|Ensemble Intercontemporan and Matthias Pintscher after two performances of this work at the Salzburg Festival, 2015|
Composers have had essentially one medium through which to express their musical ideas in a form an audience can appreciate: the sounds that musicians can elicit from traditional instruments. With the advent of computers and other equipment for processing digital signals an entirely new means of musical expression has become available. A composer who applies these electronic devices is bounded only by imagination in creating an ‘orchestra’ of sounds.
Music that seeks to integrate computer-generated sounds with traditional instruments presents a great challenge to a composer. Not only must the composer express musical ideas convincingly but also he or she must do so in a manner that is readily translatable into both mediums. Moreover, the ideas must be resilient enough to be passed back and forth between the two mediums during the course of a performance. Otherwise the listener might wonder what role the computer was meant to have in relation to the other instruments and be puzzled (and perhaps even repelled) by the lack of coherence.
Exploring possible musical relations between computers and traditional instruments requires much communication between composers and those who design computer hardware and software. Through such collaboration, electronic devices can be constructed that serve the composer's immediate purpose while preserving enough generality and flexibility for future musical exploration – a task complicated by the fact that the composition's musical complexity is usually not commensurate with the technical complexity needed for its realisation. What appears to be a simple musical problem often defies an easy technological solution. Perhaps for the first time in history a composer has to explain and formalise the way he or she develops and manipulates concepts, themes and relations in a musical context in order for technicians (who may have little musical training) to bring them into existence. These are the kinds of problems we confront at … IRCAM.