Welcome to Interactive Composition Open House

Still from Interactive Composition Open House 2020 video presented by Group 4. Supplied.
Still from Interactive Composition Open House 2020 video presented by Group 4. Supplied.

The Melbourne Conservatorium's Interactive Composition students are well positioned to innovate in times of trouble. Indeed, in their recent Open House streaming concert, students made it very clear that creativity was still in full flight.

By Mireille Stahle

Interactive Composition at the University of Melbourne focuses on commercially driven cross-art modes of composition including writing music for film, television, animation, advertising, video gaming, installation art, performance and sound design. In an "Open House" event run in June 2020 via Facebook, groups of Interactive Composition students presented unique sound and video experiences developed collaboratively, at a distance.

Group one, comprising Thomas Atkinson, Jade Then, Serge Balaam and Nathan Zammit, chose to create a video that emulated the experience of using Facebook.

"Our project centres on our individual and collective response to the global pandemic," the group states in its introduction.  "We have been using this time together to be productive, without surrendering to the confusion and hopelessness presented to us. Here we are looking to focus and find strength in what we can control and to reject the fear of what we cannot."

"Every two-to-three days we have met, discussed and compared work and ideas with each other. We have collaborated at every step of this process. All the while sharing with the changes in each others' day-to-day lives. More than ever, we are lost in our phones and computer screens, either as an escape or an echo chamber of our perceived reality.

"We ended this project with a collaborative piece made from a pass-the-parcel process of layering beats, chords, countermelodies and vocals one by one. Its compositional cohesion is a testament to the connection and friendship we've developed in the face of these circumstances. Circumstances that have done their best to keep us separated."

The videos and soundscapes are akin to artworks. They vary from sumptuous animation, surreal Facebook feeds, a crowded, digital nightclub and eerie visions of deserted streets at night. One student records himself literally crossing off days on a calendar and shredding an electric guitar in the shed.

"The production, post-production and equipment" according to Group Three members Emma Beilharz, Angus Conley, Simon Zinzovski, Rupert Buesst and Phillip Thomas, "are proportionate to the challenges of creating while social distancing. The mise-en-scene, locations within a household, lighting using lamps and torches and irregular resolution of filming on phones, have created a new medium for expression."

Concreted in the present context using found footage and imagery from news sites and social media to tell their stories of isolation in almost real time – this oft misunderstood music discipline becomes wholly relatable.

Matt Tinkler, current Masters candidate and Honours graduate in Interactive Composition was responsible for coordinating the live-streamed event.

"I've previously hosted livestream events but nothing as coordinated as this event," muses Tinkler, "Having done a bit of event management and some logistics in the past, the transfer of the skills was actually fairly straight forward, and luckily my prior experience with live streaming meant that I already had systems in place to run the event."

"I think that the engagement with the event and the willingness from participants shows that creatives and their audience have been able to adapt delivery and engagement methods fairly quickly in the uncertain state of the world. The actual content of the work presented showed a variety of perspectives on how the COVID crisis has affected creative individuals, particularly those studying, but showed that online collaboration can be just as, if not more effective than in-person collaborations, purely from the quality of the output. The Internet provides creatives with many incredible opportunities and paths for collaboration and presentation, and I think that the event showcased this really well."

This isn't the first time Interactive Composition students have jumped into digital-first collaboration. Bachelor of Music (Interactive Composition) student Pat Telfer (Mystery Guest, Peak Twins) founded the Isolation Improvisation Collective to explore the potential of improvised composition in the digital realm, using Zoom and audio-streaming software to craft new pieces of music and digital experience.