Sunday, October 11, 2009

Focus on Kyma International Sound Symposium - KISS09

These have been busy days here at NIU, especially for the speakers who showed to all the symposiast each method of working with Kyma.
A lot of participants came from different sides of the world, it was great to be immersed in this colourful community! Carla Scaletti and Kurt Hebel (the creators of Kyma) introduced their new hardware Paca(rana) - you can find a lot of information here @ SSC - and the latest features implemented in Kyma X.70 (where 'X' stands for the last letter in 'six' - 6.70).

Carla and Kurt did a wonderful job to develop a state-of-the-art "recombinant" workstation, which gives any user the freedom to explore unknown sonic territories without hitting the DSPs (there's plenty of headroom in processing power).
During the morning of the first day, Carla showed us how to control Kyma with external devices like the Wacom Tablet and the Continuum Fingerboard, then with Nintendo Wiimote+Nunchuck and SpaceNavigator (via OSCulator by Camille Troillard).
The AC Toolbox presentation by Hector Bravo-Benard, revealed to us an algorithmic approach to sound composition with Kyma. By using the LISP language, it is possible to structure an entire composition and have Kyma play it. It is possible to make use of strict algorithmic procedures like probability distributions, Markov chains, tendency masks, and many other techniques used by composers of the likes of Paul Berg, Gottfried Michael Koenig.
A special mention should be made for Bruno Liberda's lecture, where he explores subtle connections between his wonderful graphical scores and different kinds of ancient neumatic notation, making symbolic notation and symbolic sound computation converge.
Cristian Vogel explained his latest creation called Black Swan for swiss choreographer Gilles Jobin. The 50 minutes original Kyma score was composed in Geneva and at the electroacoustic studio of the Musique Inventives d'Annecy. Here's a Swiss TV documentary about the creation of Black Swan.

What is Kyma?

Kyma is a sound design language that permits to manipulate, transform and warp any kind of sound source in realtime, but we already know all of this.
During these days in Barcelona - at the first Kyma International Sound Symposium - we have learnt something more specific and, maybe, unexpected.
As Carla Scaletti said during the opening lecture of KISS09, "Recombinance Makes Us Human". So, what does this mean? Actually each of the participants brought their own experience, point of view, modus operandi and creative talent to the symposium. This multiform epiphany allowed everyone involved to share the same time and space for 2 days, exchanging their ideas like sharing bits of code in a recombinant manner.
The symposiasts all came from different fields where Kyma plays a fundamental role in each of their activities (sound designers, composers, DJs, etc.). Each of them knows and likes different specific aspects of Kyma.

The lectures performed during these 2 days taught us something: regardless of their own personal skills, and of their own degree of Kyma knowledge, observing things from other users' point of view reveals unexpected surprises and creates new connections, on a mental and operational level, which were never considered before.
Even sounds commonly used in our everyday activity, if put in a different context (artistically or technologically), appear to us as new and unexpected, bringing back to our memory John Cage's famous concept: "(You have) to look at a Coca-Cola bottle without the feeling that you've ever seen one before, as though you were looking at it for the very first time. That's what I'd like to find with sounds -- to play them and hear them as if you've never heard them before."

The musical performances have contributed themselves to recombine new pieces of code, bearing different morphologies, sintax and structures.
With her liveset "SlipStick for Continuum and Kyma", Carla Scaletti explores the sound phase-space, in order to find new timber paths moving from materic aggregation to resonant chimes and back, without forgoing a "virtuoso gestuality" given by the nature of the instrument itself.
We have experienced the possibility of creating vibrating soundtracks for silent movies in real time, thanks to the contribution of Franz Danksagmüller's work, with the help of Berit Barfred Jensen's voice.
Concrete sounds produced by the friction of a Cello bow on different-shaped polystyrene objects, saturate the listening space thanks to the work of Hector Bravo-Benard, reminding us of some textures of Xenakis' work "La legende d'Eer".
Marin Vrbica's "Tiger in the Jungle" immerses us into an exotic and rich spatial dimension made of revolving sound-surfaces and sliding glissando-like multiple trajectories.

In the end, we are surprised that the paradigma presented in the beginning by Carla Scaletti (Recombinance Makes Us Human), has actually acted as an invisible force guiding, transforming, rearranging our thoughts, knowledge and purposes.
So, after the symposium we observe ourselves in a different way. We have changed into new intellectual human beings, and this gave everyone of us a fresh new start, in order to discover new possible configurations and interactions between ourselves and the others, between what we are and what we will be until #KISS10.

We really enjoyed our first attempt to follow a live event via Twitter, we hope you appreciated our efforts to make you feel like you were in Barcellona with us, as part of the symposium.
You can track all of our tweets via

Here's a selection of related tweets of interests:
  • Now live #KISS09: Carla Scaletti - "Recombinance Makes Us Human" - Philosophy of Kyma #
  • a Question: Infinity makes us HUMANS? #
  • Infinity+ self-awareness of finitude #
  • Open-ended possibilities= open-ended amount of time, but the learning is fun! #
  • Kyma sounds are us..! #
  • Pen Morph Gandalf to Saruman "You are tracking the footsteps of two young Hobbits" #
  • Writing in time and space..... #
  • I became operational ath the C.E.R.L. lab in Urbana, Illinois on the 12th of November, 1986. -- Kyma #
  • Kyma was inspired by three ideas: cutting & splicing audio tape, voltage control, symbolic logic & computer programming #
  • An interview with Carla Scaletti @symbolicsound #
  • and now...linear interpolation of presets - smooth transition in the phase space... #
  • music is something like a side effect of explorating timbre and sound configurations... #
  • Presets as aural Keyframes #
  • ...the problem of finding graphic symbols for the transposition of the composer's thought into sound." Edgard Varèse #
  • ...without friction [...] there would be no music!"- Carla Scaletti #
For anyone interested in the Kyma sound design language, the book "Kyma X Revealed" is available here @ SSC. This document gives you an overview of the environment, gives you a strategy for approaching this deep system one layer at a time and then walks you step-by-step through each level of Kyma like your own personal tour guide. At the back of this guide, you’ll find several summaries and quick references that you can keep handy for refreshing your memory while working. This book covers the mechanics of how to use Kyma — not the art and science of sound design. However, if you love sound and are hungry for more knowledge on the subject, achieving fluency with Kyma is an excellent first step!

A great thanks to Cristian Vogel (Station 55 Productions) and Symbolic Sound Corporation for their greeting and organization.

UPDATE: Slides from Recombinance Makes Us Human (.pdf), the welcoming address for the First International Kyma Symposium in Barcelona, October 2009.

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