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.“