Electroacoustic Music

My interest in electroacoustic music goes back well before the computer age. My earliest composer model, Douglas Lilburn, had set up the first electronic music studio in New Zealand in the 1960s. His work The Return I still see as one of the greatest of New Zealand pieces in this category.

While in Europe in 1966/67 I visited the already famous new music course in Darmstadt (1), Germany, and was inspired by Stockhausen’s idea of using the microphone like a stethoscope, as in Mikrophonie I und II (2). Back in New Zealand I made my first experiments (combined with tape manipulation and splicing) in this direction. It was not, however, until 1981, during my second major stay in Europe, that I did my first practical course (given by Gerald Bennett) in this field of music. I went with him and some of his students twice to the Bourges studio (3) in France (see Abelian Form).

With the advent of the computer everything changed. Tapes no longer needed to be cut and spliced, the complicated and space consuming devices for reverberation and distortion could be replaced with computer programs. This is not to say that the first computers were not space consuming, on the contrary, they were enormous, often housed in a special room far away from the keyboard and screen. That was in the early 1980s.

Later in that decade the first private computers appeared. I bought an Atari (see also Swiss Computer Music Center) because a group of computer musicians had developed “The Composers’ Desktop Project” with which you could make your own music at home. Compared with the modern computers the Atari and others of the time were incredibly slow, especially for computing sound files. It was normal to leave the computer working over night — only to find out in the morning that a mistake had crept in and the whole process had to be repeated!

As yet there was still no program for conventional notation. To this end I spent hours creating clefs and staves and notes of various durations to be able to print very simple scores.

Towards the end of the 1990 I bought my first Macintosh and was astonished at the speed and range of possibilities. Not only could Csound (4) be run for certain processes in real time, but there were now notation programs which allowed one to make a score for a whole orchestra.

And so it goes on. Every few months there are updates, every few years one must buy a new computer, smaller but with more memory space, and greater speed to make the impossible possible.

1 Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik, Darmstadt, Germany, founded 1946 2 Karlheinz Stockhausen, Mikrophonie I und II, composed 1964 3 Institut International de Musique Electroacoustique de Bourges, France 4 Csound: a software program for creating sounds
Kit's electroacoustic music always seemed to me effortless, but this cannot possibly be true. Electroacoustic music is always difficult, nothing sounds as one hopes the first time, and one works very slowly. But Kit eradicates any trace of difficulty and slowness from the music itself so that it seems as if it were just being invented. In addition, his electroacoustic music has a physicality which I greatly admire: it sounds as though it is being played that very moment on strange and wonderful instruments that we have neither seen nor heard before. The sound often sparkles with a freshness and liveliness which are far from the rule in electroacoustic music, and the gestures the music suggests – the movements our mind's eye attributes to the imaginary players of these imaginary and imaginative instruments – are evocative, poetic, often full of gentle humor and always captivating. Kit's electroacoustic compositions make up only a small part of his astonishingly rich list of works, but they constitute a body of completely original pieces whose composer has seemed to be able to convince the basically intractable medium of electronics to do precisely what he wants. As I write these words, however, I realize they may not be appropriate for someone who has been so strongly interested in randomness and indeterminacy as has Kit. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Kit is able to create musical environments in which the often indeterminate events of electronics and computers take on perfect and expressive rightness.
Gerald Bennett

Works using electroacoustic music:

  • Piece of 4
  • Texts for Composition
  • Krähenalles
  • Stonepoem for Clarinet and Tape
  • Nelson Songs
  • Flötenspieler und Fledermäuse
  • Chinese Songs
  • Father's Telescope
  • Un Quart d'Heure avec Dom Juan
  • Dappel Metal
  • Credo in unam Naturam
  • Die Poppa
  • Contrasts
  • Chance Piece for Flute and Tape
  • Schubert 1828
  • Kiln Tower Film Music