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Computer Music Journal 25.1 (2001) 75-76

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Book Review

Chambres Séparées, KOMA, entrop, Zwischenwelten

Gerhard E. Winkler: Chambres Séparées, KOMA, entrop, Zwischenwelten. Compact disc, 1999, ORF Edition Zeitton LC- 5130; available from Ensemble die reihe, Taborstrasse 24a/2/25, 1020 Vienna, Austria; telephone (+43) 1-21-600-65; fax (+43) 1-21-852-86; electronic mail; World Wide Web

A recent release with music by Austrian composer Gerhard Winkler (b. 1959) contains recordings of three pieces for instruments and "interactive live electronics," and an earlier, purely instrumental quintet entitled Zwischenwelten. Mr. Winkler, who has worked extensively in the experimental studio of the Heinrich-Strobel-Foundation in Freiburg, at the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie (ZKM) in Karlsruhe, and at the Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique (IRCAM) in Paris, is currently lecturer for Multimedia Art in Salzburg and one of the pioneers of real-time interactive composition in Europe.

The three pieces involving electronics, Les chambres séparées (1995), KOMA (1996), and entrop (1998), form a trilogy in which the computer's function is not only to transform sounds live, but extends to shaping the formal procedures of each individual performance to a significant degree. The musicians find themselves in a complex computer-controlled environment in which the written score has been replaced with a virtual score generated live and relayed to the players through laptop screens. The interaction between the musicians and this set-up entails, according to the composer:

influencing the computer environment, which reacts in a complex and non-linear way according to the inner system-attributes of the chosen simulation-program, thus forcing the musicians to "live" with the (partly unforseeable) results of their actions: in regard to sound in the live electronics, in regard to notation with the score or the playing instructions projected on the screens in front of each musician. Thus a non-linear feedback cycle is created; the work tends toward musical self-organization.

The recording of each of the pieces of the trilogy sounds very different, but they all leave one thing to be desired: to hear and see them live. Merely hearing a recorded stereo version of the pieces is unsatisfactory, not only because an intricate eight-channel spatialization is built into them as a compositional parameter, but also because the second work, KOMA, makes use of colored movable lighting that plays an important role in providing the listener with a visual/acoustic orientation through the highly complex and dynamic procedures involved with the performance.

Les chambres séparées, commissioned and performed by the Trio Accanto (saxophone, piano, percussion) along with interactive electronics, operates via eight loudspeakers in four virtual sound-spaces which correspond to four different modes of sound transformation, or rather, sound retention. The first mode consists of certain patterns of repetition of live-sampled ensemble sounds. The second mode "coats" an instrumental sound with melisma-like figures derived through amplitude-modulation. The third mode produces filtered glissandi through microtonal transpositions, and the fourth extracts a brief sample and repeats it with pendulum-like regularity. All four modes of transformation are then further processed by a program simulating the growth and decline of biological dynamic systems [End Page 75] (STELLA II by High Performance Systems) and spatialized corresponding to one of the four sound spaces. The actions and reactions of the three musicians influence the whole system, hence the course of spatialization. The recording of this performance suggests the attractive, agile, and busy world of mobile sound objects. The listener can detect that processes are in progress by gestures of stagnation, acceleration, accumulation, and repetition.

While Les chambres séparées is more pointillist in character, the second piece of the trilogy, KOMA, for string quartet and interactive electronics, commissioned by IRCAM, has a more epic and continuous nature, in part through the use of predominantly sustained sounds. The electronics operate more in the background and seem to only marginally accompany or interfere with the string quartet. The computer here is put to...


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