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  • Creating Sonic Spaces:An Interview with Natasha Barrett
  • Felipe Otondo

Natasha Barrett is a freelance composer who currently lives in Norway. Her compositional output consists of works for instruments and live electronics, sound installations, dance, theatre, and animation projects, but all her energy seems to stem from her acousmatic composition. In 2006, she received the Nordic Council Music Prize—the most prestigious recognition for a Nordic composer. She has also received awards from the Bourges International Electroacoustic Music Competition (1995, 1998, 2004), Concurso Internacional de Música Electroacústica de São Paulo (2001), the International Rostrum for Electroacoustic Music (2002), and the Noroit Electroacoustic Music Competition in France (1998, 2002), among others. Barrett's projects are frequently commissioned by international organizations, and her music is available on the Empreintes DIGITALes, Cultures electroniques/Mnemosyne Musique Media, Centaur, Computer Music Journal Sound Anthology, Prix Noroit, and Aurora labels.

Her studies include a master's degree at Birmingham University with Jonty Harrison and a doctoral degree supervised by Denis Smalley at City University, London. Table 1 provides a list of her compositions.

This interview took place at the International Computer Music Conference in Barcelona, Spain, on 8 September 2005, and was focused primarily on the composer's thoughts on spatialization. Since this interview took place, the transcription has been augmented with additional information in subsequent communication with Ms. Barrett.

The Listening Space

Felipe Otondo: You have been dealing with spatial design for quite some time. What is your approach toward the use of space in electroacoustic music?

Natasha Barrett: It depends on your listening space. If for now you think about space away from the context of the listener—for example, if you are alone in the studio—I think you can compose a three-dimensional impression of space, even when you manipulate phantom images with two loudspeakers. In stereo, you can then create a great deal of depth—you can work with many degrees of middle-, fore-, and background. This sense of space is often captured through a careful recording technique. But then, of course, as soon as you leave that private listening space, your composed space may collapse because you are no longer in control of your environment. At this point, I find that spatial information suggesting simple room acoustics can be quite stable, whereas other types of spatial information that create, for example, a sense of perspective, occupation, or embodiment, are fragile.

So then you need to think, "How is my space going to function?"—and you might like to try alternative spatialization techniques. Furthermore, you need to decide whether you are aiming at home or concert listeners, in which case I think you need to approach these situations in different ways. One way in which I have found common ground for concert and home listening has been with surround and ambisonics spatialization.

Otondo: Don't you see a contradiction there—a problem that many people don't seem to be aware of—a conflict between this space you can create in the studio and this open space in a concert?

Barrett: Well, as soon as you take your stereo work into a concert, you can make it sound multichannel and occupy the room. I expect other people you have interviewed have said the same thing. Often, when I talk to someone outside our field, they ask how many channels I have in the source. They don't believe me when I say it is stereo. If the loudspeakers are set up correctly, if you have the right space and you know what you are doing, then you can [End Page 10]

Table 1

Compositions by Natasha Barrett

Title Instrumentation/Medium Year

Crack Process Percussion, trumpet, electric guitar, and computer 2006
  (ambisonics and conventional multichannel)
Deep Sea Creatures Acousmatic (stereo, 5.1, 12-ch, or 16-ch) (ambisonics 2006
  and conventional multichannel)
Mobilis in Mobili Acousmatic (stereo, 5.1, 12-ch, or 16-ch) (ambisonics 2006
  and conventional multichannel)
Trade Winds Acousmatic (stereo, 5.1, 12-ch, or 16-ch) (ambisonics 2006
  and conventional multichannel)
Hommage à Parmerud Acousmatic (stereo and 5.1) 2005
Abemolpas (Avoid being eaten by mimicking Acousmatic (5.1, ambisonics, and conventional 2004
  other less palatable...


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