In the press
François Couture, AllMusic, September 1, 2001
Martin Herman, Leonardo Music Journal, no. 3, January 1, 1993… musicians who are not only impressive technically but also musically eloquent, responsibly open-minded and inventive…
Alison Appelbe, The Vancouver Courier, February 27, 1991
Alexander Varty, The Georgia Straight, February 15, 1991
Michael Becker, North Shore News, February 13, 1991The machine isn’t pretending to be another person jamming with a performer. The live performer leads all the way.
Composer Daniel Scheidt is a minor figure of Canadian computer music. His works are essentially written for a soloing instrument and interacting computer software.
Scheidt grew up in the province of Alberta, Canada. He first studied percussion and composition at the University of Victoria (British Columbia). But his interest in technology, and particularly the use of the computer as a compositional tool drove him to study computer science at Queen’s University (Kingston, Ontario). After a few pieces for solo piano and for Synclavier in the early 1980s, he turned to computer creation. His first works from the mid-’80s are solo computer pieces, but he quickly turned to writing software applications that could interact in real-time with an improviser. A few world-renowned musicians commissioned pieces from him, including trombonist George Lewis, percussionist Trevor Tureski, and clarinetist Lori Freedman. Examples of his pieces for instrumentalist and computer are documented on his first CD Action/Réaction, published in 1991 on empreintes DIGITALes.
Daniel Scheidt’s recording was realized with the aid of the Canada Council and recorded at the Luscar Studio of the Banff Center for the Arts between July and October of 1990. It contains five works, each of which features an individual soloist performing with an interactive computer software system designed by Scheidt. One of these systems, MOXIE (which utilizes timing routines developed by Douglas Coiling of Victoria, Canada, and is designed to run on an Atari ST computer), takes acoustic input from the performer and produces an electronic response. MOXIE transforms incoming musical material in a variety of ways and sends responses back to the performer and auditors via audio output with MIDI-based synthesizers. Hence, a feedback loop is created between the performer and the computer: the performing musician provides source material, the computer reacts, and this transformed material becomes new input for the performer at subsequent iterations.
The pieces on this CD evolved through extensive rehearsals with the participating musicians. No fixed score were used; instead, each performer freely improvised the material to which the computer responded — including the macro design elements in each piece. Scheidt relinquishes compositional control out of interest in and devotion to improvisation, process and software as a compositional medium. Each performance with an interactive system will naturally be quite different, and the recordings on this disc are for the most part straight runs, with little or no studio editing. Having fought with the issue of an “ideal take,” Scheidt has opted for offering his listeners a documentation of a studio performance rather than a compositionally worked-out realization of each piece. The contributions of each performer, therefore, are of paramount importance. It is clear that, in this recording, Scheidt is working with musicians who are not only impressive technically but also musically eloquent, responsibly open-minded and inventive with regard to Scheidt’s purposes. Furthermore, Scheidt’s software is flexibly wriuen so as to provide intelligent musical responses to each performer’s particular set of skills and style of playing.
Obeying the Laws of Physics features Canadian percussionist Trevor Tureski in an interactive performance with the computer. He performs on an electronic percussion device that functions as a controller, which is routed through the computer into what sounds like Yamaha TX802 synthesizer modules. The piece explores four timbral landscapes, including unpitched, austere, dry percussive timbres; sustained, bell-like colors; dramatically charged plucked sounds; and transformed bell-like timbres. Though the piece is played with conviction and skill bv Tureski, it suffers in this realization from the relative homogeneity of its rhythmic language. There is not much change in the surface rhythm until about 9.5 min into the piece. Further, there is not a distinctive enough middle-ground rhythmic profile to offset this. It is difficult to judge whether this is due to the software or to choices Tureski makes; nevertheless, it points to a potential pitfall of relinquishing control of certain compositional issues relating to phrase structure and rhythmic design in a work where rhythmic profile is so important. A more carefully crafted timbral landscape might have offset this, but as it is, the timbres seem to consist of rather tired-sounding FM presets on a TX802 synthesizer module. To be sure, Scheidt’s principal interest is neither in designing new instrumental timbres nor in creating masterpiece sound objects. However, he can be respectfully taken to task for not paying attention to timbre in a more creatiie fashion, since in the program notes to the piece he professes to be concerned with the exploration of distinct timbral groups. Tureski shows good compositional judgement in his decision to reserve the most climactic section for the end of the piece. The piece also ends in the same wav that it begins timbrally and rhythmically, thereby rounding it out formally. Perhaps this latter decision is too safe a one to make in a work that might have benefited from a less predictable formal approach.
A Digital Eclogue for clarinet/bass clarinet and interactive software, highlights the talents of Claude Schryer, whose playing in the piece explores a variety of instrumental timbres and some extended techniques such as microtunings and multiphonic textures. For the most part, the piece is preoccupied with pitch, especially at the beginning and the end of the work. Motivic relationships are brought to the foreground by both performer and computer. Timbrally, the piece favors slowly evolving FM sonorities that create a flat sonic landscape at the outset, middle and end, forming a kind of arch. Within the arch are dynamic transformations and filterings of the clarinet through the computer, as well as effective contrasting musical gestures and colors coaxed out of the instrument by Schryer. The rounded arch form works to the piece’s advantage, as there is sufficient melodic, rhythmic and proportional contrast within it. Judging from the program notes, this choice of motivically derived pitch relationships, as highlighted by the arch form, reflects a concern with more traditional aspects of musical design.
One of the most compelling pieces on the CD, in my view, is Stories Told, which is also the only one in which the performer uses written material — namely, five texts by Robin Dawes and a setting that Scheidt wrote for the third text, which is entitled Chanson/Song. Dawes’s texts are generated by a computer program of his own design, which performs a statistical analysis of the Oxford English Dictionary to make new words resembling English. The results seem more like a marriage of Gaelic and Latin. These statistically generated words are grouped into phoneme classes that constitute four distinct “dialects” in this piece. Stories Told explores the idea of narrative as an act of storytelling extracted from the content of the story itself. Since the texts are in an unknown language, every listener shares the experience of interpreting meaning only by means of the musical inflections and expressive renderings of the performer, Catherine Lewis, without reference to a specific cultural or societal context. Stories Told holds the listener’s interest because of Catherine Lewis’ imaginative, expressive readings of Dawes’ texts and her exquisite singing of Chanson — eloquently set, with simplicity and memorable melodic profile, by Scheidt and Lewis.
This work creates a new kind of social context in which both the computer/ performer and the computer/performer/listener are engaged in an interactive collaboration that forces a redefinition of traditional notions of musical meaning and identity. The computer is engaged in the process of interpreting what the narrator/singer is doing, since it responds musically to her and acts as an intermediate agent for the audience. The listener, rather than becoming mired in and preoccupied with a language he or she cannot understand, becomes fascinated by the implied meanings and emotional contexts suggested by the texts, as delivered by Lewis, and by the musically interpreted meaning, as offered by the computer. Where is the composer in this relationship? Is the software the composer of the piece, in so far as it is setting the words in an interpretive context. Or is the performer the composer, since she is emoting the words quite differently in each text, and the computer is set up to respond to that? I find it difficult to hear the texts simply as found objects that can be appreciated for sound’s sake alone. They placed me in a context where a search for their meaning could not be avoided. Provocative questions are raised in this piece — and in Scheidt’s work in general — that call for a reevaluation of musical identity and of that which is “social” in the making of music.
Norm ’n George, for trombone and interactive software, features the talents of George Lewis on trombone and NORM, an interactive software environment written by Scheidt. NORM is “the most generalized response system used on this disc,” according to Scheidt, and has continued to “grow and shed its skin” vith each new performance.
The piece works not only because of the flexibility and intelligence of Scheidt’s sofnware, but also because of George Lewis’s keen compositional sense and remarkable ear. In this piece one senses, above all, the presence of a performer listening creatively to the computer and finding humor as well as seriousness in that enterprise — and, no doubt, testing the computer to its limits, since Lewis creates a remarkable array of gestural profiles and timbres with his instrument. Virtuosic, substantial, drawing upon jazz and contemporary extended techniques, Lewis’s playing has purpose, wit and boundless energy, and it builds to a convincing climax. The piece is quickly paced, though it is the longest on the disc. Clearly there is more to the NORM software than simple triggering or imitation of incoming musical events. The computer engages the performer in a spirited dialogue. This is the most musically convincing composition on the disc, due in no small way to George Lewis’s talent, and the one that shows the flexibility and quickness of Scheidt’s software to its best advantage.
Squeeze, for bass clarinet and interactive software, is performed by Lori Freedman on the bass clarinet and NORM interactive software. A static slowly evolving, quiet and meditative work, it serves as an effective contrast to the preceding piece, pointing up the flexibility of Scheidt’s software and its sensitivity both to the material that the performers bring to the interaction and to their playing styles. Freedman’s playing is controlled, effectively building the piece in long-breathed phrases, while the computer creates an amorphous cloud of closely spaced clusters around the sparse melodic patterns fed in by Freedman. The manner in which the piece breathes and builds from the chiaroscuro to the highest register by its end is particularly memorable. If anything, the piece could have gone on a little longer — the ending seems abruptly cut off. Nonetheless, the work presents an appropriate ending to the disc as a whole.
Taken as a whole, this CD offers a fascinating and provocative collection of pieces. The performers contribute substantially to its quality both through their playing and their intelligent musical interaction with the computer. Each performer involves him- or herself fully in forging a new kind of socio-musical relationship with Scheidt’s interactive software. One is hard-pressed to imagine more committed, open-minded partners in such an enterprise. Scheidt has surrounded himself with musicians who enter into this interactive world with passion, invention, virtuosity and purpose.
Scheidt himself continues to spearhead fascinating research in interactive music systems involving human performers and computer software. He is currently affiliated with the Computed Art Workshop at Simon Fraser University’s Contemporary Arts Summer Institute in Vancouver, British Columbia, which intensively explores software as a creative medium. Some of his ongoing projects invobe Yamaha Disklavier technology and interactive software such as Big Piano, with U.S. composer Robert Kyr and Machine/ Mind/ Music, with Canadian composers such as David Eagle, Century and Robert, realized at the Banff Center for the Arts in Alberta, Canada. In these projects, the composer/pianist creates his or her own composition within a musical environment determined by the software. One looks forward to future CD projects from Scheidt and to the possibility of more general distribution of his software.
Weird but appealing sounds bounce off the walls of the clapboard Western Front building on East Eighth Avenue.
Simultaneously, it seems as if some giant, gentle cosmic force is tapping the building with a pair of sticks, an organ reverberates at your back, and the pure, sweet line of a clarinet swirls around the centre of the room.
What is at work is North Vancouver composer Daniel Scheidt communicating through his computer and multi-track synthesizer with Québécois instrumentalist Claude Schryer, to create an interactive work for clarinet and electronics.
“It’s hard to put a finger on what it is,” says Scheidt, when asked to explain the improvisational nature of the computer-enhanced sound. “There’s a relationship that develops between the performer and my software — there’s that dialogue. The computer is following the live perfonnance. There’s a feedback loop, but it’s more like we’re both talking at once than a conversation. Both are listening to one another.”
Well, in the world of music-on-the-edge you don’t ask too many questions; it’s better to just listen.
“I would be very happy for people to say, ‘That was a different way to make music,’” Scheidt continues. “I think we need new wavs of thinking to help solve problems. I think there’s validity to posing the potential for newness. If I’m helping people to loosen up — then that’s my reward.”
Scheidt is one of eight composer/performers taking part in a cross-Canada tour of live electroacoustic concerts called Electro Traces.
The others are all from Montréal, and comprise what has been called “the hottest thing on the Canadian new music scene” — a group called DIFFUSION i MéDIA (co-founded by Schryer) that has made a series of compact discs on the empreintes DIGITALes label.
The tour began in Vancouver last week, with the release of Scheidt’s own new CD, Action/Réaction, featuring interaction with a number of prominent instrumentalists.
And while the Quebec musicians are most interested in the details of sound, Scheidt, who studied at Queen’s University and the University of Victoria, says he’s more into “the working process.”
“I’m making music in a non-traditional way. I don’t work with notation — and I’m using the computer to explore different kinds or relationships.”
He even presents musicians with puzzles and mazes to wander about in, and somehmes his installations invite public participation. However, “sound in the space” is the focus of the Electro Traces tour.
“All the other composers have a history of presentation — of exploring an acoustic space,” Scheidt says.
They use an eight-channel sound systern that will ‘spatialize’ the sound and rnove it around. Called ‘acousmadcs,’ it purports to offer a third dimension to musical works.
It had to happen just as performers like Brian Eno, Joe Zawinul, and Wayne Horvitz have humanized the synthesizer, adding deep levels of meaning and musicality to an instrument that can so often sound inhuman and unfriendly, computer music is also being brought closer to the point where its technological complexities can be enjoyed for more than merely theoretical reasons. And at least one local MIDI wizard — Daniel Scheidt — is working towards a satisfactory synthesis of craft and intuition, composition and improvisation.
Five of Scheidt’s recent compositions are featured on Action/Réaction, a new CD issued by the Québécois empreintes DIGITALes label, and this recording shows that Scheidt’s abilities, as a composer and as a manipulator of electronic “reality,” are becoming increasingly strong. (Scheidt’s new works can also be heard “live” at the Western Front on Friday and Saturday, February 22 and February 23, in conjunction with works by Québécois composers Christian Calon, Robert Normandeau, and Alain Thibault. They will also be showcased at SFU Harbour Centre at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, February 22.)
Scheidt’s particular interest — and the reason why his work is so intriguing — is the integration of acoustic improvisation into an electronic environment. And while the orthodox approach to this is to drop an instrumentalist into a predetermined electronic arrangement, Scheidt’s innovation is to design computerized systems that effectively echo and accompany the improvising musician in musical relation’ ships that expand in depth and complexiq over the length of each piece. By working with instrumentalists of the calibre of trombonist George Lewis, clarinetists Claude Schryer and Lori Freedman, soprano Catherine Lewis, and percussionist Trevor Tureski — all profoundly gifted players, all featured on Action/Réaction, and all performing in the upcoming recitals — Scheidt has availed himself of some of the best improvisers currently active in new music, while his own, highly personalised approach to the electroacoustic medium ensures that they will be shown off in fascinating settings.
His innovations offer the best of live performance and studio research, Scheidt says. “There’s a very interesting thing that happens in the time domain,” he explains. “When I’m creating the software, I have time on my side. I can spend as much time as I need working out details of the way the syscem is going to behave. But then I take all of that carefully thought-out work and put it into a real-time environment. In essence that allows me to do some kind of time-warp, where I have all the benefits of reflective thought; of time, in an improvisational context. The software allows me to encapsulate a whole lot of thought and have it available to me in an improvisational environment.
“And, in turn, that allows for a different role for the performer. I’m no longer putting a sheet of paper in front of them and saying, ‘here’s what I want you to do,’ I’m saying, ‘here’s an environment I want you to explore.’“
Scheidt is careful to separate himself from the Québécois composers that he is currently sharing a record label and a concert tour with. “They have an incredibly defined sonic intention,” he explains. “And they have, from moment to moment, absolute authority over the sound that they’re projecting. I don’t have that concern. My compositional focus is on a much more general method of making music. It’s not that I have a sonic idea that I’m trying to realize, it’s that I have a compositional idea that I’m trying to hear.”
His is a more collaboracive vision, one that pays more attention to the social aspects of music-making and proceeds more gently with soloists needs and ambitions. In part Scheidt has come to this through world music — a member of Kyai Madu Sari, the SFU community gamelan orchestra, he recognizes that the bulk of the world’s music is at least in part improvised and to his early training at the University of Victoria.
“There was a feeling there that the craft could be learned, that it was just a matter of sitting down in class and doing it, where we needed to focus as students was on exercising our creative intention,” he says. “Also there was an interest, at that time, in live performance of electroacoustic music, and because of the lack of a structure for notation or instrumentation or anything at all, by default improvisation was going to be a component in what was going on. I obviously don’t think twice at the notion that improvisation is a valid component of music, or a valid thing for a composer to ask a performer to do.“
Daniel Scheidt’s innovative approach to computer software programming has him defining new soundscapes for musicians to play around in. The North Vancouver composer’s interactive electroacoustic music will be featured later this month in Vancouver at a concert and CD-release event.
Scheidt will be touring the country with Electro Traces, a showcase for leading electroacoustic composers and players. The first concert will be in Vancouver at 9 pm, Feb. 22 and Feb. 23 at the Western Front, 303 East 8th Street. The Feb. 22 concert follows an event at 8 pm marking the release of Action/Réaction, Scheidt’s new CD. Each composition on the CD is defined by a piece of computer software developed by Scheidt. The program, according to Scheidt, “creates a set of circumstances within which a live performer explores and interacts. The machine isn’t pretending to be another person jamming with a performer. The live performer leads all the way.” The system responds to acoustic input from a musician.
How do musicians tend to react to the composer’s interactive software structures? “At first they find it comical. And then it piques the curiosity and they begin to develop a rapport with it. It’s like the software is an entity. It has a behavior and you feel like it is responding to you,” Scheidt explains.
Scheidt has developed about a dozen interactive music software compositions. The heart of Scheidt’s computer system is an Atari 1040 ST. He chose it because it is affordable. “It’s the most bare bones. I don’t have to go through a lot of fluff to program it. It’s a raw tool.” He uses a Yamaha 802 rackmount version of a DX-7 synthesizer. It’s a box the computer can talk to and comes without a keyboard. The system also includes an SPX-900 multi-effects processor. A recent visit to Scheidt’s studio found a Roland Pad-8 Octapad percussion pad patched into the system.
The computer was loaded with the software forming the basis for the composition Obeying the Laws of Physics, recorded for the CD with percussionist Trevor Tureski. Striking the pad kicked off a fascinating series of musical responses from the computer.
Is what he is doing ultimately a self-indulgent process, given the limited popular appeal of the music? Responds Scheidt: “I’m not trying to make music that a lot of people will listen to. If I’m looking for some of the deepest of my motivations to do this, I would suggest that the way we as a North American society have been proceeding is not good enough. We need to find some new ways of thinking. I would suggest to you that what I’m doing is different.”
Scheidt graduated from North Vancouver’s Handsworth Secondary School in 1974. He first plugged into a synthesizer there and performed his first electronic music in 1973. He went on to study music at Capilano College and then at the University of Victoria. In 1985 he graduated from Queen’s University in Ontario with a computer science graduate degree. Scheidt is currently director of the Music Intensive program of the SFU Contemporary Arts Summer Institute.