Greg Schiemer

Transposed Dekany (2012) 

Greg Schiemer


A graduate from the University of Sydney with a PHD from Macquarie University in electronics Greg Schiemer is an Australian electronic music composer and musical instrument designer. Since the early 1970s his work has involved the design of new interactive analogue and digital instruments, much of it in collaboration with dance. During the ‘80s and ‘90s, he produced public radio events involving live audience interaction such as the Concert on Bicycles, where audience members rode bicycles during a radio broadcast in order to experience the effect of multiple moving sound sources, and The Talk Back Piano, where a computer-controlled piano responds to sounds made by members of a large national radio audience during a live broadcast. The Pocket Gamelan, developed with support from the Australian Research Council, is a network of java phones programmed to play music using tunings found in many parts of the world. Greg has been director of the Sonic Arts Research Network at the University of Wollongong, Visiting Associate Research Fellow at the Interactive and Digital Media Institute at the National University of Singapore, Australia Council Composition Fellow at CSIRO Division of Radiophysics and Lecturer in Composition and Music Technology at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

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What is your favourite Concerto?

J.S. Bach's Brandenburg Concertos offer a wonderful palette of instrumental colour as do modern concertos like Gyorgy Ligeti's Chamber Concerto for 13 Soloists or Lou Harrison's Concerto for Piano and Javanese Gamelan. But considering that today's orchestra also consists of instruments created in software then I'd have to include Synapse for Viola and Tape by Barry Vercoe and Mutations II for Ensemble and Electronics by Jean-Claude Risset.

Career highlight?

When I took the Pocket Gamelan to Bali in 2009 at the invitation of the Sacred Bridge Foundation, it resulted in an inspired performance collaboration with a sufi vocalist from Aceh, Marzuki Hasan, who spontaneously improvised a chant – both the words and the melody – in response to microtonal music played on mobile phones by eight musicians.

What inspired you to choose/compose this piece?

For me composing involves building electronic instruments. These need to be easy to play, quick to learn and offer musicians a user experience as rich as the microtonal instruments created by composer and instrument-builder Harry Partch. In this chamber concerto I wanted to continue to develop a new genre of music for mobile instruments. Using some of the first software instruments developed at Bell Labs by Risset, I have adapted ubiquitous generic technology in the hope that contemporary performers and listeners experience something of the diversity of the world's tuning systems. The tuning used in Transposed Dekany is a microtonal scale devised by one of Partch's colleagues, the contemporary tuning theorist Erv Wilson.

What should the audience look out for when listening?

I hope the listener will enjoy the clarity of sound projection achievable by a consort of hand-held instruments without using conventional amplification. It gives listeners freedom to hear music in a sociable setting by raising their threshold of attention rather than have amplification levels controlled by the sound engineer. They might also hear the way tonalities in one venue blend and interact with tonalities in another, the result of instruments in each venue playing in a different transposition of the same microtonal scale.

How has technology changed your relationship to making and listening to music?

In appropriating mobile phones as musical instruments, it seems that making and listening to music have come the full circle. Mobile technology is based on a patented communication system originating from instruments built in the 1920s by
George Antheil when he composed Ballet Mécanique. The satellite gamelan mobile phone app is not simply an application of a social media technology but an app that is both a composition and an instrument with historical roots in a concert music tradition.