A Visit to the Seoul International Computer Music Festival

    The Seoul International Computer Music Festival (SICMF) is a yearly event sponsored by the Korean Electro-Acoustic Music Society (KEAMS). Having both concerts and a post-festival paper session, it is in some ways similar to the International Computer Music Conference (ICMC), reviewed elsewhere on the Cycling '74 website. However, because it is a festival, not a conference, the main focus of the SICMF is the music - and to provide both the local Korean computer music community and the invited international guests with a fertile cross-cultural environment for sharing musical ideas.
    The concert venue was at the Jayu Theater at the Seoul Arts Center. The complex is an extended city block on the south side of the city which houses the city's main opera house, symphony hall, black box theater, music conservatory, schools of traditional Korean music and dance, and a museum of traditional Korean musical instruments (well worth the visit!!), among other buildings. The Jayu Theater, attached to the opera house (the large circular building near the center of the photo), is a black-box theater and performance venue which is an excellent space for computer music concerts. Additionally, because the the space is used for theatrical performances, they were able to provide subtle, non-intrusive but beautiful lighting for the concerts, something which does not always run smoothly in other types of venues.
    Although the festival is organized by KEAMS, this year the technical production of this year's concerts were handled by the Computer Music Studios of the Music Department of the Hanyang University. The concerts were well programmed, with a wide range of carefully-chosen computer music. Each concert included a little "something for everyone": pieces for pre-recorded material alone (i.e. "tape" music), pieces using video, and a healthy dose of pieces using performers interacting with live electronics (i.e. Max/MSP!). The music ranged in style from dark and pithy to light and neo-listenable - but surprisingly the concerts left us all wanting to hear more (something quite rare at computer music concerts!!) - perhaps it was the diversity of the music chosen for the festival, or maybe it was just that the pieces themselves all had something to say, regardless of their style, or possibly a bit of both.
    The guest composers were an international crowd, representing the U.K., Australia, Sweden, Turkey, Poland, Germany, Switzerland, France, Canada, the U.S., and of course Korea. The performers were local musicians, and, as can be expected from a large cosmopolitan city such as Seoul, their level of musicianship was of the highest calibre. Additionally, due to the foresight of the organizers of the festival, both performers and composers were fortunate to have been given a generous amount of rehearsal time both in and out of the hall in order to really perfect the technical aspect of what were, on the whole, very complicated interactive pieces. This was a luxury which is sadly missing from a lot of other music festivals, and it made a perceptible difference: the concerts went smoothly and the musicians were comfortable with the computer interaction.
    The final concert reversed the general trend of the nationalities of the performers and composers in the concerts, and showcased music for Saxophone(s) and electronics written largely by the local composers affiliated with KEAMS, performed by the invited guest artists - Meta Duo (Kientzy and Portouondo) from France.
    Of course, the festival is designed not only to introduce new computer music to the Seoul audiences who attend new music concerts, but to introduce an international group of computer musicians to each other, hopefully creating lasting musical friendships and cross-continental contact. Additionally, the festival is scheduled in such a way that we, the invited composers, all had time together to discover the city itself: the palaces from the Joseon dynasty that are nestled in-between the hills and bustling downtown Seoul (and let's not forget the Autumn leaves at the palace gardens!), the lively streets, shops and art galleries of the nearby Insadong district and, when tired with walking, we could enjoy each others' company and erudite conversation over the amazing culinary treats of the city!! (O.K. it was computer-music-nerd talk, if you must know: "why does Max sometimes work like this or that..."!)
    For the past several years, the SICMF has expanded to include a small post-festival technical session. The Meta Duo presented a workshop about their work with electronic music performance with Saxophone and live sound "diffusion". I was invited to present a workshop on advanced Max/MSP techniques (mostly spectral processing using pfft~) and their uses in a musical context. Finally, the last evening was dedicated to a Korean-language paper session, presenting both papers about locally-developed computer music technology, as well as some analytical presentations of the technology behind the music for a couple of the pieces played on the festival. Although the papers were presented in Korean, a few of the papers were surprisingly understandable because of the English computer-music terms used throughout them. However, the payoff for those of us who were not Korean speakers was going out after the paper session for a nice dinner together to continue the discussion on a more informal (and multi-lingual) level.
    So, if you are one of those people who needs an excuse to travel when you're not playing with Max/MSP, why not consider attending the SICMF next year!? You'll meet friendly people, hear some really stellar examples of a wide variety of computer music from around the world, and get to discover an amazing world-class city in the process. Visit their website for more information on next year's festival, and for programs and photos from past festivals.
    - Richard Dudas, Cycling '74