Robert van Heumen visits the SMC Conference in Porto

Representing STEIM, I attended this year’s Sound and Music Computing Conference in Porto, Portugal, from July 22-25. I performed a live interpretation of my electronic composition Stranger on the last night of the conference. This is a short report on the conference.

As usual in these kind of conferences, it was a mix of presentations of academic papers, ‘concert hall concerts’ and ‘club concerts’. What was great of this conference is that there were no overlapping events: if you refrained from having dinner you could attend all activities 😉 .


The main conference venue was the Casa da Musica, a futuristic Rem Koolhaas building. The ‘club venue’ was a venue downtown called Passos Manuel. The lunches took place on the topfloor of the Casa da Musica, and we were brought there by a chain of employees. The building is constructed in such a way that the artist part and the audience part are strictly separated, so it takes someone who knows the building to move between the two parts (a rumor states that this was inspired by Koolhaas’ trouble in his marriage during the design of the building).

The concert curators were Nic Collins, Evan Parker, Pauline Oliveros and Robert Rowe. Hence the relative big number of music submissions mentioning ‘live electronics’. In practice I would not really use that term to describe the majority of those concerts – to me ‘live electronics’ involves a musician using electronics performing on stage. In my opinion, having a acoustic player on stage performing a score while going through a range of effects doesn’t really qualify as such. Of course a big part of the concerts were tape pieces, most of the time using multiple speakers.

As much as I appreciate all the research being done in the field of music computing, my interest in these conferences is really the music program. In some conferences that music program is not much more than a demo of the results of a particular paper presented, but I was glad that the SMC offered some great performances:

  • Interstices / Bill Hsu: at times pretty harsh but great soundmaterial, very electronic, and an interesting musical stucture with abrupt silences combined with fluid-dynamics-like visuals. Most of it was improvised but for some reason Bill was positioned in the back as if presenting a tape piece (which was a pity – I’d have liked to seem him perform the piece).
  • Audio Combine / John Bischoff: beautiful sounds from almost cliche objects like music boxes, tamborine and small guitar, very resonant but at the same time introvert.
  • iCons / Rodrigo F. Cadiz: some IR sensor interface tracking what could be called gestures – musically it needs to develop a bit further, but nice to see someone using a self-built interface in this context.
  • Waiters at a gallop / Laura Maes & Kristof Lauwers: subtle sampling of slide guitar, not super original but beautifully done.
  • PLP_1 / Juan Parra & Mieko Kanno: duo for electronics and violin, Juan using a custom made controller, finally someone really performing the electronics on stage.
  • Echoes of Urban Life / Jonas Foerster: a tape piece with beautiful sounds. A little too much material for my taste in only 6 minutes – this could easily be extended to multiple pieces.
  • Sotch / Yota Morimoto: bassclarinet & electronics, extended techniques on clarinet, electronics take short loops from live material, quite harsh at times, but very original. Yota just finished at Sonology in The Hague.
  • 10 / Filipe Lopes: piano & live electronics, unusual piece, adding very electronic sounding material to the piano, that was guided by a computer generated score. Filipe also just finished his Master’s at Sonology.



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