[ISEA97] Paper: Gerhard Eckel – Exploring Musical Space by Means of Virtual Architecture


The idea of using virtual architecture as a medium for musical exploration arose from my interest in open musical forms. By openness I understand conceiving form not as a line with a clearly marked starting point and an inevitable end, but as a field of possibilities merely laid out in a composition without anticipating their realization. Striving for open forms means aiming at the creation of ambiguous music characterized by a network of interrelations combining all its elements – music that does not know any final form in time and that opposes repetition. It has been tried to create open forms by arranging musical texts in a way that enables the performers to choose among different possible readings during the performance of a piece. Pieces of this type sound different every time they are performed and therefore show a certain degree of openness. But this openness is in contradiction to the uniqueness of presenting music in a concert. The audience cannot comprehend the open form since it is listening to one variation of an open composition which is closed by the performance itself. The aspects of openness could only be experienced by comparing several of these variations. There are, however, not many opportunities to do so, since this would require performing one and the same piece for several times during one concert or releasing different versions of it on CD. The high demands on formal openness can therefore hardly be met in the concert context and as a consequence, many composers gave up any serious consideration of the problem. In a way this is also due to the fact that the concept of the open form calls into question the concert itself as a form of musical presentation, which still causes a lot of hesitation among composers. Thus, the utopia of the open form, which can look back on a long tradition in the history of 20th century composition, may for the time being be regarded as a failure. Another reason for this might be found in the contradiction between formal openness and one of the basic qualities of music: its linear extension in time. It is, however, this apparent contradiction that makes the problem of the open form so interesting for me because it calls into question the nature of music as we know it. In my opinion, musical installations offer an important alternative to the presentation of music in concerts. Because of its nature, an installation seems to be by far more adequate form of presentation for a music where aesthetic concepts such as openness, vagueness and ambiguity play an essential role. By way of example, I should like to briefly introduce my musical installation En Face.

  • Gerhard Eckel, Germany, received his Ph.D.from the University of Vienna, Austria in 1989. He conducted his thesis research in the field of psychoacoustics at the Acoustics Research Laboratory of the Austrian Academy of Science. At the Musikhochschule in Vienna he studied Electroacoustic Music Composition with Dieter Kaufmann and Sound Engineering. In 1985, a scholarship from the European Committee brought him to the Institute for Sonology at the University of Utrecht,The Netherlands. In 1989 he joined IRCAM, the contemporary music department of the Pompidou Center in Paris, founded by Pierre Boulez.ln 1993 he was invited to work for a three-months period at ZKM Karlsruhe, Germany. At the Banff Centre for the Arts in Canada he spent three months as a composer in residence in 1995. Since mid-1996 he works at GMD, the German National Research Center for Information Technology. Eckel is active as a researcher and composer in various fields and interdisciplinary contexts.At IRCAM he was involved in the development of sound synthesis and computer aided com­position systems.There he also conducted research on the relationship of art and technology. His current research activities at GMD include spatial sound rendering and sys­tems design for an integrated simulation of image and sound in VR. In his recent compositional work he concen­trates on music installations which he regards as an ideal presentation context for music with open form. He current­ly experiments with immersive environments as interfaces for audience-driven navigation in music compositions. Documentation on his scientific and artistic projects as well as some of his recent publications are available on-line.

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