Issue #4: Beyond Pythagoras



Monty Adkins (Huddersfield), Guest Editor

This fourth journal issue of Divergence Press is a selection of papers given at the Beyond Pythagoras Symposium held at the University of Huddersfield’s Centre for Research in New Music, 21-23 March 2014. new trends in the sonic arts and experimental electronic music The symposium sought to explore new trends in the sonic arts and experimental electronic music particularly new tuning systems, post-acousmatic and post-digital aesthetics, as well as the re-embodiment of sound production and listening.

The title of the symposium reflected the importance of Pythagorian thinking as a basis for tuning systems and in understanding the term ‘acousmatic’ music. Pythagorean tuning was used up until the beginning of the 16th century. This system is based on the ‘pure’ fifth (702 cents) with the 3:2 ratio used as the generator for all intervals in the scale. Despite the dominance of equal temperament in all music today there remains a strong interest in alternative ‘pure’ or ‘just’ tuning systems. In acousmatic music one hears sound emanating from loudspeakers but does not see the causation of the sound. The French term acousmatique coined by Pierre Schaeffer and Jerome Piegnot in the 1950s, is derived from the original Greek akousmatikoi. This term was originally ascribed to the pupils of Pythagoras who were required to listen to their master’s lectures from behind a veil in order to pay more attention to his teachings rather than any physical gesticulations that often accompany spoken words to aid their communication of meaning. The symposium sought to take these dual areas of investigation (tuning systems and the acousmatic - or more generally electronic sound) and to see how current practitioners are extending and developing these ideas in contemporary works.

Keynote presentations were given by Kaffe Matthews and Mark Fell, who also presented new sound and installation works. Alongside these, Pia Palme and Rhodri Davies presented the world premiere of Occam River V by Eliane Radigue for contrabass recorder and harp. Further concerts by percussionist Jonny Axelsson included works with electronics by d’incise, Jenny Hettne, and Kent Olofsson amongst others. One of the main aims of the symposium was to generate dialogue and discussion around the ideas and works presented. We strongly encouraged ‘piece and paper’ presentations which included live performances, audio-visual work, artist statements as well as more traditional formal papers. Each presenter was given an hour to present with papers (including music) being 35 minutes in length, leaving 25 minutes for discussion.

The papers demonstrate both an awareness of theoretical and aesthetic concerns but also the desire to subvert these to creative ends. The fundamental thread that emerges is how composers can take material, theory, and existing practices and reshape them to create something new. how composers can take material, theory, and existing practices and reshape them to create something new In some cases this results in developing and expanding existing theory and practices, whilst in others, it is mis-appropriating it or re-purposing to one’s own ends. What is communicated in these papers is a desire to share the artistic making, questioning and testing of ideas in a project, and how this process is often as important to the creative artist as the final result itself. Even though the papers often refer to specific pieces that the author’s have composed, the ideas arising from them can be taken further and act as inspiration for further works.

Pia Palme is a composer, performer and improvisor based in Vienna. Her work is often interdisciplinary, using electronic and mechanical means to articulate a sophisticated sense of space. She uses text in her work to highlight specific social contexts and question notions of identity and gender. Her paper explores the creation and aesthetics of two works dealing specifically with resonance in both a musical and cultural capacity. Her work and writing is simultaneously poetic and political.

Girilal Baars is a composer, vocalist and live electronics performer. His work seeks to extend folk music and extended vocal techniques derived from many different cultures around the world by the use of electronics and improvisation. His paper presents his work on the ‘harmonic sequencer’ - a MAX instrument designed to subvert the rhythmic regularity of traditional sequencers by using ratio differences between the harmonic series and equal temperament to create a sense of constant rhythmic flux.

Mark Fell is an internationally renowned sound artist who has produced music in a wide range of styles from techno to installation art- often under his preferred term Unusual Electronic Music Typically Without Academic Affiliation (UEMTWAA). Fell’s article is a tour de force, contextualising his work over the past 20 years through a plethora of sources and references.

Richard Glover is a composer and writer whose work focuses on the use of sustained tones and processual music structures. As a writer he has published articles on minimalist music, the work of Phill Niblock as well as co-authoring the book ‘Temporality and experimental music’ with Bryn Harrison (2013). Glover’s paper reveals the specific processes that underpin two of his recent keyboard pieces for Bob Gilmore, commissioned by Trio Scordatura.

Paulina Sundin is a freelance composer of instrumental and electroacoustic music based in Sweden. It is her PhD research that sought to reinvent harmony in electroacoustic music through the work of William Sethares that has led to this symposium. Her research funded by Kulturbryggan, Statens Musikverk and Helge Ax:Son Johnsons Stiftelse led to the original Beyond Pythagoras compositional project (, to this symposium and the publication of selected papers in this journal edition. Sundin’s paper documents her theoretical research and on-going collaboration with Monty Adkins, Jonny Axelsson and Adrian Geirakowski.

Robert Mackay is a composer, performer, installation artist and lecturer at the University of Hull. Having started his career as an acousmatic composer, Mackey’s recent work uses new technologies to create unique interactive sound environments. His paper discusses his recent Strata Sequence which includes multi-channel compositions using a specially built lithophone (the Brantwood Musical Stones) played by Dame Evelyn Glennie, an interactive installation allowing participants to play a virtual version of this lithophone and a Jurassic soundscape entitled Re- imagining the Jurassic.

Kent Olofsson is a professor of composition at Malmö Academy of Music. His composes interdisciplinary works, concert works and solo works with electronics. His paper, like that of Pia Palme discusses the concept of resonance. However, Olofsson presents are rather different though no less multifaceted approach. Through a discussion of Terpsichord for bass cimbalom and electronics as well as his theatre projects Arrival Cities and Hamlet II: Exit Ghost he discusses resonance both as a compositional and narratalogical device that underpins his work.

About the editor:

Monty Adkins is a composer, performer, and Professor of Experimental Electronic Music at the University of Huddersfield. He has created installations, concert and audio-visual works, and a number of collaborations with contemporary performers. His works have been commissioned by Ina-GRM, IRCAM, BBC Radio 3, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (HCMF), SpACE-Net, ZKM (Centre for Art and Media, Karlsruhe) and Sonic Arts Network (SAN), among others. For his oeuvre he has been awarded over 15 international prizes including the Stockholm Electronic Arts Award (Sweden), Grand Prize at Musica Nova (Prague, Czech Republic), and five prizes at the Bourges International Electroacoustic Music Competition (France). Adkins is also active as a writer and concert curator. He completed his first book with Pip Dickens in 2011 on the relationship between art and music Shibusa – Extracting Beauty and a second in 2013 co-edited with Prof. Michael Russ on the music of Roberto Gerhard (Ashgate). Adkins also is Co-Artistic Director of the Electric Spring Festival. Held in Huddersfield, annually, this festival focuses on live electronic music and experimental performance.