3. Swiss Center For Computer Music

Electroacoustic Works

Soon after our arrival in Switzerland in 1984 I made cantact again with Gerald Bennett. He was in the process of establishing a Centre for Computer Music together with Bruno Spoerri in Oetwil am See (Canton Zurich) and with Rainer Bösch in Geneva. I was able to attend a number of courses in Computer Music which the Centre offered. I always went with a clear idea of what I wanted to compose and so during these courses I wrote two works both of which were performed several times in concerts of the Computer Music Centre: Nelson Songs and Chinese Songs.

In those early days the computers were very large and (compared to modern machines) very slow. It was normal when creating a sound file to leave the computer working over night, only to find the next day that a mistake had occurred and one had to start all over again. At this time I bought my first private computer, an Atari, which had to have a special sound streamer to be able to play sound files. With the Atari (and the GMX keyboard) I made the tape for Father's Telescope.

While working on WHALE Gerald Bennett offered to let me use his new Macintosh computer which was not only faster, but allowed me to imitate human formants—which gave me the whale's voice!

Over the years the Centre changed its name and its geographical position. It became incorporated with the Zurich Conservatory where Gerald trained a large number of students, some of whom later became employed by the Centre, now called the Institute for Computer Music and Sound Technology. Three of these were particularly helpful to me, Martin Neukom, Peter Färber and Johannes Schütt.

Ambisonic Sound

A group of composers from the Swiss Center for Computer Music was using a spatial recording technique – Ambisonics – from the early 1970s for the performance of electroacoustic music. Ambisonics originally captured spatial information about the sounds recorded, but by using the technique for playback instead of recording, position and movement of sound in three-dimensional space could be simulated.

The Swiss Center had been asked to give a concert to inaugurate the new millennium, and since the concert was to be in Ambisonics, I had to make a plan of movements for all the individual fragments of sound in my piece and bring sounds and plan to the studio so that the Ambisonics program could prepare the tape for the concert. This was a highly complicated process, and even when the program was working optimally (it was still in the experimental stage), it sometimes produced quite surprising results, and one had to start all over again. Nevertheless everything finally functioned properly, and the Millenium Concert in St. Peter’s Church in Zurich was a great success.

One of my clearest memories is of a concert of the Swiss Center during the European Music Month held in Basel in November of 2001. For several years, the Center had been involved in research into the simulation of three-dimensional sound [Ambisonic]. On the evening before the concert, we spent hours hanging and tuning our 24 loudspeakers. Sometime after 3 am we finished and began to rehearse Kit's new piece “Sog”. After a few seconds, everyone spontaneously cheered, so beautiful was the sound, so dramatic the moving masses of sound above us, so extraordinary and new the experience of sound in three-dimensional space. How did Kit ever learn to do so masterfully what no-one had done before?
Gerald Bennett