Ars Electronica

Prix Ars Electronica


ORF Oberösterreich

Statement of the Computer Music Jury

Charles Amirkhanian

Among the 235 pieces entered by composers from 26 countries were a large number incorporating satire and humor, some with rock and pop influences, and many incorporating a sampling of acoustic sounds ranging from the cries of a young child to the noises of the construction of a city. Other new tendencies included the use of computer-controlled "hyperinstruments", the quotation of many styles of music from the past and the use of instruments from around the world in the context of digital technology.

The first prize of ÖS 150.000 ($ 13,200) was awarded to the distinguished French composer Bernard Parmegiant for the work "Entre Temps", which exhibited both aesthetic elegance and surpassing technical mastery. A leitmotif of the work is the procession of acoustic sounds from the ticking of a clock to the turning of pages, seamlessly integrated with a variety of synthesized sounds. The jury recognized Mr. Parmegiani's eminent talent to raise his music to new artistic heights using the latest technological contributions.

Second prize was awarded to the Mexican composer Javier Alvarez for his stunning new work "Mannam", commissioned by the Groupe de Musique Expérimentale de Bourges. The work is scored for the Korean super-zither, the "kayagum", along with a prerecorded tape incorporating digitally-altered sounds from that string instrument. This haunting, meditative work in a modal Korean tuning, incorporates both Asian and Latin sensibilities in a fascinating and unpredictable melange.

Another second prize was awarded to the Birmingham-based English composer Jonty Harrisonfor the work " ... et ainsi de suite..." In this concentrated work, a world of great sonic diversity is conjured from a single sound source. Composed in the form of a suite of variations, the electronic magnification of the collision of especially sonorous wine goblets created powerful spatial gestures and a satori of floating resonances which served both an aesthetic and emotional purpose.

A synopsis: Never since the Prix Ars Electronica's inception has the diversity of styles among the (over 220) music entries been as pronounced as it was this year. it almost seems as though sound synthesis had lost the pioneer-like significance it used to have for composers. Opinion on the function of computer music has obviously shifted. It is as if the composer were no longer looking only for new sounds but for formal solutions within his music, which could ultimately formulate a new aesthetic.

Pieces like "Maa" by the Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho hint at this aesthetic. To Saariaho and this composer is only one of many I could mention - the computer is a central instrument of musical language, but only one of several In the score. In other words: instead of computer music apparently being the end result of investigation into sound, investigation itself is becoming an aid to the writing of music. In our three prize winners; Parmegiani, Alvarez and Harrison, the jury has almost exclusively chosen works for tape, which would seem to be a contradiction of the whole computer music scene. Music solely for tape will certainly continue to be a possible form of arrangement within the field of composing with computers, although the main focus will nevertheless shift towards mixed mediaforms.

Composers of computer music are in this sense reacting in increasing numbers to the fact that the computer has for the first time become a common instrument for all the arts; and not only for music, like the piano. But if the visual artist can use the same instrument as the musician or writer, or even the scientist, this must inevitably result in new forms and a reexamination of artistic values. That seems to be the lesson of this year's entries.

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