Founded in 1982 by Jonty Harrison, since 2014 BEAST has been under the direction of Scott Wilson, along with Annie Mahtani and Simon Smith as technical director. Over the decades since its launch BEAST has become established as one of the leading systems for the presentation of electronic music in the world, and as an ongoing catalyst for creation and innovation in the field. BEAST is particularly recognised for its key role in championing the development of acousmatic music – music composed especially for loudspeakers – and live ‘diffusion’, a practice aimed at creating immersive sonic experiences in concert. While continuing to advance creative work in these areas, BEAST is also a platform for a wide variety of sound-based art in various styles and genres, including live electronic music, pieces combining instruments and electronic sound, soundscape composition/phonology, and sound installations.
BEAST has performed extensively in the UK and other parts of Europe, including at London’s South Bank Centre, the Edinburgh and Huddersfield Festivals, the Henry Wood Hall in Glasgow, MultiMediale II in Karlsruhe, The Royal Dutch Conservatory in The Hague, The Acousmatic Experience in Amsterdam, the Aspekte Festival in Salzburg, the Inventionen Festival in Berlin, the Echt-Zeit Festival in Basel, Aix en Musique in Aix en Provence, and the Sound Around Festival in Copenhagen. Closer to home BEAST’s activities have included regular contributions in The Series at the CBSO Centre as part of our collaboration with the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group. In 2012 BEAST began holding concerts in its new home, the bespoke designed Elgar Concert Hall at the Bramall Music Building, arguably one of the best venues of its size for the presentation of electronic music in UK and elsewhere.
One of the largest systems of its type in the world, BEAST can mount setups of as many as 100 loudspeakers distributed around the concert space. This approach goes far beyond the capabilities of commodity and cinema ‘surround sound’ systems, allowing artists to create vivid and unique sound worlds, which immerse the listener in a new and engaging sonic experience.
1/ Scherzo – Andrew Lewis.
Recordings of my three daughters’ voices together with some of their more musical toys provide the main source material for this celebration of — or lament for — childhood. In their untransformed states these two pools of material form the poles of the work between which the music voyages over a variety of routes. Occasionally the journey is straightforward, children transforming directly into toys or vice versa, but more often the music follows a more meandering path, passing through transitory, equatorial realms in which the original sources are less discernible. At such times, and for the greater part of the piece, it is the pure musicality of the material which is being explored, rather than its poetic or anecdotal possibilities, although suggestions of the fleeting transience of youth, the fragility of childhood innocence and the bitter-sweet remembrance of times past are never very far below the surface.
Andrew Lewis is an award-winning composer and an internationally recognised figure in the field of acousmatic composition. He studied composition with Jonty Harrison at Birmingham University (UK), and as a student there was part of the original line-up of BEAST at its founding in 1982. He worked with BEAST throughout the Eighties and early Nineties, helping to establish the group as a leader in acousmatic performance on the UK and international scenes. Along with acousmatic music, his more recent work includes more music for orchestras and ensembles, but retains a strong interest in the phenomenon of sound as raw material and the use of technology to realise new kinds of musical ideas. He is especially interested in spatial sound, in the relationship between ‘real-world’ and ‘abstract’ sounds, and in the phenomena of aural perception as part of the creative process. www.andrewlewis.co.uk
2/ Threads – Elainie Lillios.
Threads of sonic material, sinewy, flexible, bending, flowing.. weaving together to form the fabric of objects, gestures, motion.. the clothing of music. Threads represents my first experiment with the idea of non-programmatic motivic development in electroacoustic music. Threads (1998) was composed in the electroacoustic studios at The University of Birmingham, England.
Acclaimed as one of the “contemporary masters of the medium” by MIT Press’s Computer Music Journal, Elainie Lillios creates works that reflect her fascination with listening, sound, space, time, immersion, and anecdote. Her compositions include stereo, multi-channel, and Ambisonic fixed media works, instrument(s) with live electronics, collaborative experimental audio/visual animations, and installations.
Elainie holds a DMA in composition from the University of North Texas and an MPhil from The University of Birmingham, where she studied with Jonty Harrison. She serves as Director of Composition Activities for SPLICE (www.splicemusic.org) and as Professor of Creative Arts Excellence at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. www.elillios.com
3/ Kilim – Alistar MacDonald.
For macDonald lies the excitement in electroacoustic music in the ability to deal with illusion in sound. Illusions of “real” or imaginble things; illusions of surreal or transformed things and illusions of abstract things: objects, spaces or events. Kilim is an attempt to explore these worlds through, largely, instrumental sounds. But rather than articulate the traditional materials of music, the sounds articulate snapshots of the instruments which are often transformed beyond recognition in to worlds where only the sense of energy present in their playing is felt. Some audiences find electroacoustic music for tape alone difficult to listen to without visual stimulation from performers on stage. Kilim attempts to address this by taking instrumental improvisation as its source material. The work is concerned with keeping fragments of recognisable instrumental sound and retaining their sense of “played” energy, whilst using the sounds at the same time to create more abstract ‘acousmatic’ gestures. The piece is built around a series of trajectories which act as triggers and cadences, or underpin longer passages, steering the pacing of the music using dozens of short sounds combined to make dramatic gestures or textures. Selected for the Prix Noroit, 1994; Won 3rd prize in the 16th Luigi Russolo Competition, 1994. Published on CD Prix International Noroit-Leonce Petitot 1993 (NOR-3 MUSIDISC 244992) and Klang (NMC D035)
Alistair macDonald is a performer and sound artist. macDonald’s work draws on a wide range of influences reflecting a keen interest in improvisation, transformation of sound, and space. Many of his works are made in collaboration with other artists from a range of media. It explores a range of contexts beyond the concert hall, often using interactive technology.
Recent work includes collaborations with dance company Reckless Sleepers (Oostende), percussionist Núria Andorra (Barcelona), Gaelic Singer Mairi McGillivray (Glasgow), music for the silent film Nosferatu with Phil Minton and Vlady Bystrov (Braunschweig) and performance/recording with pianist Arnas Mikalkėnas (Vilnius).
Alister is a member of invisiblEARts, a group of Scottish based composers. He teaches composition and direct the Electroacoustic Studios at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland where he was made Professor in 2017, and Aliter is a keen tango dancer. www.alistairmacdonald.co.uk
4/ Kamalakantha – Pippa Murphy.
‘Kamala Kantha’ combines sounds of the tabla and a sanskrit text which praises Saraswati the Goddess of music and knowledge.
Sarastwati is one with words and music, which are the very source of the cosmos. She is the impeller of true and sweet speech, she is the creative process with the syllable ‘OM’. She points to the potent quality of sound.
She is represented dressed in white, with four arms, holding a book and a Veena and is often depicted by a river with a swan and a lotus flower. The lotus represents supreme knowledge in activity and is symbol of evolution and detachment. It makes its way through the ocean of life by rising above its surface – it is the path from the outer being to the inner being. Saraswati’s female form demonstrates the great respect and recognition that women held in Vedic tradition. She extols tolerance as well as moral and spiritual strength. She can withstand roughness and bear pain. Artistic creation as well as knowledge of the sciences epitomize human culture; integrated knowledge refines the world into something beautiful and special. Kamala jadala vimala sunayana karivarada karunambude karunasharade kamala kantha Kesi narakasura vibhedana varada velapura surothama karuna sarade kamala kantha My thanks to Gyan and Sharat for their inspiration and especially Meera for her beautiful voice. This piece was composed in the University of Edinburgh studios, made possible with funds from the Scottish Arts Council
Pippa Murphy is an award-winning composer and sound designer known for combining orchestras, singers and instrumentalists with ambient soundscapes, electronic music and creating bespoke sound palettes.
She works with writers, filmmakers and choreographers as well as folk a, jazz and classical musicians. She has recorded sounds from around the world including China, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Sumatra, Vietnam, Cambodia, Botswana, India, Canada and the Scottish Isles. www.pippamurphy.com
5/ Racing Unseen – Natasha Barrett.
Racing Through, Racing Unseen contains, in condensed form, the impetus behind its 20-minute long parent work, Racing Unseen. / Racing through, / Racing amongst, / Into new spaces, / Away from old emotions, / Racing high, racing low, / to escape, to seek, / racing into eddy… racing forever… racing unseen. This sonic postcard takes a snapshot from the south side of Blackfriar’s Bridge, a stone’s throw along the footpath to the Royal Festival Hall. This clip can be coupled as a epilogue to St Paul’s Descending into the Autumn Mist. It embodies an impressionistic and personal development of the sound-world, listening towards the distant image of St Paul’s Cathedral. It attempts to capture the bare essence behind the original sound-world: thoughts and emotions as they are washed up onto the score of the River Thames.
Natasha Barrett composes acousmatic and live electroacoustic concert works, sound and multi-media installations, and interactive music. Since 2000 she has been highly active with ambisonics, 3-D sound, and its contemporary music context.
Natasha’s inspiration comes from the immediate sounding matter of the world around us, as well as the way it behaves, the way it is generated, and by systems and the traces that those systems reveal. These interests have lead her work into worlds of cutting-edge audio technologies, geoscience, sonification, motion tracking and some exciting collaborations leading into the unknown – involving solo performers and chamber ensembles, visual artists, architects and scientists. Binding together these inspirations is an overarching search for new music and the way it can touch the listener. www.natashabarrett.org
6/ Junky – Adrian Moore.
Junky is ‘electroacoustic ambient.’ The few discernible sound sources were quickly processed to form pitch and rhythmic motives in simple melodic and harmonic structures. The work has three main sections — A (slow), B (fast), and A+B — with a coda and a more detailed structure of introductions leading to static passages, developments and returns in each of the primary sections. The opening minute introduces the gesture-types and the pitch center of the work. Many sound events appear, accelerate towards the ear and recede into the distance. One such event cascades into the first real occurrence of the dominant drone that contributes towards its ambient feel. As the drone becomes lighter section A proper begins. Sweeping drone-like gestures act as cadence points for the essentially static experience of section A and pave the way for section B with its more aggressive material and continual stretching and compressing of a rhythmic device, into and out of drone. There is a clear pitch outline and a sense of stability remains. A falling drone heralds the return section A+B where, through pitch alignment, both sound-types (drone and rhythm) merge, either sequentially or through mixing. A coda ends the work.
Adrian Moore first came into contact with electroacoustic music in his hometown of Nottingham at a concert given by Denis Smalley. His undergraduate study was at City University (London, UK) where he began to compose in the studio as well as assist the Electroacoustic Music Association of Great Britain (EMAS) — which became, in 1990, the Sonic Arts Network (SAN), which in turn became, in 2008, Sound and Music — with concerts. The performance of tape pieces using multiple loudspeakers interested him and his further study under Jonty Harrison at the University of Birmingham offered the opportunity of composing for and working with the Birmingham ElectroAcoustic Sound Theatre (BEAST). He graduated in 1998 but his seven years in Birmingham were interspersed with trips to CNSM (Lyon, France, 1991-92) and ZKM (Karlsruhe, Germany, 1995).
His works have been performed and broadcast around the world and have received prizes and mentions in numerous competitions, including Musica Nova (Prague, Czech Republic, 1996, 2010), Noroit-Léonce Petitot (Arras, France, 1996), EAR’97 (Budapest, Hungary, 1997), Prix Ars Electronica (Linz, Austria, 1998), Bourges (Bourges, France, 1990, 2002) and Musica Viva (Lisbon, Portugal, 2004).
Having always held an interest in bringing the power of the tape medium into the live performance situation as well as to sound diffusion, Adrian Moore sees the technology of today as an ideal tool with which to work as a composer, teacher and performer. He is currently Reader in Music at University of Sheffield where he is the director of the University of Sheffield Sound Studios (USSS).
His motivations remain ‘acousmatic’ and current work includes multichannel (5.1) composition, laptop improvisation, and large spatialisation concerts using software developed at USSS. www.adrianmoore.co.uk
7/ Onset/Offset – Pete Stollery.
This piece Altered Images was concerned with the dual interpretation of the word „image“ on both aesthetic and sonic levels. Onset/Offset was concerned, even more than before, with exploiting the interplay between the original „meaning“ of sound objects and their spectromorphological characteristics. Thus, the reare many recognisable sounds in this piece which can, and should be perceived on both levels – the sound of a key in a lock on one level refers to the action of unlocking a door, but on an other , is also interesting as pure sound in its self. Onset/Offset was realised in the Electroacoustic Music Studios at Northern College, Aberdeen and at the University of Birmingham in April 1996.It has received Honourable Mentions at the Stockholm Electronic Arts Award, 1996 and the 1st Pierre Schaeffer Competition for Electroacoustic Music, 1998. It was released on the Legacies CD on Sargasso and appears on the solo empreintes DIGITALes DVD‐A Un son peut en cacher un autre.
Pete Stollery studied composition with Jonty Harrison at the University of Birmingham, where he was one of the first members of BEAST (Birmingham Electroacoustic Sound Theatre) in the early ’80s. He composes music for concert hall performance, particularly electroacoustic music and more recently has created other sound art work, including installations and internet projects. In 1996 he helped to establish the Scottish acousmatic collective invisiblEARts and in 2004 he was part of the setting up of sound, a new music incubator in NE Scotland. His music is published by the Canadian label empreintes DIGITALes. www.petestollery.com
8/ Death – Lisa Whistlecroft.
Lisa Whistlecroft calls this stricture, this rigidity, “death among the apple trees” for ever. This is a single picture from the kaleidoscopic score for a dance-theatre piece called The Saturated Moment, based on the first chapter of Virginia Woolf’s play-poem The Waves. Even this picture contains two images: miniature portraits of the characters Neville and Rhoda. Trapped – one in certainty, one in incomprehension – they exist in different spaces; but fear and darkness breach safety barriers, and certainty dissolves and drowns.
Lisa Whistlecroft is a freelance composer living in the north west of England who makes electroacoustic music and soundscapes and particularly enjoys collaborating with dance and theatre artists. www.whistlecroft.net
Many thanks to Prof. Pete Stollery for curating the works for this broadcasting.