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29 May 2024

TENOR 2024: A Creative Future for Music Notation

Helen Svoboda performing Ice Bubbles Image: Helen Svoboda performing Ice Bubbles  
© Fabrizio Poltronieri

Ideas about how music can be notated and visually represented expanded rapidly in the 20th century, and technology is now the biggest factor in our continuing developments. On April 4-6 2024, Switzerland's Zurich University of the Arts hosted the ninth International Conference on Technologies for Music Notation & Representation (TENOR). This conference provides a forum for researchers and practitioners in music composition and performance, music technology, analysis, and education.

The focus this year was on the sketch, a part of the creative process often overlooked as a key part of musical practice and analysis. Laura Zattra's opening keynote immediately convinced attendees of the importance of the sketch in understanding moments in electroacoustic music history and microhistory. She presented methods she had developed for unpacking non notated, electronic works by John Chowning and Teresa Rampazzi assessing sketches, personal accounts, and the impact of musical assistants in addition to recordings. Svetlana Maraš's keynote spoke of how music notation relates to form in her work, while the third keynote, presented by Philippe Esling, made a case for lightweight AI models in audio. The best paper was awarded to Leo Izzo, who rediscovered a lost spatialization plan for Varèse's Poème électronique (1958), demonstrating how the discovery of a sketch can give us completely new insight into important historical works. Other presentations exhibited the broad applications of technology for notation and representation, spanning from creative ideas for digital graphic notation to new electronic instruments and expanded perspectives on musical structure.

Australians and New Zealanders were well represented at TENOR24, due in large part to the key leadership role of Professor Cat Hope and her involvement in the conference as international chair. PhD candidates from Monash University, under Hope's supervision, included Jaslyn Robertson, Helen Svoboda and Chloë Sobek. Professor Hope launched the book she co-edited with Lindsay Vickery, Actions: Remarks, at the conference. She also held a workshop on both the The Decibel John Cage Variations' ScorePlayer and recent developments in the Decibel ScorePlayer application, in which the Monash group performed Variations I. Hope also had a work, Wolf (2023), for clarinet and modular system, as part of the performance program. Other performances by Australian delegates included Jaslyn Robertson's Rosenhöhe (2023), a tactile score for two performers and reactive tape track. This piece was performed by Robertson on electronics and Svoboda on double bass, exploring the oscillation, literally and symbolically, between the push and pull of two contrasting sound worlds. Svoboda presented her paper, The Composer Photograph: A Framework Towards Describing Overtones in Animated Notation, alongside her mellifluous work, Ice Bubbles (2023), for solo double bass, projections and electronics, performed by Svoboda herself. The work employed extended techniques and sound objects as a way to symbolically and musically represent the interface of human maritime presence with the Antarctic wilderness. Sobek presented her paper, Immanence: Envisioning Music in a Post-Anthropocentric World Through VR Representation, which discussed key elements of her PhD research. Liquidities (2023), a composition by Louise Devenish and Stuart James, was performed by percussionist Aya Masui on vibraphone, slinky and electronics.

In addition to the Monash University representatives, independent researcher Kate Milligan, originally from Perth but based in London, delivered her paper, A Matter of Notation: Case Studies in Materiality, Temporality, and the Score-Object. Vijay Thillaimuthu from Melbourne University performed his riveting audio visual work, VectorCloud (2024), and Maree Sheehan of Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, New Zealand, presented her paper, Sketch, Draft and Refined Hypothesis Testing as a Creative Process in Audio Portraiture via Zoom, the only remote contribution to the conference. Each of these contributions was received very favourably, adding significantly to the rich variety of offerings and themes addressed at the conference.

Three concerts exhibited technological development in the composition and performance of electroacoustic music, featuring a range of sonic works performed by invited soloists, faculty members and students from the ZhDK, and Swiss ensemble Collegium Novum. Here, the role of the sketch was expanded across a variety of installations, solos, duos, and ensemble works. Aside from the Australian contributions mentioned, the concerts included a rendition of Horacio Vaggione's Shifting Mirrors (2016) performed by saxophonist Maria Luisa Cuenca, exploring the dialogue between soloist and 6 electronic tracks of saxophone sounds spatially situated across a multi-stream body of sound. Nicola Privato and Giacomo Lepri performed Magnetologues (2023) on two 'stacco' - a new instrument based on magnets, following a presentation on its inner workings.

TENOR 2024 provided three days of fruitful insight into the future of electroacoustic music, its continuing technological advancements, and its representation beyond traditional models. Forty-eight presenters travelled from around the globe to share and learn, connecting a community dedicated to forward-thinking and innovative design building upon the infinite possibilities inherent in music. Together, practitioners from diverse fields and backgrounds gauged the potential for future collaborations across continents, bringing together diverse modes of creativity regardless of style or genre, but in favour of the unexpected and the new. In its ninth year, TENOR has built an open and excited community of researchers and practitioners interested in technology's role in the notation and representation of music. The opportunity to share research in such a niche field and connect with others experimenting in the area is essential for early-career and established researchers. The networks created at TENOR this year will lead to exciting new research focuses and musical outcomes, and Australians and New Zealanders are making their mark in this international conversation.

This visit was supported by the European Research Commission's Digi-Score Project and Monash University.

Jaslyn Robertson is a multidisciplinary composer and researcher. Driven by collaboration and experimentation, she works with video, spatialised audio and new forms of notation to realise her creative concepts. Working closely with improvising performers, artists, writers and fashion designers expands her perspective. The aim of her work is to form multisensory performances that raise questions and unfold into discussion on complex social issues. In her PhD at Monash University, she is developing an opera that queers concepts and methods of censorship.

Chloë Sobek is a composer-performer based in Naarm, Australia. Her work is currently concerned with investigating more-than-human scholarship within a sonic practice, leading to a diverse enquiry of sonic and musical forms, from acoustemology through to noise music. She has been described as 'an artist that is thinking deeply about how to aestheticise what's on everyone's mind; to use art to drive engagement with ideas whilst pushing the boundaries of technique and technicality' - Kieran Ruffles, 4zzz.

Helen Svoboda is a double bassist, vocalist and composer. "A musician who absolutely defies categorisation" (Andrew Ford - The Music Show, ABC), her work explores the melodic potential of the contemporary double bass, weaving extended techniques and overtones with vocal tessiture amidst abstract song-writing forms. Helen lived and studied in the Netherlands/Cologne across 2018-2020 prior to relocating to Melbourne to commence the Associate Artist residency at the Australian Art Orchestra. She is the winner of the 2020 Freedman Jazz Fellowship and a 2023/24 Musica Viva Australia FutureMaker.


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