The Birmingham Beast

by Tom Kerswill on March 8th, 2007
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When I first heard about Birmingham University’s BEAST project in 2004, the prospect of going to see a “live” performance didn’t seem instantly appealing – high-fidelity sound played from laptops to an auditorium…. I thought it would be a bit like going to a hifi store and listening to some high-end sound systems.

I was pretty wrong about that. The BEAST performance in Birmingham on Saturday 3th May was impressive and, at times, breathtaking. 96 high-quality studio monitors of all shapes and sizes are used to create a massive sound field. Sound, originating from some computers running MaxDSP, is “diffused” around the room using a large number of mixing desks. The music ranged from sublime watery sounds to impressive electronic booms and whines that whizzed over your head and almost under your feet. It was a bit like listening to fireworks, except with sound, rather than vision.

The evening comprised a collection of pieces by various composers. We were there to see a new performance by electroacoustic composer Alexander J Harker, Orbits for piano and Max/MSP featuring Melissa Morris on piano. The piece relied heavily on improvisation, with a microphone which sampled the piano, and generate counter melodies and phrases. It was an unusual and beautiful performance – and as you’d imagine from BEAST’s high-end equipment, the quality of sound was absolutely fantastic. It was the first time I’d seen any of Harker’s pieces performed live – and was certainly a great introduction. I’m looking forward to hearing more!

Other pieces included an interpretation of Claude Lelouch’s C’etait un Rendezvous (click for YouTube video. The composer, Pete Stollery, undertook the same journey – this time on foot – and sampled audio from various locations along the way. scenes/rendez-vous was an incredibly detailed journey, and really enjoyable to listen to… the sounds of Paris flashed by in multiple directions, as if we’d all been picked up in a cage and carried through the city on foot.

Birmingham University’s BEAST project performs one or two large concerts a year, and can be found here.

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Categories: Audio, Birmingham, Birmingham music, Electronic, Gig reviews

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  • […] The Birmingham trip was great fun. On Saturday we went to a really impressive concert by Birmingham’s BEAST collective – a breathtaking sound extravaganza featuring 96 speakers – concert review here. […]

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