UBC Reports | Vol. 50 | No. 7 | Jul.
Mustica Breaks Ground in Interactive Music Preservation
By Brian Lin
Roll over, Beethoven! Step aside, Mozart! A new generation
of composers is revolutionizing the classical music industry
with interactive music that is both composed and played on
Around the world, computer keyboards are replacing old-fashioned
ebonies and ivories. The computer itself has become an instrument
and musicians literally “play” it by manipulating
software as if it were strings and bow.
The result? Sounds that are unheard of, that both please
and challenge the human ear. And no, we’re not talking
about the screeching of tires or the scratching of finger
nails on blackboard, although in the realm of interactive
music, they are viable “raw materials” that could
very well be turned into the background of a new Sarah McLachlan
hit or Lord of The Rings sound track.
Interactive technology has boosted the creative capacity
of musicians, but it has also created two problems rarely-faced
in centuries of music composition. Many of the techniques,
manoeuvres and the end products of interactive musical activity
are unscorable -- there are no musical notations in existence
to adequately record what is created or performed. Also, the
authenticity of the digital documents and computer systems
that substitute for scores is threatened by data corruption
and media obsolescence.
Enter Jill Teasley, a graduate student from UBC’s School
of Library, Archival and Information Studies whose love of
music and enthusiasm for the preservation of digital material
led her to a stint in Paris earlier this year, where she worked
closely with composers to gather information about their preservation
needs that would eventually help them accurately preserve
As a research assistant for Mustica, a study that is part
of the International Research on Permanent Authentic Records
in Electronic Systems project, Teasley is working to identify
the kinds of documents generated while composing and performing
“These composers write and perform music for unique
instruments that become unplayable after five years,”
says Teasley. “Unless they have all the records that
show how the instruments worked and what they were supposed
to play, the composers lose the ability to play their own
For three months, Teasley interviewed musicians, software
developers and administrators on current practices at two
major French music research institutions, L’Institut
National de L’Audiovisuel and L’Institut de Recherche
et Coordination Acoustique / Musique (Ircam).
“At Ircam, for example, composers routinely work with
musical assistants,” says Teasley. “Often composers
themselves, the assistants turn the composers’ ideas
into commands for the computer."
“As a result, the assistants understand aspects of
the music that may be taken for granted, such as how the software
components work together to create a certain piece,”
says Teasley, who recently presented her preliminary findings
at the UBC e-Strategy Town Hall meeting.
“Unless this information is properly documented and
preserved, the music, intended to be experienced as a live
performance, may only be accessible as an audio recording.