When Music Meets Software

Michael Becker, North Shore News, February 13, 1991
Wednesday, February 13, 1991 Press

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.

The machine isn’t pretending to be another person jamming with a performer. The live performer leads all the way.