Computer music in Australia can be traced back more than half a century. In 1951, Geoff Hill programmed some music on Australia’s first computer and it was played at the inaugural Conference of Automatic Machines in Sydney.1 Today, computers play an important role in almost all musical contexts, including the creation of new work, music production in the studio, the performance of music, as well as in its marketing, sale and reception. While it is possible to define computer music very broadly as any music that involves the use of a computer, a more meaningful definition of computer music is music created and performed with a computer. Practitioners of computer music recognise that there is significant overlap between the roles of composer and performer, because the person sitting behind the computer during a concert is often the same person who has created the music (and sometimes even the software used to generate the music).
Computer music is taught at a number of tertiary institutions, but as Alistair Riddell and John Whiteoak point out in the wider context of electronic music,
The circle of academic activity in Australia is tiny and its musical output is vastly overshadowed by the popular-music industry. 2
While the distinction between research-based computer music in tertiary institutions and the creative use of computers in popular music may still be valid in terms of defining opposite ends of the spectrum, much of the performance of computer music takes place in contexts that are neither strictly academic nor popular. Festivals like the Melbourne-based Liquid Architecture present work from sound artists with diverse backgrounds including academic and popular.
Also, the experimental edge of popular music often confronts the same aesthetic concerns as explorative art music created at universities. A good example of this the shared interest in the development of interfaces for computer music in order to provide its performance with a more human face (as opposed to the somewhat sterile clicking of a mouse). Frequently the performance problems associated with computer music are bypassed by creating works that are ‘scored’ for both instrumental performers and laptop musicians. In fact, a number of Australian computer music practitioners specialise in interactive computer music where the sounds produced by instrumental performers are modified in real time by a laptop performer. Overall, it is fair to say that the laptop has established itself as a much-liked and frequently used instrument in the creation and presentation of new Australian music.
Australia’s main organisation for computer music is the Australasian Computer Music Association (ACMA) founded in 1989 by Graeme Gerrard. It organises an annual conference, usually at a university in a capital city of Australia or New Zealand. It also publishes the newsletter Chroma and maintains a discussion list.
Another relevant organisation (although not exclusively concerned with computer music) is Clan Analogue, a collective of electronic music practitioners formed in 1992. Many Clan Analogue artists are particularly active in the creation and performance of electronic dance music but their output is by no means limited to that genre. Clan Analogue runs its own label (Clan Analogue Recordings) and its releases are distributed through Creative Vibes.
The following list is only a small selection of people active in the field. Their links provide information about their specific interests and activities. The brackets indicate their association with particular projects, groups, devices or computer music software.
- Steve Adam (Simulus)
- Ros Bandt (Australian Sound Design Project)
- Ross Bencina (Audio Mulch, Simulus)
- Andrew Brown (jMusic)
- Warren Burt
- David Chesworth (Wax Sound Media)
- Paul Doornbusch
- Robin Fox
- Angelo Fraietta (smartcontroller)
- David Hirst
- Julian Knowles
- Tim Kreger (Simulus)
- Peter McIlwain
- Garth Paine
- Ollie Olsen
- Thomas Reiner (re-sound)
- Alastair Riddle
- Philip Samartzis
- Lindsay Vickery
- David Worrall
Australia has no festivals exclusively dedicated to computer music, but there are a number of Australian music and sound art festivals that regularly feature computer music.
Among the most important contemporary audio culture festivals are these:
- Liquid Architecture, annual Melbourne-based festival of audio arts, touring nationally
- The NOWnow Festival, annual Sydney-based festival of improvised music
- Totally Huge New Music Festival (TURA), annual Perth-based festival of experimental music
- Unsound, annual experimental sound and arts festival based in Wagga Wagga, NSW.
Tertiary institutions offering instructions in computer music include:
- Australian National University, School of Music, Canberra
- Monash University, School of Music – Conservatorium, Melbourne
- Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University, Brisbane
- Queensland University of Technology, Creative Industries
- RMIT, Melbourne
- Sydney Conservatorium of Music
- Southern Cross University, Lismore and Coffs Harbour
- University of Adelaide, Elder Conservatorium
- University of Wollongong
Funding for computer music activities is available from the Australia Council Music Board and from all state and territory arts ministries.
Thomas Reiner. Last updated 8 July 2007.