BEAM's mission is to spark a new Western classical music movement, based on the technologies and aesthetics of the 21st century. New tools and techniques pioneered by BEAM will appear as a logical extension to the techniques in use by today's composers and performers, in order to build on the wisdom and virtuosity already in place.
This is a five-year project broken into three parts:
- Year 1: Demonstrate the capabilities of a suite of enhanced instruments and software tools by attracting composers and artists to create new works. Perform, inform and educate using BEAM's new approaches and techniques. Begin project development for MAPPS (Musically Accumulating Persistent Performance Score).
- Years 2-3: Propagate BEAM's techniques worldwide by seeding string quartets and composers interested in performing in this style. Use feedback from early adopters to shape MAPPS feature set. Build momentum by encouraging a growing performance repertoire consisting of pieces that can be shared and presented in concert by multiple ensembles.
- Years 4-5: Complete and distribute MAPPS as a persistent performance scoring system that will enable a dozen composers to create enduring modern works for a dozen string quartets. Establish the MAPPS Archive for the preservation and distribution of new works.
Operations to Date
BEAM was founded in 2004 by Keith McMillen, and builds upon his 30 years of innovation in the fields of audio and music technology. McMillen defined the modern violin through his work at Zeta Music, a company he founded in 1979. Used by many thousands of musicians including Jean Luc Ponty, Laurie Anderson, Joan Jeanrenaud and the Kronos Quartet, the Zeta violin has propelled the 300-year-old instrument into today's world of electronics and computers. Additional advances developed by McMillen allow entire ensembles to interact live in performance via an enhanced local network and scoring system called MACIAS. Multiple performances by TrioMetrik during the last year have proven the viability and attraction of this new musical approach.
This new aesthetic, where enhanced instruments interact with each other through a local computer network, has been named "NuRoque" from neo Baroque. In the 1600s, emerging technology enabled the creation of new instruments - such as the violin, organ and piano - that changed the way music could be expressed. From a marriage of evolving aesthetics and new instruments, emerged the style we know today as Baroque (from the French meaning bizarre). With Baroque, the style of play - and even the pitches of the notes themselves - had to change to accommodate the desires of composers and performers exploring these new instruments.
We are at a similar inflection point today. NuRoque harnesses the power of computer-based tools and technologies to create a fresh musical approach, representing the aesthetic of the new millennia.
Harking back to Marshall McLuhan's insight, "The medium is the message," new tools create new possibilities in art. In live performances, NuRoque allows a greater flexibility in timbres, density and structure than has been possible up until now. MAPPS is the extension and formalization of these techniques for performance. It is a new acoustical representation system that exhibits a greater durability and portability than the mercurial technologies of the last half-century.
BEAM has attracted the support of world-renowned inventors, composers, musicians and financial experts. Most of the major contributors to 20th century electronic and computer music are directors and advisors of BEAM. They include Jaron Lanier, creator of the concept of "virtual reality"; David Wessel, Professor of Music at UC Berkeley and founder of the International Computer Music Conference; Max Matthews, who in 1962 at Bell Labs taught computers to sing ("Hal"" sang Daisy in 2001 A Space Oddessy); Dave Smith, the inventor of MIDI; Daniel Kobialka, violinist with San Francisco Symphony; Naut Humon, digital arts savant and curator of Recombinant Media Labs; Tom Oberheim and Don Buchla, creators of the voltage controlled synthesizer, and Richard Boulanger, composer and professor at Berklee College of Music.
Historically, the application of technology to music has been most successful in the studio. From Pierre Schaeffer and music concrete to George Martin and the Beatles, the concept of "Studio as Instrument" has prevailed. Now, with advances in technical integration, we can move technology onto the modern classic performance arena, targeting the goal of "Instrument as Studio," for the next step.
The possibilities of this new approach are at once inviting, yet challenging, to mainstream artists. Many composers have worked with technology, but returned to more traditional instrumentation because of the frailty of the medium, limitations to the tools, and a lack of competent performers. The tools must fit the artist, rather than the other way around.
Here at BEAM, the development of two essential instrument extensions is already underway:
First, consider that of the twenty symphonic instruments (seven woodwinds, five brass, four strings, harp, percussion and piano), only one of these, the piano, has had a competent, affordable and reliable interface to the world of technology and computing. BEAM and its founder are working to create a system, StringPort, which will link violins, cellos, basses, violas, and other instruments to musical technology. The same system will soon accommodate woodwinds and brasses. Within 24 months, the system will operate wirelessly, providing performers the freedom on stage they have come to expect. The details of this interface are well defined, generic and open - this system can endure many iterations over scores of years.
Also under development is a wireless sensor bow (K-BOW) for violin, viola, cello and bass. Although the same weight, size and balance of a traditional bow, the K-BOW sends the motions and gestures (including X-Y-Z acceleration, velocity and position, as well as grip and bow hair tension), wirelessly to the local network for expressive use and ornamentation by the performer.
We cannot expect composers and performers to embrace new technologies and methods if we abandon centuries of virtuosity, definition, literature and pedagogy. By enhancing traditional instrumentation, we begin to make possible an aesthetic that is of our time.
A key factor delaying the emergence of new music on modern instruments is the lack of standardization and notation for new works. To encourage experimentation and growth, BEAM plans on enabling a dozen string quartets at major institutions around the world. By using the existing MAPPS software, pieces written for one ensemble will be playable by others. Twelve new compositions will be commissioned and composers can plan for more than one performance of a work and experience how other performers interpret their compositions.
Our goal is to lay a foundation of excitement and curiosity that will fuel the adoption of a stable composing and performance tool by professional musicians and composers. This will be the first generation of instruments and compositions to exhibit the durable and extensible qualities that the MAPPS system supports. This initial repertoire and group of performing quartets will serve as the cue for others to follow.
BEAM will host international festivals where new ensembles will be able to present their works - and those of other composers - to the public. These will be accompanied by symposia and workshops educating interested academic and professional parties, with the additional goal of expanding and critiquing the present state of the project. This effort will form the basis of the larger MAPPS program slated for completion in year 5.
The inability to maintain a score over time and distance has resulted in a stagnation of modern classic music. Sadly, after 50 years of progress, we have a Babel of equipment, notation techniques and connection schemes - each unique to one composition, and even to the musicians performing the work. Rarely is a modern music composition using new instruments performed more than once. Because of changing technology, it is often impossible to perform a piece just five years after it was written. Furthermore, in order for a person to perform modern, western technical music today, the artist must be a programmer, composer and performer. While we do have some wonderful examples of this unique intersection of talents, satisfying this requirement generally comes at the cost of expertise in at least one of these areas.
Composers shy away from musical forms that require use of computers and electronics. Performers have little time to develop virtuosity on newly devised instruments. Programmers are constantly re-inventing basic musical building blocks that are inconsistent with the work of other technologists.
What makes a piece of music classic is the ability to move the audience while transcending time and space. Think of listening to a live performance of a Beethoven string quartet - you can hear it performed in many locations and pretty much at any time. That's not true for most new music pieces written in the last 50 years. Many compositions receive just a few performances and, because of technology changes, are never played again. Musicians and composers worldwide are clamoring for an enduring scoring environment, which will give their compositions unlimited life and ubiquity. BEAM is very excited to be leading the mission to bring a scoring system that will set the tone in music for the next many years.
MAPPS consists of an authoring environment and methodology for rendering all synthesis, processing, interaction and representation of musical transformations into a high level, portable language. In this environment, all hardware, except the performer's instrument, will be virtualized. Flat screens replace traditional music stands, giving musicians feedback from the system and interactivity with other musicians, while playing in real time. Working versions of these concepts have already been implemented by BEAM Foundation in a prototype MAPPS system (originally named MACIAS) now being used in performance by TrioMetrik, (www.triometrik.org).
Richard Boulanger, professor at the Berklee College of Music, describes how important MAPPS is to the world of music and composers. "I've always felt it's my responsibility as a 21st century composer to write for the instruments of my time. As a composer depending on marginal technologies, I've all but given up the fight and stopped composing and performing. MAPPS is a timely, important and essential project that will support, sustain, and inspire the next generation of contemporary composers and new media artists."
The designers of MAPPS will create a flexible, extendible, and enduring composing and performing environment that will encourage and enable best of class performers, composers and technologist to benefit from a lively and persistent musical framework.
MAPPS System Overview
Traditional western instruments evolved over centuries solidifying with the modern symphony orchestra around the 1850's, during Beethoven's reign. Since then, not much has changed. A composer writing for an orchestra, or some subset (string quartet, wind ensemble, etc), can generally be assured that there are instruments and performers capable of realizing his piece, now and in the future.
For the composer using technical instruments or computers, this is not the case. Most pieces receive one performance before they drift into the realm of the un-performable. Occasionally, at best, there is a recording of that performance. Any possibility of a repeat performance drops off rapidly after about five years when the equipment becomes obsolete.
The problem can be broken into two simple components: hardware and software.
To achieve the goals of this effort, we must eliminate from concern all external hardware, with the exception of the actual instruments used by the musicians, and a visual device that presents the score to the performers and conductor. All hardware processors, synthesizers, and function specific devices must be subsumed by the computer managing the interface for the performer.
Except for the piano, the twenty standard orchestral instruments have lacked a competent, affordable and reliable interface to the computer.
If we begin to imagine all orchestral instruments as subtle and stable input devices - while retaining all of their historic acoustic qualities and performance techniques - we can begin to see how the groundwork for a persistent modern ensemble can emerge.
The MAPPS software system consists of four components:
- An authoring environment where composers will be able to use familiar terms and principles defining structure, timbre, pitch, and rhythm, as well as manage more advanced functions that control processing, interaction, synthesis and representation. The base tool will contain the most needed functional modules and audio processes, but a facility for addition and extension will be readily accessible. Once new functions are added they remain a permanent part of the MAPPS collection.
- A performance system where the musicians connect their enhanced instruments to the MAPPS network, and have flat screens in place of music stands, to provide notation and other needed instructions and feedback. All processing, synthesis and interactions are controlled as the system executes the score, while accepting input from the musicians and observing their gestures. We expect to realize MAPPS based performances on three separate sound engines and software platforms to validate its code independence.
- An archive where compositions are uploaded, preserved and made available. The goal will be to represent the functional modules in a high level manner that will be independent of hardware and operating systems. We have seen many examples of this approach working successfully.
- A rights and royalty system. While it is the plan of BEAM to provide these tools open and free of charge, the practicalities and monetary realities facing composers and performers must be respected. Working in conjunction with BMI and/or ASCAP, use of compositions for paid public performance and recording will be subject to standard royalties, which can be easily tracked. Additionally, individuals and corporations have and will develop functional modules that will be attractive to MAPPS users. A MAPPS software scheme will allow valued intellectual property to be wrapped, protected and compensated in a practical manner. All 3rd party software offered to BEAM for fee inclusion will be escrowed against demise.
The MAPPS reach is well within the grasp of today's technology and programming methods. The first three years will be dedicated to exploration and specification. Regression testing will be used to confirm the proposed MAPPS methods against the historic work of modern composers, providing a proof of the approach. Further, this activity will serve to preserve existing work and render historic works performable again.
The BEAM Foundation (www.beamfoundation.org) is a 501 (c)3 non-profit corporation founded in 2004 and located in Berkeley, CA. Over $600K in cash and equipment has been invested in this program to date. Funding goals for realizing BEAM's objectives will be secured through additional contributions from its founder.
Your interest will help us enable the next generation of music.