Iain Cameron's Diary
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2004-03-06 - 3:22 p.m.

I met Shawn Pinchbeck briefly last night after hearing one of his works performed at the CBSO Centre. Then I listened to his CD – Penetration – which dates from 1990 and cost a very reasonable £6. Shawn is Canadian and the music is ambient industrial tending towards abstraction. It sounds really good - I was surprised at how positive my reaction was. I have been on the brink of buying Cabaret Voltaire for a few months and this music is a good bridge.

With my Coventry interest – and the Spaceward thesis – I want to dig deeper into other visible centres of sonic innovation and Sheffield and the Cabs are one such – plus I have a link to Mick Beck who is a mainstay of that scene.

Last night placed Birmingham even more firmly on the map but not quite in the same way. Shawn was playing at a BEAST event at the CBSO Centre. BEAST is (I think) a very expensive stereo owned by the University of Birmingham – well I say stereo – surround-sound would be more accurate – lots of channels, lots of amps and lots of specialist speakers for each part of the frequency range.

On last night’s programmes there were works from several students from the Music Faculty. Shawn is a lecturer in audio art at the Estonian Academy of Art. There were other visitors on the programme – Edson Zampronha from Spain, Peter Stollery from Aberdeen.

The big noise (ho ho) at Birmingham is someone called Jonty Harrison and he and Bernard Parmegiani (an Italian star in this field) were at the concert. I am listening to some JH stuff in the car at the moment. I also bought a double CD by a French Canadian band who blend this approach with free-ish jazz.

Birmingham BEAST is a different cultural model – an older one. The avant-garde gets into bed with academia and persuades the cultural elite to stump up the dosh – like IRCAM and Milton Subotnik. Sometimes underground artists come above ground to get the resources to do hi-tec work. Laurie Anderson, Cindy Sherman and Bill Viola are all obvious examples. Lamont Young did it a bit, I think – there is some corporate money behind the MELA Foundation.

In fact I heard a cross-over between BEAST music and that big water piece by Bill Viola that I saw a few months back at the Nat Gal. The water piece is very hi-tec – including the sound track of the deluge and the quality of reproduction came back to me as I listened to BEAST. Also Tacita Dean’s BBC Radio 3 work on Berlin – with lots of leaves rustling.

I was surprised that the BEAST bunch didn’t do more positioning – locating themselves in relation to Cage and Stockhausen say or Nono. It’s the kind of thing I was scared to ask – they must all know where they relate to these people - its inviting a put-down to just pose the question. You need to do more than just sail under the banner of electro-acoustic in my view.

I first came across Birmingham “sound –outness” in DTI of all places. I became responsible for a real pig of a project and the security expert on it had done a composition degree there. He had developed the extraordinary Dyp Experience which I bottle on about from time to time. Encountering Dyp and meeting Mick Beck again in an otherwise pretty uninspiring time made a big impact. Dyp are more towards the Lower East Side end of business rather than the midtown corporate sponsorship wing or the Columbia University funding stream.

I have been working with a Phil Niblock drone – harmonising it – with the result that it yields even better texture – something that surprised me but predisposed me to the BEAST.

Vita kindly let me try her Net MD machine. It seems to be willing to let me take tracks from the hard disc of the Dell – in WAV format and put them on MD is the standard format. This is a cost effective way of archiving and of getting the stuff up to L-town.

Keen readers of KK news might have spotted an Iraq binge last weekend. I cant help noting the Hutton comments on misrepresentation of his conclusions - also Isabel Hilton’s article in today’s Guardian about Chalabi – the master of war.

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