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UBC Reports | Vol. 50 | No. 7 | Jul. 8, 2004

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 computers.

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 interactive music.

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 interactive music.

“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 music.”

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.

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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