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Reviewed by:
  • New San Francisco Tape Music Center: Transparent Tape Music Festival
  • Jonathan Segel
New San Francisco Tape Music Center: Transparent Tape Music Festival Transparent Theater, Berkeley, California, USA, 11–12 January 2002

On 11–12 January, 2002, the Transparent Theater in Berkeley, California hosted the Transparent Tape Music Festival, curated by members of the New San Francisco Tape Music Center (NSFTMC) in conjunction with the ACME Observatory Contemporary Music Series. The weekend concerts were very well attended by any standard (the second night the seats sold out and people had to sit in the aisles) and certainly by the standards of new music concerts in particular.

The concept of what "tape music" is has changed a great deal in the interim since the dissolution of the original San Francisco Tape Music Center (SFTMC), first formed in 1961, its subsequent move to permanent housing in the Mills College Center for Contemporary Music in 1966, and last year's formation of the NSFTMC. Most of these changes in definition have come about from technological advances in the fields of electronics and computers, enabling audio to be recorded, manipulated, and mixed with or without the use of actual recording tape. The present definition, as supplied by the program for the festival concerts, proposes that the music to be presented is in a fixed medium: no arbitration by performer happens during its presentation. In fact, however, many of the pieces were spatially manipulated in real time by the NSFTMC collective members.

The original SFTMC held performances of electronic music of all different varieties, many with live performers and wild visual art, through the 1960s. The SFTMC collective consisted of many luminaries in the field of electronic music such as Pauline Oliveros, Ramon Sender, Morton Subotnik, and Terry Riley.

Another major difference between the original organization and the new one is the present version's lack of an actual Center. It exists virtually, centered in San Francisco, as the name implies. The five members of the NSFTMC collective—Matt Ingalls, Thom Blum, Kent Jolly, Cliff Caruthers, and Joseph Anderson—all live in the San Francisco Bay Area, and, even though all of them were represented in the concerts, many pieces came from other parts of the world. Feeling that there were no forums to explore or exploit fixed-medium music, the collective felt it necessary to create one. They cite the original SFTMC's grassroots style of organization and their manifestation of performances as influential in re-establishing the organization.

Prior to this festival, NSFTMC concerts involved breaking apart the members' own studios for gear to use in the performances, which were staged in warehouses or abandoned office spaces. This festival was the first NSFTMC event to actually be presented in a theater. With the music in fixed form already, the collective was spared the nightmares involved with hiring performers, rehearsing pieces, hosting composers, etc. They did, however, have to think about what to do with a large group of audience members gathered together in a dark room.

Without anything to look at but loudspeakers, a concert of playback music must be incredibly engaging to captivate an audience for an hour or more at a time. The collective sought to shape the sound into the environment of the Transparent Theater, a building that had once housed a church, creating solid, three-dimensional sound imagery by means of 16-channel (8 stereo pairs) diffusion of the predominantly stereo compositions. The theater space itself is housed in a 12-m-wide by 12 m-high room, about 35 m deep from the rear of the audience to the stage rear wall. Various types of speakers were arranged in pairs throughout the space aligned toward the audience, the rear walls, the ceiling, etc. The source tapes (or CDs) were run through one of two multi-channel mixers, one an actual mixing board and the other a multi-channel digital audio mixer in a Macintosh computer, the latter playing back mix values preprogrammed for the specific pieces. The collective had several days of sound-checks in the theater to make things perfect.

The results were phenomenal. The sound imagery and movement created what the collective referred to as...


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pp. 77-80
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