Dialing Up

It has been possible to hear the upswing of Norwegian music across the world during the past five years. Great effort has gone into creating a comprehensive educational system for musicians and composers and this, combined with ample financing for new works and festivals across the country (large and thinly populated as it is), has served as the basis for a vigorous and energetic environment for music. Although the tendency in Norway, as in most places, easily drifts towards conservatism in the programming of events and musical presentations where public funds are used to present an «official» facade of esteemed Norwegian music, there is, on the whole, enough of a focus on contemporary music to keep the scene alive and in development.

However, in the Norwegian social democratic society where interest groups’ demands for public funding never cease to grow, electroacoustic music has been largely ignored. The regional colleges and music conservatories have incorporated this field at only the most fundamental level in their educational programs, which are almost without exception directed towards a more «efficient» approach to working with tonal material. Interest in teaching electroacoustic composition technique and music has been small, and has typically focused on the benefits of technology as related to instrumental music. The reasons for this situation have been many, and composers working with electroacoustic elements in their music have been restricted to individual home studios since there were no professional production facilities for electroacoustic music anywhere in Norway until 1993/94, with the exception of facilities provided by the HenieOnstad Art Centre for a period in the 1970s and early 1980s. The Norwegian organizations for contemporary music did not fathom the depths of sounds provided by non-traditional instruments, and the haphazard evaluation and categorization of electroacoustic works by the Norwegian copyright and performing rights organisations were discouraging. Neither was there an environment for research and development of soft- and hardware, nor a professional forum to which composers and artists could turn for advice regarding their strange and
occasionally wonderful ideas.

The Norwegian section of ICEM (NICEM) has struggled to create and maintain a space in the public consciousness for our music, and was for many years the only organization in Norway whose efforts focused on presenting electroacoustic music to the public and providing a forum for discussion about related topics. In this way, the idea of professional studio facilities was kept on the public agenda, while quiet work to secure a more stable resource for electroacoustic music was taking place at the University of Oslo, the Norwegian Cultural Council and in the offices of the Society of Norwegian Composers. It was not until 1993, when the idea of a national resource (a network with the educational institutions as its primary focus) was paired with the idea of a professional electroacoustic music studio, that these objectives were realized in the form of the Norwegian network for Technology, Acoustics and Music (NoTAM).

(Formal and technical information about NoTAM can be found at: http://www.notam02.no, and an abbreviated version can be found in my Studio Report delivered at the ICMC 1995 in Banff.

Several Norwegian composers have produced valuable electroacoustic works throughout the years, with Kåre Kolberg, Bjørn Fongaard, Arne Nordheim, Gunnar Sønstevold and Sigurd Berge, among others, counted among the Norwegian pioneers in this field. These composers travelled abroad, working in Poland, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland, among other places. Knut Wiggen, the first Director of Electronic Music Studio (EMS) in Sweden, was Norwegian, and his engagement in our neighboring country documents the lack of interest and funding in Norway at the time for electroacoustic music and research. Wiggen did all of his work in Sweden and, apart from his musical works, he is probably best known for his early computer program «Music Box», which focused more on structuring musical objects than on timbral manipulation. Composers John Persen, Tor Halmrast, Kjell Samkopf, Nicolay Apollyon, Rolf Wallin, Cecilie Ore and Peer Landa are perhaps also known to the international audience for electroacoustic works produced since the mid-1970s. Most of the works by these composers have been in the
instrumental «domain», and only a few works are purely electroacoustic. Of these few works, however, several have received
awards in international competitions and have been placed on concert programs internationally. The younger generation is difficult to identify at present but should most likely include the names of composers Arne Hellan, Anders Vinjar, Bjarne Kvinnsland, Ida Heidel, Ragnhild Berstad and Asbjørn Flø. There are also young composers in the more commercial vein of music that give reason to believe that interesting projects and compositions will find place in this cross-over area.

Logging On

The Norwegian music community is full of vigour – performers are thriving with newly-won enthusiasm, composers are winning international acclaim and critical response, and concert organizers seem to have gained better knowledge of the international repertoire. This success has been built on the established and well-known foundation of instrumental music. But what about electroacoustic music?

It is natural that the focus on electroacoustic music today centers largely on NoTAM, given the general neglect of electroacoustic music in past decades and NoTAM’s relatively recent establishment. NoTAM is defined as a network which must over time realize itself. The success of this realization rests on local initiative and engagement in the nodes, and will materialize slowly. This slowness does not reflect a weakness in the idea, but rather indicates why the network-model is interesting and necessary. For a country as thinly populated as Norway, and considering the strong belief in equal opportunity ingrained in the social order, to develop a new area of investment in knowledge without considering the entire country in the planning of recruitment and the development of resources is unthinkable.

The future of electroacoustic music in Norway rests on four pillars: Composition, Research and Development, Education and Mediation. This seems quite obvious; in which other way could one define the task? However, when considering the little background there is to build on in Norway this becomes a significant challenge: Musical works must be created; they need to originate in an environment that remains to be built. This can happen only when a generation of composers seriously consider this form of music interesting enough to stake (part of) their livelihood on it, and few will do so until performances with
interested audiences are able to help support this music. Paradoxically, this depends on audiences which will attend only when the music is interesting enough, which will in turn motivate those students poised to assume the roles of composers in the near future. The situation is complex, and the task is no smaller than the building of a tradition – or, more modestly, the foundation for it. This situation in Norway is quite unique; most Western countries have some sort of tradition within electroacoustic music, and an educational system that allows this tradition to be maintained.

Defining the Session

Of course we share the belief that technology-based art music has something to offer which cannot be touched by any other music; the juxtaposition of natural and synthetic timbres in environments that are free from instrumental concepts of time, place and acoustic circumstance. This distinction, however, does not provide much information in terms of aesthetic genres, and we firmly refuse to permit academic criteria to determine access to resources. An educational program is in place that offers courses in the use of various computer programs, as well as more theoretical aspects within signal processing, acoustics, mathematics and physics. Computer music itself, we believe, is cross-disciplinary, and NoTAM is, in collaboration with the Institute of Musicology at the University of Oslo and the State Academy of Music, in the process of starting to «define» our «space» by inviting guest speakers from disciplines as diverse as physics and cognitive science, philosophy, sociology, musicology and composition. Further, international exposure has enabled NoTAM to initiate a program for composers in residence, and we are collaborating in the structuring of a Masters’ program in electroacoustic music at the University of Oslo.

In addition, we are developing Internet-based courses that will be offered throughout Scandinavia, and are investigating the possibility of establishing a common Scandinavian educational degree program within electroacoustic music. Students and teachers need not be in the same room – nor the same country; location as physical presence is, in this context, an irrelevant parameter!

NoTAM recognizes the need to mediate the use of technology, which in itself encourages new ways of shaping the creative impulse. New music is thus advanced when a more accepting attitude towards technology is adopted. It is equally important to participate in the development of the technology, as to avoid becoming solely a consumer. New technology is placed on our plate faster than we are able to shovel it down, and playing with our food is the most important approach to making it our own. Artists are particularly well-qualified «players» – their musical games have impact for us all. This «playing» may challenge established ideas of high/low art within the music community, and perhaps encourage us to question those aspects of mediation that assign particular value to certain works more than to others – we might do well by focusing more on these kinds of discussions taking place within the visual arts. It is not my intention to state that this kind of challenge is necessary for all milieus around the planet, but it has certainly proven to be useful in the building of our musical environment in Norway. Through the interest in other disciplines, and in considering possible digital bridges to the visual arts, for example, NoTAM has encouraged performance- and other stage artists, as well as visual artists, to use the resources available on the network. We also provide assistance in the construction of similar resources in other countries.

Mediating the use of technology has also been one of the objectives in our work on the Web. NoTAM provides the Norwegian music community with Internet access at no cost, and has produced a number of tools for organizers, musicians and composers. We have created complete databases of all electroacoustic music from Norway by those composers interested in making their work accessible, as well as databases of all printed music from Norway, address guides to the music community at large and bibliographies of publications for popular music. In addition, there is a project underway that will allow a network-based distribution of music, with a pilot project constructed as a virtual record store for all music that has been recorded with public funding. Several Web-art projects will be realized in the beginning of 1996, and NoTAM’s Web pages currently receive approximately 10,000 visitors each week due to the remarkable efforts of the Systems Manager, Hans-Christian Holm. NoTAM has strategically placed itself in the centre of what is believed to become an important music arena, and is considered uniquely ambitious in terms of the mediation project we have implemented on our WWW-pages.

As mentioned above, NoTAM is also interested in the development of technology. Since there is no reason to believe that large corporations are developing products for the primary purpose of unleashing the creative spirit, NoTAM’s strategy takes this into consideration when developing hard- and software for composers and researchers. NoTAM’s Chief Programmer, Øyvind Hammer, has provided composers with programs that are now in use throughout the world, of which some are planned for release on a freeware disk by Silicon Graphics.

NoTAM has focused on encouraging childrens’ interest in electroacoustic music through an educational composition program titled «Breaking the Sound Barrier.» It will be presented next year at the principal venue for art music in Oslo, Konserthuset, on the GRM loudspeaker orchestra. The children will be allowed to experience what the real world is like in a concert situation – what the grown-ups use for toys. This philosophy is also fundamental in the development of NoTAM’s CD-ROM that will be used in high schools and junior colleges. The students will «fall backwards» into existing musical material on the CD – and unravel the material as they fall. When they hit bottom, they will understand how the material was created, how to use the programs that created the sounds, and they will have also unknowingly received a lesson in aesthetics. The introduction is tailored as a series of calls to these programs, and tutorial soundfiles, animations, and tutorial texts about technical aspects and aesthetic topics are included in this CD-ROM that is tailored for use on the school’s PC.

Check in on NoTAM next year to see how it is going!

Signing Off

One might perhaps say that NoTAM has tried to transform Norway’s main weakness in electroacoustic music – a lack of history and tradition in a remote region – into a strength. We have attempted to foster an environment in which formal qualifications means less but ideas and effort mean proportionally more. In order to counter the potential disadvantages of our peripheral location on the planet, and to vitalize our activity in the creative domain, NoTAM has invaded the more traditional territories of mediation and is building an educational program with an international perspective through the Internet.

The Norwegian electroacoustic environment resounds with a sense of enthusiasm (and naivité?) that encourages a fresh look at established dogmas – a perspective which will hopefully produce artworks that transcend traditional boundaries. Norway’s meager background in the field of electroacoustic music, and a corresponding lack of interest and debate, might be considered problematic; yet it also permits a certain freedom in defining our areas of interest, which are less bound to existing schools of composition and various forms of aesthetic «establishments». This attitude does not seem inappropriate for the making of what continues to be called new music.

Jøran Rudi, november 1995