Since the 1950s composers of electronic music have sought solutions to make prerecorded music "live" in specially designed listening environments such as the Philips Pavilion (1958), inside which two now-classic works, Varèse's Poème Électronique and Xenakis' Concret PH, coursed through hundreds of speakers, and the German Pavilion used by Stockhausen at the 1970 World's Fair in Osaka.
By 1974, Francois Bayle, working at the INA-GRM in France, assembled an orchestra of speakers, christened an "acousmonium" to "diffuse" prerecorded pieces spatially in a concert hall. Bayle wrote, "The placement of loudspeakers is organized according to their qualities (extreme bass, bass, midrange, high, super-high), their power, their quality, and their direction (convergent, divergent, direct, reflected, indirect)…"
Essentially, it's a pimped-out home theater surround-sound system. A "diffusionist" sits behind a mixing desk and allocates sound to various speakers. Spatially reinterpreting the music results in a new sonic grammar of space where presence, distance, and density converge with traditional musical elements of melody, harmony, rhythm, and so on.
Why doesn't Seattle have an acousmonium? Loudspeaker orchestras reside, regrettably with some secrecy, all over the world from BEAST (Birmingham ElectroAcoustic Sound Theatre) in Birmingham, England, to Studio PANaroma in São Paulo, Brazil to Engine 27 in New York City. Closer to home, the Audium in San Francisco has given concerts since 1965.
While the UW's Center for Digital Arts and Experimental Media can be counted on for a quarterly concert in quadraphonic (or better) sound, you'll mostly hear pieces (some of them quite good) by the usual suspects: students, professors, ex-students, and ex-professors. Yet when Bernhard Günter, perhaps the most influential electro-acoustic composer of the 1990s, came to town, he should have had Meany or Brechemin at his beck and call, instead of the now-mythic Anomalous Records space above the liquor store on Capitol Hill.
Someone in town should cobble together an acousmonium, say a Seattle Quadraphonic Ensemble. Our hypothetically titled group should be organized along the lines of a successful performing arts outfit (like the Seattle Chamber Players), garnering arts funding, securing corporate as well as second-hand donations (Mackie mixers, anyone?), and building an audience for the most-neglected music of our time.
Not tied to a single venue, a traveling acousmonium would not be obliged to pander to any single institution and could thus freely program a variety of music. Imagine classic pieces (Morton Subotnick's Touch, Alice Shields' The Transformation of Ani) rubbing shoulders with lowercase sound, field recordings, IDM, and who knows what else (old quad LPs of Beethoven's 5th diffused by an all-star cast of local DJs). Any takers? CHRISTOPHER DeLAURENTI