Pitoti and GeMMA: accoustic graphics

Tuesday 20th September 2011
The venue, St.Pölten - Kulturbezirk bei Nacht Courtesy:http://www.panoramio.com/photo/5023292

If you missed Palæophonics in Edinburgh in May, and you just happen to be in Austria this month for Europe's researchers night on 23rd (which alas doesn't happen in the UK) St Pölten University of Applied Sciences is showing a musical and cinematic experience in 3D or the premiere of the technically demanding media opera "Echoes of the Echoes. " And anyone who deals with music for film know that St. Pölten is the originator for the invaluable Generative Music for Media Applications (GeMMA).

The performance of Echoes of the Echoes presents an artistic interpretation of the results of a research project that combines 4,000-year-old rock engravings with ultra-modern media technology.

The modern music spectacle offers guests at the "FIT für Forschung / FIT for Research" evening, the opportunity to experience research results from all sides: a live choir, dance ensemble, specially composed musical score as well as  stone percussion blended with multi-dimensional projection technology and multi-channel surround sound.

The local dialect word for the 150,000 or so rock engravings that cover this UNESCO world heritage site is “Pitoti”.They first appear in the Copper Age and continue through until 15 BC when the local tribe the Camuni were defeated by the Roman Emperor Augustus

Research results can now be published, presented and 

popularised. They can also be used as inspiration for cinema, culture and composition.

That is exactly what St. Pölten University of Applied Sciences has done over the past two years.

What has emerged is a media opera that breaks the mould, from a technical and the scientific perspective. The opera, entitled "Echoes of the Echoes", is now set to premiere at the "FIT für Forschung / FIT for Research" evening at St. Pölten University of Applied Sciences

The ambitious audio-visual performance is based on archaeological research examining rock art of the Copper Age. Astoundingly, there are more than 150.000 of these aesthetically expressive engravings concentrated in a single valley, Valcamonica, in Northern Italy, where hunting and battle scenes are drawn, alongside domestic motifs and dance performances.

The local dialect word for the rock engravings that cover this UNESCO world heritage site is “Pitoti”. They first appear in the Copper Age and continue through until 15 BC when the local tribe the Camuni were defeated by the Roman Emperor Augustus

One thing also stands out on closer inspection - the numerous stone images are not spread randomly throughout the valley: they are concentrated in specific hot spots. Why this should be so is one of the great archaeological puzzles that now has a solution.

The ultra-modern media technology at St. Pölten University of Applied Sciences recently helped scientists arrive at an unexpected answer to the riddle - and the audience of "Echoes of the Echoes" can now experience the answer live on stage.

Dr. Frederick Baker, (left) who works at the Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology at the University of Cambridge and lectures at St. Pölten University of Applied Sciences, explains: "The media opera is in actual fact an audio-visual realisation of our research findings. Our explanation for the hot spots is that this is exactly what these places offered: an acoustic and visual experience.

"We have actually been able to demonstrate that the inhabitants of the valley during that period chose locations for their art which had special acoustic properties - like echoes, for example. And the arrangement of the rock art in the space draws the observer´s eye from image to image and through the surrounding landscape. That was cinema of the Copper Age!"

It is these very impressions that will now be contemporised in the three-storey atrium of the main building at St. Pölten University of Applied Sciences on 23 September. On the production side, the research findings also served as the performing artists´ inspiration for how the modern opera should sound and look.

Prof. Hannes Raffaseder, (right) Vice Chancellor and director of the Institute for Media Production at St. Pölten University of Applied Sciences and composer of much of the musical score for "Echoes of the Echoes", adds: "What really interested me while I was composing was how to construct complex tonal and musical forms using very simple resources - in the same way as the rock engravings in Valcamonica create complex forms out of simple lines."

Another key element in the media opera is which sounds and music there were 4.000 years ago; the production uses a number of instruments that may have been around in those days.

Classically trained horn player Albin Paulus (left) will play a cow horn, for example, and a stone percussion ensemble will make music with stones from Valcamonica.

Furthermore, the "scuola dilettanti musicali" choir will sing simple phrases and produce sounds that count as some of the most elementary vocal utterances.

The musical impressions will be complemented by complex digital & vital animations of the rock figures. The figures were painstakingly scanned as part of a research project and will be digitally revitalised in larger-than-life format on the evening of 23 September.

The "vital animation" will be realised by Brazilian, Lia Virtual. With her troupe of nine dancers from Vienna, Lia will reawaken the movement patterns from the stone engravings for the first time in 4.000 years. With no charge for entry, "Echoes of the Echoes" will provide a unique impression of the interface between research & culture, and is sure to have a reverberating effect on each and every spectator.

Back in February this year, the University offered "Compose your own film music quickly, without going over budget?"

It launched its development Generative Music for Media Applications (GeMMA) an innovative music tool that after twelve months’ of intense research, had the development phase of the unique software  designed to help budding composers.

GeMMA harnesses intelligent algorithms to make up for a lack of the complex musical skills required for creative composition.  Software mainly benefits small film companies and low budget productions, giving them the opportunity to strike a professional note, without significant financial outlays, and enabling them to measure up to the big players of the business.

A frantic chase in an action thriller, accompanied by a dramatic surge in the music and a tumultuous score is essential to exciting film as is the appropriate theme tune. It takes the right sound to arouse appropriate and strong emotions in the audience.

Filmmakers go to great lengths to compose the perfect background music for their productions - sometimes spend large sums of money in the process. Small film studios are unable to afford such expenditures. But now it does not mean they are forced to make do with unimaginative or clichéd scores from free music databases.

Thanks to research at St. Pölten University of Applied Sciences, the software programme, GeMMA is now available for the production of media music and can play all the tunes.

“After a year of extensive research we are now able to present initial positive results which meet the professional requirements for creative composition,” states project manager, Prof Hannes Raffaseder.

“Thanks to GeMMA software, in future it will no longer be necessary to have great musical talent or acquire difficult specialist knowledge. A lot of it is already in the software, meaning that a new and individual piece of music can be created on the basis of a few individual decisions.”

The first thing is to select the instruments, such as brass. Then the desired musical scale must be chosen, followed by the tune and rhythm. If the end result still doesn’t fit the purpose, all the decisions taken can be tracked and changed to suit individual requirements.

A reference piece may also be defined as a basis for the new tune. This piece can be input into the system and then be creatively adapted to personal concepts. Something that can be realised, for example,with the aid of semantic parameters: with just a few clicks the music can be made more sorrowful, more cheerful, or more exciting and dramatic.

Well-tempered mathematics
Extensive research had to be conducted before these semantic parameters could be used to change music, as Prof. Raffaseder explains:

“Using a socio-cultural approach, we began by analysing and assessing 400 films, the function of the films’ music and the significance it imparts. We subsequently asked ourselves how music actually arouses specific emotions. We wanted to find out how strongly these emotions can be influenced by the individual parameters of the music.

"Listener tests revealed a strong correlation between high sound intensity and rapid tempo, and a general energised feeling. We also discovered an association between high, consonant sounds and rapid sequences of notes with a cheerful mood, which was, however, much less pronounced.

Instruments as scene indicators
"The next stage involved associating the instruments used in the background music, with the film’s storyline. It soon became clear that guitars, tambourines and songs tended to be used in social scenes, for example, whereas violins and trumpets were more likely to accompany accidents. Brass instruments are typically used in violent scenes. The analysis therefore essentially confirmed more or less well-known clichés about film music.

"The St. Pölten University of Applied Sciences research team is currently trying to incorporate these results in special calculation procedures and intelligent algorithms which form the basis of (semi) automatic composing with GeMMA.

"The initial results obtained are extremely promising. Obviously, whether to opt for tried and tested, well-known patterns or to consciously break with clichés will still be a personal decision.

"Judging from the positive reaction at international symposiums there is likely to be an extremely wide range of uses for the innovative project results. A prototype is to be developed commercially with high-profile partners in 2012."

Parts of the GeMMA software are being made available to the scientific community under an open source licence. This is testimony to the effective, application-oriented research work being conducted at St. Pölten University of Applied Sciences.

Their work on converting knowledge into pioneering innovations has  been honoured by no less than the COIN (Cooperation & Innovation) development programme of the Austrian Research Promotion Agency, Österreichische Forschungsförderungsgesellschaft FFG.



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