, I walked up and over the river and down the North side, found the Epicurean Food Hall and ate a quick dinner of Fish and Chips (which were fantastic =) ) and then off to the train station to end my day trip around Dublin and to head on to Maynooth.

From the little I saw of Dublin, I found myself surprised at how loud the city was, with all it’s cars, trucks, and motorcycles buzzing around, as well as how fast the pace of the city was, especially on Grafton Street. The people reminded me of New Yorkers, all busy on their way to somewhere for some reason or another. I was tired though and moving along at a rather slow tempo (I think by the end of the day I had been awake for some 40 hours with only an hour’s worth of sleep in that, having not slept much at all on the plane rides) so perhaps it was just me who was moving slower than everything else.

The train ride to Maynooth that evening was quiet, and it being dark outside, when I arrived to Maynooth I had walked around and gotten a little lost before finally making it to the Conference center check-in there and finally getting to my room. A nice quiet room and a long sleep that evening.

The next day at breakfast I was fortunate to have run into John ffitch, whom I met for the first time there, and whom I had the great pleasure of getting to know better that weekend. After breakfast we headed over to Victor Lazzarini‘s studio where we found Victor, Dr. Boulanger, and his son Philip. As Dr. B and Philip had just landed, altogether we went out for a breakfast for them. Victor had to leave to go pick up more people from the airport, and since Dr. B and Philip were a bit tired from their flight, we walked with them back to their rooms, and then John and I went back to the cafe for more coffee and tea and conversation.

After splitting with John I went back to my room for a brief nap and headed over to the Aula Maxima (the concert hall) to catch a rehearsal there for the night’s concert, as we all had planned to meet there as well. While waiting there I first got to meet Rory Walsh, whom I had seen before on some mailing lists but had not had the pleasure of meeting until then. Quite a programmer and composer, I was very happy to meet him and to get acquainted with the work he was doing. Victor later returned from the Airport with Rajmil Fischman, another composer whom I was lucky to meet at this conference, and I had the pleasure of getting to know him a bit better. John, Dr. B and Philip arrived shortly after and after some time there at the rehearsal we all ended up going to a very tasty Italian restaurant, everyone catching up with everyone else and enjoying a rather nice meal and pleasant conversation.

The concert that evening was very enjoyable, though I have to say that jet lag was starting to dig in and it made it hard to be completely there at the concert. At the conclusion of the concert I ended up going into town with everyone but did not grab a beer at the pub that night, just returned back to the room after purchasing some water and chocolates to go over my presentation I was preparing for Sunday, and then falling asleep.

Saturday morning at breakfast I sat down with John, Dr. B, and Philip and while eating Dr. B was called away. We joked around that his gear had gotten rained on and other things, but we were to find later the reason for this. After breakfast we all headed on to Dr. B’s keynote speech discussing Csound, its relevance today, with many examples of projects from Dr. B’s students and also examples from Hollywood movies where Csound was being used. Dr. B’s talk was as great as any of his other talks I had heard (he’s great to hear lecture if you ever have a chance to catch one!). At one point though a person had come in during Dr. B’s presentation, someone who I didn’t pay attention to as I was listening to the presentation, but Dr. B stops and then introduces him to us all: it was Barry Vercoe! What a treat it was to have the author of Csound and founding member of MIT’s Media Lab there for the occasion of this Csound focused conference, and a complete surprise to us all (even Victor did not know Barry would be there).

(So that’s where Dr. B went at breakfast, to find and greet Barry when he arrived to Maynooth…)

The keynote and the concert from the night before really set a great tone for the conference I think, and it was really a great time from there on out. After the keynote and lunch we returned to the Aula Maxima for the first of two concerts of “tape music” (pre-recorded computer music). It was here I first heard one of Jan Jacob Hofmann‘s pieces and also got to meet and get acquainted with him. (An absolute gem of a human being!). It was great to hear such a good concert of music, as it had been quite some time since I had heard a concert of electronic music in a concert setting.

After the concert was the first session of papers. Victor discussed and demonstrated using the Csound API with TCL, showing some of the potential of using the API for your own projects. It was nice to see how he uses the API and to hear his explanation of it, and really quite helpful to see how his TCLCsound project worked. Following his presentation was one by Simon Schampijer on his project RAViC, a set of FLTK widgets for visualizing audio signals in the time and frequency domain, implemented as a set of plugins to Csound. (After this presentation I ended up on a number of occasions with Simon and was very happy to meet and get to know him, another gem of a human being!). The final presentation was by Alan O Cinneide on his pvspitch pitch tracking opcode, which was nice to hear how he went through the process of creating his opcode and the research details that he considered for the technique he came up with.

After these papers was a featured presentation by Rajmil Fischman, “Real and Virtual Landscapes in Electroacoustic music”, a very thought provoking and well presented presentation on the nature/perception of musical materials and transformations.

A light dinner at SuperMac’s (yes, I can say that I have tried the SuperMac burger!) and then the evening’s concert, an hour long multimedia improvisation with musicians, dancers, and visual work. I was very near exhausted at this point and did fall asleep for a part of the performance (going halfway around the world does take quite a toll!), but I enjoyed very much all that I was able to catch, and hopefully will be able to see these performers again.

After the concert I enjoyed a nice long dinner with Victor, Rajmil, Simon, Neal Smith-Amies (unfortunately I only got to talk with him briefly and didn’t get to know him better), and another fellow whose name I unfortunately did not catch. After the lovely long meal at a Chinese restaurant with quite good food, I ended up passing on going to the pub where most everyone else went and went back to my room to once again go over presentation material.

Sunday morning after breakfast I was fortunate enough to attend the rehearsal of Dr. Boulanger and Rajmil Fischman’s music for their concert that evening which I would be missing due to having to catch a flight. It was great to hear the excerpts of Rajmil’s music as well as getting to hear a full performance of Dr. B’s “Into the Light”, a gorgeous piece with Philip on cello and Dr. B on Radio Baton doing live manipulation. I only wish I could have made the concert that evening!

After the rehearsal, John and I went with Victor to test our laptops with the projector for our presentations later, and running a little late, we entered the afternoon tape music concert after the first piece. After the concert (again very good), a number of us ran over to the cafe and got a bite to eat. I left the group a little early to setup as I was first on the afternoon session of papers.

I was given 45 minutes to present, and as I got into it and was going along I noticed that I had a good more I wanted to cover and already 45 minutes had passed! I quickly went through the rest that I could in 15 minutes and made it through the presentation. Whew! I usually get pretty nervous when it comes to speaking in front of people and I hope I wasn’t too inarticulate up there (I have tendency to mumble, which my parents remind me everytime I’m home: “Speak clear-ly Steven!” my mother always says ^_^ ). I felt bad as Rory Wlash and Andres Vidal, who presented after me, had to rush a bit on my account through their presentations, but I can say that their presentations were excellent and seemed very well received to me (if anything I enjoyed the presentations very much!). After that session I had gotten good feedback which made me feel that the presentation I gave went well, so was happy with that.

After a short break, we returned to hear John ffitch’s talk about Csound, the state of it now and a bit of background about how we got to where we are and where he wanted to go with it. It was great to hear John’s talk about how he got into Csound as well as to get his view of things as they were very illuminating (and I find I enjoy John speaking very much as I like his sense of humor =) ).

Barry Vercoe was given a space to present on Extended Csound but unfortunately I had to leave after John’s presentation and was unable to hear the QA session for John as well as Barry’s presentation which I would have loved to have caught. I also wished I could have been there for Dr. B’s and Rajmil’s concert that evening, but I had to catch a plane that night to London and then wait in Heathrow until the morning to catch the first plane to San Francisco to get back to work.

Leaving for the Dublin airport with Victor, we had a great conversation on our way there, and parting our ways I felt a sense of sadness to be missing the last bit of the conference and to be leaving that really great group of people, but also a sense of real joy to have been able to be there and to be a part of it. I think I will always look back to that trip to Ireland and that conference very fondly, and can’t thank Victor and all who worked to organize the concert for putting on such a memorable event. Home now in San Francisco, I return very inspired to work, happy to have met so many wonderful people, and looking forward to listening to more of their music and to when I can meet these people again.

It’s already been a great year for me, and entering into December on such a great note, I’m looking forward to working away the evenings, programming and composing, and to the holidays soon to come.


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