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PACMF09: Interview with Alexis Kirke, organiser of Interface

("Interface" is a free-entry PACMF09 event running from 9:00pm - 10:30pm Saturday 28 February 2009 in the Café, Roland Levinsky Building, University of Plymouth)


Let's be clear about Interface. What is its relationship with the university's Interdisciplinary Centre for Computer Music Research?

Eduardo Miranda is one of the two directors of the Contemporary Music Festival. As well as being a composer, he is the head of the ICCMR. Since the inception of PACMF, there has been an intimate relationship between the festival and the research group. As well as Eduardo’s co-directorship, we have for the last few years included a “formal” ICCMR event on a Saturday night. The ICCMR has a number of members whose music and technology creations are of performance interest: brain-wave controlled music, artificial societies for rhythm generation, and piano improvisation computers. The last couple of years ago this has been a student event. Eduardo is under great demand by prospective PhD students internationally, so a large number of the ICCMR membership are graduate students. However this year it has more become an event organised by the ICCMR, and involving performances by ICCMR members and “friends” of the ICCMR. The “friends” of the ICCMR concept was started by Joao Martins and Leandro Costalonga 2 years ago.


Is Interface automatically available to anyone who works with the ICCMR?

No it is not. In a sense it did use to be – it was a much longer event in some ways separated from the main music festival. This year we have one and a half hours and the ICCMR has 27 members! However not all of them are composers or performers. Proposals are always welcome and I send out a call many months before the event to all ICCMR members. My take would be that we should try and be as inclusive as possible – so I would rather have more people with fewer/shorter pieces, than a handful with longer pieces. In practice the issue of people wanted to be included who there is not time for has not yet been a problem.


And how do people outside the ICCMR become part of Interface?

Like I said, we always welcome proposals. Anyone interested could just submit a proposal to the organisers (currently myself), explain what their relationship is between themselves and the ICCMR. Or get a friend of yours in the ICCMR to propose you. This year we are excited to have a performance by Tim Blackwell from Goldsmiths college, the inventor of “Swarm Music”. He generates music corresponding to computer swarms of fly-like creatures projected up on a screen. He has worked with the ICCMR before and so counts as a “friend”.


Does Interface have a "manifesto", house style, or a philosophy of any kind?

I would start by saying that there is no particular intended house style, but there is a style tendency – perhaps because of the ICCMR link. There tends to be a computer element involved, and although computers can be used for composing acoustic music, music in Interface last year all had an electronic element. We had Joao Martins using his artificial society to compose rhythms while he and his collegue played classical guitar; Marcello Gimenes having a musical “conversation”- improvising back-and-forth - with his musically intelligent computer system iMe; Lola Perrin and myself mixing improvisational minimalism with an electronic manipulation of a computer generated piano; Hillary Mullaney’s hypnotic piece where the sparse chords slowly disintegrate due to digital manipulation; and Leandro Costalonga’s upbeat Electronic Dance music. I think what we want is a good mix – we’re not a pure DnB, Dubstep/Dance night, nor are we pure minimalism or Hypercomplexity solo violin – but we love all of these and think Interface treads the land between them. This is a secondary reason for the title (which we have John Matthias to thank for, by the way).

The name of Interface leads me on to the closest thing we have to a philosophy. The main themes of 'Interface' are twofold: bringing together traditional musicians with technology; and bringing together music-lovers with the latest cutting edge techniques in performance and composition. A significant part of Peninsula Arts’ remit is linking with the community in the South West, hence our desire to provide an “Interface” between the cutting-edge of computer music, and the music lovers in the local community.

There is another element I like to encourage in Interface – some kind of visual synergy. I don’t force this upon the composers/performers – but mention it and encourage it if they’re at all interested. I want to avoid the one-person-and-their-laptop syndrome (another reason why acoustic and hybrid-acoustic is encouraged.) But even if it is a pure laptop piece, the accompaniment of visuals really provides a performance event. Last year we had two flat screen TVs, a large hanging white sheet, and a wall projection. Everyone in the café could see something. My piece with Lola had Guto Nobrega doing amazing riff-sketching along with the music, Hilary Mullaney’s had some poetry and still images she developed with visual artist Paul Hearn, and Guto Nobrega also did some stunning videos for Leandro Costalonga’s music.

On a final note – there is an informality running through the whole of an Interface event. Last year’s (and this year’s) are in the Roland Levinsky balcony café. There was a real party atmosphere in 2008 – I think people didn’t know what to expect next! And performers had their friends along as well. The evening ended with a short lounge DJ set from Leandro as well.


In the dim and distant past when I was a student "electronic music" was music whose sounds were electronically generated and manipulated. "Electroacoustic music" was reserved for music which included, in whole or in part, other sounds - either live or recorded and manipulated - a kind of development from "musique concrete". Has "computer music" now superceded both these terms?

Computer music as the ICCMR thinks of it includes many things: composing, performing and improvising music with (or along with) computers; new tools for music learning; music therapy tools; using music to learn about the brain; developing new musical computer languages; creating new physical electronic instruments; and – appropriately for this Darwin-themed festival – musicological tools including those which study the evolution of music in biology and society.

As for whether the term “computer music” has replaced other terms, I’m not sure there’s a clear case for that. Although conferences such as the International Computer Music Conference have done a lot to champion Electronic and Electroacoustic music, it is still reasonable to generate electronic and electroacoustic music without a computer _at the heart_ of the process. I say “at the heart”, because we do not call acoustic orchestral music “computer music”, even if it is mastered us ProTools on a Mac. There was electroacoustic music before the wide availability of the computer, using tape and various electronic/electrical non-computer tools. I also saw a performance only last year by Paula Matthusen in an ICCMR event in Portugal; it was based on a series of feedback circuits, and a laptop was mainly used as the “mixing desk” as such. On the other hand I am sure a huge proportion of electroacoustic and electronic music is now done on computers.

Interview by Sam Richards


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