Session transcript London 2010

Dr Peter Zinovieff

The Russian-English renaissance man's guide to quadrophonic sounds

The video stream for this lecture can be watched here.

Geologist, librettist and adventurer in sound and music, Dr Peter Zinovieff was the first person to own a home computer – or rather a computer at home, as his huge device is unrecognisable from the modern PC or Mac. At EMS he helped design and build the acclaimed VCS and Synthi series, which have now become the stuff of legend and the dreams of collectors. He talks about the connections between his science and his art, discusses how to harness randomness and talks about the time he tried to get an implant in his arm connecting his muscles to the music.

RBMA: It’s going to be a rather mind-boggling day because you’re going to have very different approaches within very few hours. It is with very great pleasure that we welcome Dr Peter Zinovieff.


That wasn’t even close to the right pronunciation, was it? What would it be, Zee-nov-e-eff?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Zin-ov-e-eff.

RBMA: And how did you come to have a name like that in the heart of the British Empire?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Empire? I didn’t realise there was one, but my blood is all Russian, my parents are Russian.

RBMA: But you were born out here?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: I was, in London.

RBMA: But you’re not in London any more, right?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: No, I live in Cambridge, with my wife (points to his wife).

RBMA: Please welcome her as well.


Dr Peter Zinovieff: What we’re listening to in the background is part of Chronometer, which I did with Harrison Birtwistle, it just came out last year. It’s the first quad] sound classical music piece. So it’s released as a DVD with an ordinary CD sound on one side and quad on the other.

RBMA: Could you explain in layman’s terms what quad sound is?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: It means quadraphonic. This piece was designed with Birtwistle in about 1970. You’ll see later from the slides what the studio looked like then. But it was made as a quadraphonic piece, it was one of the first quadraphonic pieces. This is only being played in stereo now. But it was a milestone. The original recording was found last year and then made into this DVD.

RBMA: What was it recorded on?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: I suppose, it was recorded on 4-track Ampex’s and perhaps an 8-track Studer.

RBMA: And how would you set up a system, if you want to play it in pre-Dolby 5.1 scenarios?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: A lot of luck, but it was actually under computer control, so the sync was done with computer control. In fact, Ray Dolby lived down the road from where my studio was and he gave us his prototypes to use before he was a household name.

RBMA: There’s maybe about five people in this room who actually might remember Dolby. That’s the sign that helped your tapes to have less noise, right?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Yeah, it’s on every film.

RBMA: So there’s an actual person of that name?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Yes, it’s like Bob Moog or is it Charles Hoover, who invented the [vacuum cleaner].

RBMA: So when you say it was done with computer help in 1970, I remember in about ’76 when I was very, very little my dad was working in the military and he brought this little thing home and said: “Son, this is a computer and it will help us play a board game because it’s got six LED lights and it will be your dice.” And I’m like (looks baffled): “Why? Wouldn’t it be a lot easier just to roll the dice and not to use this thing?”

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Well, my first computer was much before that, I think it was 1964 or something like that, perhaps even earlier. It was a Digital Equipment PDP-8 and it was the first computer in a private house in the world. So I have had a computer longer than anybody in the world (laughter / applause). That’s very good, isn’t it? And talking about random numbers, it’s not easy to get a computer to play dice, it’s very difficult. What often happens is the series of numbers that comes out, you can recognise it as repetitive. So what I did was to have a luminous watch and a Geiger counter and it recorded spontaneous radioactivity and from that we derived random numbers, and that was true randomness.

RBMA: Excuse my ignorance, but why would you have a Geiger counter in the house?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Because it was very difficult to get random numbers, it was purely to get random numbers. It was almost impossible to write a mathematical function that will give non-repetitive series.

RBMA: That probably helps, because I was wondering when I found the unit again 20 years later, I was like: “Hang on, it’s got six LED’s, but the manual is at least double that volume (points to mixer). What did they teach them with that?”

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Well, you were lucky. Nowadays, there’s never a manual, so you have to look at PDF files and it’s only on the last page you find out what you want to find out. The days of manuals were wonderful.

RBMA: Manuals weren’t so helpful as far as context or text word search though.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: It’s only nowadays that people can’t turn pages fast. It’s a ridiculous idea to have a book that goes ‘next page, next page’ (gestures turning pages) and then you want to go to page five and you don’t know if it’s page five or fifty. It’s terrible. You all agree?

RBMA: All the manual labour that goes into flicking the page.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: It’s terrible (laughter).

RBMA: But still, we’re talking about a time when the vast majority of the public didn’t know what a computer was. How did you end up with one in your home?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Because I had a marvellous engineer called David Cockerell, who will probably go down as the best electronic music engineer that’s ever been. He had the great gift, or I had the great gift of thinking of something that I wanted and I’d ring him up and he’d make it. However difficult it was, he’d make it. Then, one day he said the only way to control this multitude of oscillators, amplifiers, tape recorders – a huge array, you’ll see a slide of it in a bit – he said the only way to control this was to have a computer. Computers in those days were used in factories for just that sort of thing: turn that on, turn this off, switches. That’s how it was first used, as a process control thing.

RBMA: Obviously, you didn’t just go to an online shop or somewhere down the high street. Where would you obtain the parts for it?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Well, there was a company called Digital Equipment Corporation in America. I remember very well when I bought it they offered a course to go and learn how to use it. At the end of the course I had no idea what to do, absolutely none. The course was for people who already used computers in a massive way, with decks of cards and things. So I said to him: “I’ll give you a case of whisky if you can tell me how I could control an oscillator.” He said: “Tad-I-Auto.” ‘Tad-I-Auto’ in the language of that computer meant take a number, put it somewhere, then go back and take the next number, which will be the next in the stack and give it. Just by that I realised you could take numbers sequentially and give them to an oscillator so the sound would change. It was worth that conversation, the case of whisky for ‘Tad-I-Auto’.

RBMA: What sort of whisky was it? Did he share some with you (laughter)? Obviously, no.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: A bit left (holds up glass).

RBMA: That was your eureka moment.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: It was, exactly.

RBMA: Just to give us some perspective, that’s just one bit of information at a time, one notch on whatever information parameter is changing on the oscillator, so you would have to repeat exactly that operation a lot of times.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Thousands of times a second, yes, to make a piece like this. This piece, you just pressed a button ‘go’ and the whole piece came out. It was very amazing, really.

RBMA: So what were you doing at the time when you said: “I’ve got all these things and I want to do this”?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Originally, I was a geologist, that’s why this talk is called ‘Geology And Music’. Also, the middle part is I was also a librettist for Harrison Birtwistle and wrote the libretto for The Mask Of Orpheus, a big opera.

RBMA: Could you enlighten us as to what a librettist does?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: A librettist writes the scenario and the words, the plot of a play, then the composer writes the music. So, this was a very big opera. The point of this talk is that exactly the same thought processes perhaps go on, whether you’re a geologist making a map, a writer making a libretto, or a composer doing computer music or electronic music. Although it seems like a wild idea, I hope by the end you’ll see I actually use the same triangles in all of these different disciplines.

RBMA: Before we jump into this, so that people get… actually, you’re getting there, your involvement with a certain company that we might know these days. That’s part of the presentation as well, right?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: EMS. I brought along a very old Synthi, a prototype for a Synthi A. I had this computer music studio and the only way we could finance it was by selling synthesizers. The studio wasn’t financed by the government or anything else so we made the synthesizers and they were the bread and butter for what I thought the more important work. I never used them, I really feel shy about putting a pin in. Fortunately, it’s been set up now and we’ll have a lovely demonstration of it later. Anyone can play with this. It’s like a museum piece. Extraordinarily enough, people are wanting these old analogue synthesizers more and more now. I can’t imagine why, really, beacuse it’s so amazing what people can do with actual computers now. It’s not my world.

RBMA: So the whole fetish for these machines is alien to you?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: It is. My whole philosophy at the beginning was to do away with cutting tape, which is how people made electronic music at first; slicing tape, sticking together with Sellotape roughly. This seemed such a terrible idea, which is why I developed the sequencer. This reminds me a bit of tape days, taking a pin, putting it somewhere, hoping there’s a sound, turning the level up, it not being exactly accurate. But there are lots of people who disagree with me over that.

RBMA: There was somewhere in the binode you just mentioned and that’s when you worked on the sequencer. Now sequencers are the foundation for what most of us do in digital audio platforms. Just like that?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Yes, it’s to have one sound after another sound. The first sequencer I made was based on a uniselector, which is how old-fashioned telephones worked. You dial a number and as the dial went back (draws circle in the air) it went ‘pip-pip-pip’. The more ‘pips’, the bigger the number, so nought had the maximum number and one only had one ‘pip’. At the exchange, this was a sequence of numbers that came in and it would recognise the sequence of numbers and connect you to the right telephone. That’s exactly what I used in the first sequencers. The first sequencer I made was using that telephone technique like that and these relays would go around making these shuttering noises. It would switch on and off different oscillators, and I think that was the first sequencer in the world.

RBMA: When did you hear about other people working on similar concepts?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: I didn’t believe anybody was working on anything like it. Then, by chance, I met Max Mathews at Bell Labs and he was doing exactly similar work with a programme called Groove. Then, after we had done these synthesizers, who should turn up but a fellow called Moog in America. I’d never heard of him, thought he must have copied us. So it was very strange working in parallel, but unknown to each other.

RBMA: Well, I guess those of you who were around – which is probably two people in this room, if I see correctly – but it was quite a common thing to annoy the fuck out of your parents or grandparents by playing with the telephone, because that relay sound was so beautiful in a way. It was a similar fascination.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: The best thing was it was called ‘phone freaking’, wasn’t it? You could tap the number and avoid the exchange and the ultimate phone freak was to tap enough so it would go from satellite to satellite to satellite and come back to you with a noise like this: shhhhhhhh! Then you knew you’d gone ‘round the world 25 times and it was successful, that was the goal (laughter).

RBMA: You said you did it out of necessity and then you heard about the Moog’s of this world. When did you realise there was enough there to make a living out of it, or to turn it into a business venture?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: I think we did it at the same time or before Moog. We started and at one point we nearly bought him up, he nearly went broke. But we just couldn’t afford it. I wish we had, from a commercial point of view. He once came when we made the VCS-3, he sat on my floor in my studio and he thought it was marvellous. The idea of leads was even worse than cutting up tape, to have leads connecting from one place, like we’ve got here, they still exist. It’s extraordinary, in a few years we won’t have these.

RBMA: That’s what we all hope. So with the VCS, these things are very, very sought after now, but they never weirdly enough got the same recognition. Is that because you never had the same business partner backing you up as some of the Americans had?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Partly. When they were just taking off and doing very well, we were going public in America. But my company, EMS, got cheated by our American partners, who gave us a duff cheque and then the company collapsed. It was a very sad story, really, because once we couldn’t sell these machines the studio collapsed. The studio was taken over by the National Theatre here in London. At that time it was huge, hundreds and hundreds of leads connecting everything. You’ll see in one of the pictures. They put it in the basement, the basement leaked and the last time I saw it all this equipment was covered with exercise bicycles and water. It was a terrible thing. A few of the Ampex’s survived, but that was the end of that disgraceful story.

RBMA: Is that the same place you talk about? Because I don’t know how these things end up online, but we found a page from a diary from 1976 where you talk about rain coming in…

Dr Peter Zinovieff: No, that was into my studio, that was in Computer Arts Magazine. I don’t know how it got online, but that was a week in the busy life of my studio.

RBMA: Do you recall, because there’s a great analogy about this movie and when the tatars took over this church or monastery?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: That’s right. Rublev was the name of this film and after the tatars come and sack the whole town, Rublev, who’s the greatest painter of icons…

Participant: It’s an Andrei Tarkovsky film.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Yes. Then, in this great cathedral when it burns down, he says: “It’s very sad when it rains in a cathedral.” And it was like that – it was very sad when it rained on my studio.

RBMA: I guess, we’ve got a bit of context so we can start what you’re really going to talk about, so people won’t go: “Where are we?”

Dr Peter Zinovieff: I’ll explain a bit about this, but unfortunately some of the slides don’t seem to work so I’ll have to try to skip them on. Also, this is a new laptop of mine and I don’t seem able to liaise it properly, so I’ll have to do the presentation from there. It’s alright, but there’ll be a few hiccups. Also, if anyone wants to just stop me at any point, this is meant to be light entertainment. So, shall I start or are there any questions at the moment? (pause) OK. (starts slides) So here I’m saying that science, a geological map, and a libretto and electronic composition were three lucky involvements of mine, all completely different, but they were very lucky. (film starts) Does it go on or not? This is a synthesised voice, possibly one of the first big synthesised voices of a crofter in the northwest of Scotland telling a story. Here’s where the crofter was, this is a steamer, there is the Isle of Skye opposite, and note the tidal shore where the tide goes up and down. That whole area was a wonderful, wonderful volcano about 30 million years ago in the tertiary times. This is what it looks like now and when I was at Oxford doing a doctorate this was the area, which I had to map. In those days, I had a band with a biscuit tin and that was the closest I came to electronic music, but that was a long time ago. Here’s another view. I stayed in this bothy there and I had to map these mountains. That’s what climbing was like in those days, so it shows how long ago it was.

Participant: Is that you?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Yeah, it is. I was interested in music, as you can see, and I had my own synthesizer when I was camping. I mapped it onto aerial photographs and analysed the rocks, finding little details and the various layers, just like in a musical composition. So I analysed those and looked in the tiny details, like the crystals, looking for little peculiarities; like sampling, it’s very much like sampling. And here is more detail. I’ll play a piece later, which will show how this works and what I’m doing at the moment. The scale of everything is completely important in geology – are you dealing with big or little things? Each contributes to the whole. The structure, which is like a composition, here’s the actual chemical structure of a rock. Here’s the structure of an Ultimate computer music piece, which says: “Please make me a composition” to a computer. Here is a structure of Act III, and you’ll see each of these looks very similar. There’s the structure of the crystal, there’s the Ultimate computer composition with things like tension, surprise, dependency, randomness all in there. And there’s the structure of the third act of a libretto. And there’s the final geological map. So that’s the end of the geology bit.

(video plays)

RBMA: For the non-native speakers, what’s a whippet?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: That was my studio down at the bottom there overlooking the Thames.

RBMA: Whippet is a dog.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: So this was a very, very exciting piece I did with Hans Werner Henze. It was wonderful, from whipping the piano with whips to wonderful Italian meals, it was a terrific adventure.

RBMA: How did the Italian meals get in there?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Because Hans brought over his assistant Fausto who cooked all these meals. It was a month or two of wonderful, wonderful times.

RBMA: Doesn’t sound too bad. And LSO stands for? Maybe you want to pause this for a second.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: London Symphony Orchestra. This is recording for clocks of Chronometer. This is in the Science Museum, the world’s clock, then we went up to the top of Big Ben and recorded all the different little mechanisms.

RBMA: Can you actually enlighten us, if we pause this for a moment, one thing we notice is when you go past churches here they seem to be terribly out of tune. Not like a good German church bell (laughs).

Participant: The bells, you mean?

RBMA: Yes, they seem to be playing a weird off-rhythms.

Participant: It might just be the ropes rather than the mechanism doing it, that might be the difference.

RBMA: You think so?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: I think you’re wrong (laughter), I think this is bell-ringing proper here.

RBMA: Oh well, I thought it might just be from clocks to bells…

Dr Peter Zinovieff: This is a video that doesn’t work. The point of this is this was a wonderful exhibition called Cybernetic Serendipity. At this point, people came along and whistled into the computer. The computer analysed the whistle and would often guess what the person was going to whistle next. I took several of the most popular tunes that people would whistle and the computer, a massive great thing, would make tunes out of the whistles. This was a very, very important advance in robot electronic music and it’s still talked about today, it was a real milestone this exhibition in 1970 called Cybernetic Serendipity.

Participant: (inaudible from participant) Yes.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Yes.

Participant: Were these computers all fully transistorised?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Transistors. One could actually repair a module of memory. This computer, which was half the size of the wall behind me, I suppose, had 8k of memory. In the end we got a 32k hard drive, which was huge. We never thought we could fill it (laughter) and it was 32k. On this little computer here I’ve got 4gb of memory and half a terabyte of disc space. The difference between that, from 8k to 4gb is completely amazing. That computer cost a fortune, this one cost a few hundred pounds.

RBMA: Did you have any benefactors to come up with that fortune?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: I did, we’ll come to that in a bit. This was one of the first studios I built, so there were quite a lot of leads. (video starts again) Those were oscillators. (video continues) That’s David Cockerell. (video pauses) Actually, eating a lump of sugar was meant to be. That was David Cockerell.

RBMA: So that was part of a longer documentary that’s available online?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Yes. (video starts again) This is the rain I was talking about falling into my computer.

Participant: Which piece did you work on with Stockhausen?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: It wasn’t a piece, he just came and fiddled around, really.

RBMA: As he does.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: This is how the studio gradually developed into something much smarter than that. These are my three children and this is an advertisement for the future of opera. I didn’t at this stage know I would be involved in making an opera. And we made these crazy advertisements: “Every picnic needs a Synthi, everybody needs a Synthi, every band.”

(video continues)

RBMA: That’s like the ultimate triple x for most of us.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Then we invented a vocoder, the first vocoder, now used a lot but this was our advertisement. A lot of bands have used these. Pink Floyd is a good example, they bought lots of them. Every time they bought something I could do some more experiments. (video continues) So there’s my studio, I don’t know why it’s there, but still. Here’s a new type of computer. I was very interested, still am, in producing scores. I hope this will pause. This says: “Please make me a beautiful composition.” After a bit the computer answers and says: “This is a beautiful composition, but do you know if it is?” So you ask the computer back: “Is this a beautiful composition?” And the computer, of course, says: “Do you think it is?” And you have to answer: “I suppose it is, you made it.” And the only answer you can do then is: “Please make me another beautiful composition.” I think this is about the most succinct computer music score you could have of those initials. On the other hand, behind this frivolous idea I did have the idea of making a tetrahedron, coming back again to triangles, and you could slice a tetrahedron and within it you’d have areas of tension, expectation, surprise, greyness, dependency, tension. Wherever you cut this tetrahedron you would have a score where you would obey these emotional rules. That was a very ambitious idea, that this was what computers would be able to do.

Participant: That image is almost like cutting through strata in rock.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Again, it is. Now we’re going onto the structure of Act III based on the tides, which you saw at the beginning.

(video starts)

Oh, a bit more first.

(video continues) She’s now becoming famous, that’s Delia Derbyshire starting it, who was my colleague. There we have it sitting on the stage of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, this ridiculous idea.

(video continues)

(cites video) Neo-Weber, that was fantastic.

(video continues)

So, this was the studio when I went to Oxford with it, that’s roughly what the computer side of it looked like. That was all the paper, tape, the printer; that was the computer set-up. These are more modern experiments.

(music: Orchestral Bach recording on a Yamaha piano)

This is a very good quest, waveform to MIDI. This is a wild experiment, this is a picture advertising Cambridge University alumni travel programme, which my wife did. I wondered, if you scan it into Sibelius, what sort of sounds could you get out of that from a score. So what do you think that picture could give you? Do people here use Sibelius? This is using the scanning option from that picture. So it’s found ‘O’ and it’s found points. There was a wonderful picture in a magazine called Source, 1970s, very lavish American magazine, and there was a bloke with a huge bit of manuscript paper about 50 yards away and he had a machine gun. He’d be shooting at the score and so you had bulletholes. Then he’d reduce the score and that’s what people would play. This was the same sort of experiment. For me, it just seemed amazing that you could get someone to play a piano and whatever they played would become a score in front of your eyes. I’m very involved at the moment in this, I’m working with a marvellous violinist and she’s playing directly into Sibelius.

(video continues)

So here’s a synthesizer, which is here, this is an older model of it, anyone can play with it afterwards. Here are some programmes I’m using at the moment, some are being developed for me by York University. And this is part of a piece I’m doing for a sculpture in Istanbul later this year. So here we have again this quest of waveform to MIDI, here’s Beethoven being converted into a MIDI file. Here’s an artificial singing programme. There’s a rough melody and that could be transformed, that Beethoven symphony could be transformed. Here I’m using n-Track to collect a few things from what we’ve been hearing together. There’s the MIDI file of Beethoven and my whippet and other things will now come together. That’s a part of a Henze, but distorted. At the back it’s still my whippet’s heart going ‘boom-boom-boom’ and the Beethoven dribbling along. Now we’ll move along to the last part, which is the libretto, so here’s part of the Mask Of Orpheus. It was originally for Covent Garden but via Glyndebourne it ended up in the English National Opera. So here are the tides, which you’ve seen before, both from the Isle of Raasay and outside my house in Putney in London, where my first studio was. Sometimes the studio would even flood when the Thames got high. Always been terrible, really.

Participant: Can you explain to people here about Harrison Birtwistle?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: He’s probably our most distinguished British composer. And he’s called Harrison Birtwistle (laughter). This is part of the structure of this libretto, it’s not just a question of writing words and a singer singing them. It’s also a very contrived artificial thing. For instance, I imagine that on a beach there are various objects, like a bit of fishing net, an old bit of bone, a fossil or something. The tide comes up and covers these objects, then the tide falls and uncovers these objects. Each time they’re covered or uncovered it triggers a dramatic scene, say, perhaps the death of Orpheus or the birth of Orpheus. So this structure of the tides falling and rising is the structure of the whole of the Act III, which is about an hour in this opera. The same way, the staging the type of masks people wear, the gestures they make, everything is dependent on this thing, the tide moving up and down and up again.

RBMA: Is that a dedicated sign language there or is that something you came up with?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: It’s something I came up with to represent the main protagonists in the opera. In the same way it becomes so far away from language that I invented a special language for them to speak. I used the words Orpheus and Euridice, and out of these syllables I invented a language that had its own context and grammar and tenses and vocabulary and had to be written. I used an IBM typewriter – there weren’t word processors in those days – and overlapped the letters so when the singers had to sing them they looked at something incomprehensible as well. So the language was incomprehensible in all sorts of ways. I don’t know if you can see there, but the translation of English to Orphic is very complicated. Although it’s simple, Orpheus might sing something like: “I can see an oar on the shore.” But what he would say is (makes incomprehensible sound), which has never been sung before, it’s untranslatable except as a notion. So this is a song in this invented language.

(video starts)

This is by Philip Langridge, who died two days ago. So, although this is an English opera, one can’t understand what these words are. It’s very difficult inventing a new thing to sing, these are professional singers and they have to learn it by heart.

RBMA: So you use these professional singers as professional components in you synthesising a language., basically?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: They had to sing it, it’s an opera, a proper full-scale opera. This is what I’m involved in now, this sculpture, it’s on its way to Istanbul from Seville. Bartok in the late 1930s recorded a lot of folk songs in Turkey. Here is one (fiddles with slides). This is the last slide. (music starts) This is what you can get from the archive now. I’m using this sort of song. This is Bartok recording on a wire recorder.

RBMA: So, basically similar to what Ralph Peer and the guys in America did, just went out there and documented folk songs?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: This is the sort of thing which I’m doing now. You’ll hear in this the same heartbeat that I emphasised in the beginning, the same Beethoven. Of course, I’m doing all this on the computer, I’m not using any equipment at all. York University, who control this sculpture, wherever it is, from York…this sculpture has 150 loudspeakers in it. It must be the most elaborate sound installation in the world, and it’s all controlled from York University. Because I’m one of the composers producing music for it in Istanbul, York University are making these amazing little programmes and one of them allows you to slow down music without changing pitch or losing any information. Another one is an extraordinary filter bank, which has something like 2.000 filters, so I can do a graphic display and take out tiny little parts of the sound, which I want. It’s incredibly luxurious to have these Max/MSP programmes being made for me. Max/MSP is a music programmer’s delight, I think. It’s complicated but wonderful, I’d recommend it to anyone. Expensive, though. This is my origins, a Russian troika, and hat’s the end of this little demonstration. I will now answer any questions about these slides or go back to them. Thank you.


RBMA: I guess, before we open it up there are a few questions flying around. OK, the saucy one first. Did we hear that right? Delia Derbyshire was your assistant at some stage?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Yes.

RBMA: Lucky you.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: I formed a group called Unit Delta Plus and I got Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson from the BBC to help me in that.

RBMA: Were they doing the Radiophonic Workshop already?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: They left the Radiophonic Workshop to join me. The idea was we would make a fortune doing commercial sounds, but I wasn’t interested in doing commercial sounds. We did one for Philips, which was something like “whoooop” and that was it. We got a lot of money for that (laughter), but I didn’t want to do that, so we split. But they didn’t succeed either. I didn’t want to have a commercial studio, I wanted an experimental studio where good composers could work and not pay. In fact, rather like this organisation, the same sort of philosophy. If anyone had a good project, they could come and work in my studio and I wouldn’t charge them. It wasn’t just Henze and Birtwistle who came, but quite a few. We often had Arts Council courses and perhaps 20 people would come and study over a month, so in that way it’s very similar to [the] Red Bull [Music Academy], I think.

RBMA: Obviously, we can only judge it in retrospect and are amazed when we watch documentaries on Radiophonic Workshop, but…

Dr Peter Zinovieff: I’m amazed, too, because these archive films, I had no idea they existed until a few years ago. So it's extraordinary for me to look and think this is actually what happened.

RBMA: Can you recall what these people were doing in a very public environment – and publicly funded as well – how they were perceived by you and the general public?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: The Radiophonic Workshop was really purely for sound effects on radio. It’s become famous because of Doctor Who. But otherwise it was a very primitive tape studio, not in any way a research studio. They bought, for instance, EMS equipment and other equipment, but it was never advanced in the way that Cologne was and Utrecht was and Columbia. It wasn’t an academic or research studio.

RBMA: Who were your other customers at the time? You mentioned a few educational or broadcasting facilities that were kind of mixed-roles. The Cologne facility, as Professor Podmore would be able to tell you, is still like this bizarre museum that no one was able to get into. Massive chunks of money were sunk into these places, but who else could afford these things?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Mainly radio stations and a few universities. Everybody bought little ones like this, but the big Synthi 100, which was a bigger version of this…perhaps someone would come and hold it up (interviewer holds it up). The other way around, not to me.

RBMA: I just want to be gentle.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: This was a Synthi A, a very primitive one, the first one. We made a huge version of this called the Synthi 100 and I think we made 30 or 40 of those.

RBMA: Do you know how many of those are still around? We obviously only know the pictures.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: No, I want to find one. If anyone knows of one, I’ll pay them some money because I know I can sell it for a fortune.

RBMA: I saw one on the internet that went for a six-digit figure.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: That’s it. I’m not going to tell where I think there are some. People talk in Orphic, you know?

RBMA: What do you make of a German company now doing…

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Ludwig Rehberg, he was my German agent. In fact, Robin Wood, who was my studio assistant, owns EMS and he’s about to start up remaking a batch of VCS-3’s, just exactly the same as the originals, but they are going to cost a fortune. The whole idea of the originals was that they’d be very cheap and any musician could buy one. Sort of.

RBMA: Yes, I think it said like £330 in the ads.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: For a VCS-3, yes.

RBMA: But at the time, that was obviously a totally different £330 to now.

Participant: About half the price of a car.

RBMA: Half the price of a car.

Participant: A small car.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: But you can’t really compare it because there weren't many electronic things then.

RBMA: But when you say you wanted every musician to be able to buy it, but in the end it was bands like Pink Floyd or The Who.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Well, we sold several thousand, so several thousand did buy them. It was the same sort of price as the Moog’s in America. You have to bear in mind that a pocket calculator cost a lot of money. A telephone cost a fortune, a mobile telephone was very expensive. The fact that these things are much cheaper now doesn’t mean nobody bought them then.

RBMA: Still, how do you feel now when, even up until the late ’90s, having the actual financial funds to obtain a physical unit was a big threshold for many people doing music. Whereas now, it’s more a matter of finding free Wi-Fi and a $300 computer.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Well, the programmes for a computer are still quite expensive.

RBMA: But it’s a lot easier to find another version of that than steal a physical unit.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Let’s say you have a powerful enough computer to run a good computer synthesis programme and have MIDI input and all the things you want, you’re up to quite a lot of money. You couldn’t just spend £500, you’d need a lot of data storage, you’d need a lot of peripherals. What would it cost? Two thousand, two and a half thousand pounds?

RBMA: I think most people here would do it on a standard unit that’s below a grand.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: With input and amplifiers?

RBMA: Amplification is a different thing, but most people just use their headphones, if you look around.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: What you’re doing here is really the answer, to use lots of recording suites, people to be able to come and go and have high-class equipment. It’s much better to have limited facilities of very good equipment than to have a lot of bad equipment going around. Also, on headphones you can’t really hear what it’s going to sound like. The higher the quality of the programmes you use, the better the facility, the more you can do with it. It’s still nothing like the end, it’s only the beginning of what you can do with computers. The programmes are terribly primitive, all of these mixing programmes and the stuff you can do with them, MIDI itself is incredibly naïve, sampling is still naïve, it’s still the beginning of electronic music what’s happening.

RBMA: Something that’s sometimes I feel overlooked when we talk about the beginning of synthesis, we’re mostly talking about warm sound and getting that original sound and that sort of stuff. But what strikes you most when you get in touch with these units for the first time, they do actually have an inherent rhythm within them. A lot of the sounds do provide you with some rhythmic elements straight away, if you apply some sort of modulation to an oscillator.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: What’s the opposite of no rhythm?

RBMA: Silence, maybe? But the interesting thing is most people would go: “I want to get that sound,” a single-hit note, a one-shot note. But most synthesised sounds do have a lot of movement wihtin them and the beauty of using analogue equipment is you can manipulate the very perimeters of that rhythm a lot more directly than you can on a computer screen.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Do you think that’s true?

Jono Podmore: I think that’s true, I’d agree with you. The thing I find out about the AKS and VCS-3 is that all the parameters are out there for you to touch immediately. When you’re using a mouse or a touch-pad you can only use one parameter at a time. You’ve got much more access to more parts of the machine and you can play with any number of them simultaneously. It’s much more difficult with the current state of the digital equipment.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: I think you’re right, I think it is. David Cockerell, who you’ve seen a lot in those pictures, I wanted him to make an implant into my arm, which in those days – this was a long time ago – would purely control a voltage-controlled oscillator. I think I’d be able to think ‘high note’ and out would come a high note. There’s no reason why not, absolutely none. You could train your arm, but I couldn’t find a doctor to do it (laughter). That’s true, he designed the thing.

Jono Podmore: Maybe you could put it in the whippet.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Maybe, but I think what you’re saying is right. It would be much better to have a multi-sensory input, in which case you don’t need to have the physical thing because we’ve only got two hands and five fingers on each. It would be much better – and I’m not joking here - to have direct thought to computer control.

RBMA: I’m sure you’re pretty aware of this, but there have been lots of experiments on this in the last 30 or 40 years and they found the currents used in the brain are just too low, so the amplitude wouldn’t be big enough for the pick-up’s to recognise the differences, so far, at least.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Yes, that’s direct brain rhythm, but I’m not talking about that, I’m talking about muscular.

RBMA: So you’re consciously controlling some part of the body?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Your thought controls it. You learn it, you can learn to control this muscle. You only have to have the slightest change of voltage to have the highest and lowest frequencies. And you can have several of these, just as you can move different fingers.

RBMA: But would the advantage be that big? The brain information going into making the finger turn something.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: You’d be able to turn 100 (laughter).

RBMA: Do we have a scientist in the house? Can we work on this one now?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: I think so. Anyway, we can’t forecast. This is 200 years ago what I’m talking about. In the same way as this is 200 years ago what I’m talking about here, in another 200 years, say 2015, or whatever acceleration is.

RBMA: So you’re basically suggesting we all go out with neuro-scientists and get some intel...

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Is there anybody here who’d be up for such experiments?

Participant: Ray Kurzweil, I’m sure you’re familiar with his work, he’s talking about the same thing with the scanning of the brain and the Wi-Fi connected to the synthesizer via the chip in your head. It seems like an idea that a lot of people are talking about. I don’t have a question.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: I don’t want it in my head, I want it somewhere else. My nose perhaps. I do think computer music is only at the beginning. It’s made huge advances from the first Music 5 programmes, which were the first computer synthesis programmes. It’s advancing all the time. I think it’s going through a rather static phase at the moment, it’s producing these rather polished sort of programmes to produce these polished nuggets of sound without enough scope for wild experiments. That’s my feeling, I might not be right. But who’s inventing completely new programmes that don’t use MIDI, say? York University is one.

Participant: Is Trevor Wishart still at York University? Is that who you work with?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: No, I don’t. This sculpture, which I showed you, is financed by Morning Line, they financed a whole new research department for several million pounds at York University under Tony Myatt. It’s an annex to it, it’s got fantastic facilities, very good recording studios, state of the art in Britain.

Participant: You’ll have to excuse me, I’m going to gush for a minute. I found your mapping of the libretto extremely freaky because when I was a kid trying to figure out how to produce I noticed all my favourite tracks on records were all number seven. I figured there needed to be a reason for that so I listened to the records with the Cartesian Plane and time. The Y value would always be if it’s a rock record, how much does it rock? If it’s a soul record, how soulful is it? I came up with the exact same curve in some of the best albums of all time. In later years I was doing film school and learning about classical story structure and it’s the exact same curve. Freaky shit.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Number seven is 777, the Aleister Crowley book. Seven is the magic number of all magic numbers, so it doesn’t surprise me (laughter).

Participant: Anyway, my question – or my first of many questions, we’ll see how much time there is – in my experiments of trying to impose this curve upon my music, writing, cooking, whatever, you don’t come up with the perfect album. There’s something to be said for this non-quantifiable thing. You have perfect albums that don’t adhere to this perfect curve. But how do you cater for the unquantifiable thing that makes it beautiful?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Inspiration. I think that comes back to my Geiger counter and the luminous watch and random numbers. It’s very, very important to tame randomness. Although there’s a randomness you tame it in the direction you want it, the unexpected. This is what inspiration is, is taming the unexpected and the unexpected can only come from randomness.

Participant: So when you’re composing or writing, how do you introduce randomness?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: I suppose, just allow it to. A poet would surely say there’s a random element to what comes to him on paper. Every word can’t be preordained by himself. It must be, ‘There’s a good idea, so where does that good idea come from?’ Maybe the sunshine, or in my case, the rising tide. The tides were moving up and down, but an incredibly good inspiration for this pattern. That’s fluke, that is a randomness. You have to let yourself open to these things, to let them come in.

Jono Podmore: One of the points we were talking about early on, one of the reasons why the synthesizers like the Synthi A are becoming popular again these days is because of their analogue nature, there is a degree of randomness in there. They behave. But when you put your right number in your right box of a digital piece of software that you’re running on your computer, it just does exactly that. The slightly random nature of the little bit of grit in the carbon track is where that little bit of inspiration comes from for people who’ve grown up completely working in the digital domain.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Yes, you’re right. But in my new life doing electronic music again – my very lucky new life, because I wasn’t doing it until a few years ago – now I find using real sounds is where the randomness comes in. In those bits I played you, each of those samples is a different sample so it varies the randomness. The trouble is I feel with synthesizers I know the sound, so it’s too repetitive for me. The gigantic sound of an orchestra, no two pieces of music by live performers are ever the same, is it? You take a piece of sheet music and there are no two performances of it ever in history that are identical. So this translation from a score or an idea is completely amazing. I think what you were talking about is that the essence of music is that there’s always something unexpected. And what you were saying about the randomness, no vibrato on a violin is ever the same as the previous one.

Participant: Another thing that’s been freaky for me is I’ve done similar experiments. I had a little G2M audio to MIDI converter box, it’s meant for playing monophonic guitar lines. I would put random found sounds into it and see what my synthesizer would play. It was just rubbish. But now there’s a company called Melodyne that’s announced you’ll be able to sample a chord and break it down into its parts.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: You can already with Melodyne 2. They’re just producing the new version, Melodyne 3, but with Melodyne 2 you can do that already. That allows you to shift or move the chords and stretch them apart, it’s an amazing programme. But I’m amazed by that example I showed you of a Beethoven being transformed into recognisable - I can’t remember what – it was Tubular Bells, I chose. But it’s still recognisable as Beethoven, although it’s waveform to MIDI. Completely extraordinary.

RBMA: I think there is a question over here.

Participant: Sorry, I’m just going to jump in quickly. It seems we’re talking about the sounds of synthesizers and the kind of randomness in sound that we all really seek after from the older gear because we like that character. We touched on the MIDI thing, converting actual audio to MIDI. Do you foresee a time when you can digitise the sound of an instrument? I think a lot of the old experiments, when you hear the Mellotron choir and stuff, that was the closest we ever got to a pleasing sound converted to the electronic thing. But now MIDI signals seem so far away from the actual feeling of real instruments.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: I’ve had a lot of lovely pianos in my life and I’ve now got a Yamaha CLP-170 and it’s got a, I think it’s a Steinway sampled piano, which it plays back. It’s a lovely, lovely piano. I can control it by MIDI and out comes this synthetic but sampled real piano and it’s a lovely sound. You’d be hard pushed to say this wasn’t a piano. The same with new Sibelius orchestra sounds, they’re very good in the new version of instrumental sounds, especially the sampled ones. So you can get real sounds and this will improve. The actual amount of gigabytes you need for the samples is so large. When space becomes faster and memory even better than now it won’t matter how big the samples are and you’ll be able to synthesise very realistic sounds. Does anyone agree?

Participant: That was kind of where I was going with that. The computer is always going to be x-amount of numbers, no matter how high you set the parameters, that’s the beauty of the early synthesizers that we all love. Even though you’re creating an electronic sound, there’s always that beauty of the randomness and something you can’t put your finger on. Is there ever going to be a point in time where a computer can do that?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: If you think that your head is in a way a computer, when you listen to sounds in your head, do you hear them differently each time?

Participant: Probably.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: So the answer is yes.

Participant: You were giving us the example of when you used an image to transform it into a score on Sibelius. We’ve been talking about randomness and the importance of randomness in music, but how do you balance randomness and order? How do you suggest we use the devices? You gave the example of the score. So OK, I have the score based on the image, how do I make it into a piece of work of my own from that point?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Well, I hope that you’re going to tell me (laughs). That’s what we’re all on about, that’s what we want to do. There isn’t an answer to your question, there are a million ways of doing it. It would be wonderful if I could say: “You want that secret? I’ll give you this piece of paper.” I would love to have such a piece of paper.

Participant: I have another question, it’s a bit technical. You mentioned the Geiger counter. The algorithms being used back then are still more or less the same, still ring-based. How exactly would you insert the random numbers from the Geiger counter?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: You’d have to have a sampler that would sample the number of clicks given off a Geiger counter and from that you derive a number. Then you’d have a list of numbers, an ever-generating list of numbers. Then you’d contain those numbers in whatever way you like.

Participant: And the sequence repeats itself…

Dr Peter Zinovieff: No, the sequence would never repeat, it would always be coming out, forever.

Participant: Because you are constantly using a different…

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Right. It comes out all the time so you would have a USB Geiger counter and out come some random numbers. Then with just easy mathematics you can choose what to do with those numbers.

Participant: Then you use a modulo and the remainder?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: This was a big device in 1960. Now it would be very easy to do it. I don’t think anyone’s made one, but it would be nice to have a little USB plug like this.

Participant: I think there is, they use it on online casinos to generate sequences.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Oh, you can get the sequences, I’m sure, but it would nice to have them self-contained so they’re your own sequences, not from somebody else. Because, if you can get it online, someone else can use that sequence, so it’s no longer random.

Participant: It’s never totally random, but for your purpose it’s…

Dr Peter Zinovieff: But if there were 20 of us, we’d have the same.

Participant: Ah, yes. True, OK.

RBMA: There’s a question over there, and there’s one over there as well. So can we somehow match Geiger counters and our personal DNA and somehow be totally independent (laughs)?

Participant: I read about the Morning Line about a month before coming here. Isn’t it a collaboration installation with various artists from Spain?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Yes, there are five composers who did it in Seville where it opened. Now there are another five doing it Istanbul.

Participant: So they’re a doing a different version in Istanbul?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Yes, it’s a fantastic extravagance. This sculpture costs £100,000 to be refurbished. It costs £100,000 to move. It must have moved now from Seville to Northampton in Britain to be recovered and rewired and refurbished. Then it costs £100,000 to send it to Istanbul; in Istanbul it will last for a few months. Then it will cost £100,000 to send it to wherever, with another lot of composers. It’s one of the most extravagant, wild, artistic gestures that has ever been done.

Participant: I read a bit about it and heard it has a lot to do with randomness and especially fractals in nature, the actual sculpture. There was this one artist who really interests me, Roc Jiménez de Cisneros, from Spain, Barcelona. He’s doing some really interesting electronic music recording the gas horns at York University, maybe you’ve heard of him. It’s weird, he’s doing electronic compositions dealing with a lot of randomness, but replicating that same randomness in a totally non-synthesised way, just doing gas horns and physical [instruments]. Like, how would you do with a synthesizer, only in the physical realm? So do you believe that’s a tendency in post-electronic music that’s not actually electronic, using organic means to make different sounds that we probably heard in nature, but not really? Do you believe that’s a tendency?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Yes, but immediately it’s recorded it’s like samples, so it is electronic.

Participant: Yeah, but it doesn’t have to be recorded, it’s just replicated. He does it live, the performances, but yeah, there are some mp3s floating around. But you’re right about that.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: You don’t have the lion and the birds unless you’ve recoded them, it would be difficult to have them there and then. Originally, this sculpture was going to come this year to the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, and this is why it’s this shape. But the South Bank decided it would be too difficult to put wheelchair access to it so they refused it, which is why it’s going to Istanbul.

Participant: I’ve got another questions. All of the digital workstations that we use these days are very western, all left to right, just how we write in the western world. Do you think there’ll be a backlash towards that?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: I do hope so because it’s terrible, they all look alike, it’s all very similar. One person will say it’s like Apple versus PC, I use one, I use the other. It would be marvellous if there was a revolution in that so there was a different concept of a score going from left to right like that.

Participant: Yes, I believe a lot of our young artists, me included, are just putting all our ideas into these programmes. You have to learn how to use a programme instead of just letting ideas flow.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: I agree with you. A spherical interface would be more ideal, something more tactile. Coming back to this, but as an interface for a computer thing, those linear doors are very, very frustrating, really.

Participant: Yes, I can’t even work with structure, it’s really hard for me.

RBMA: Aren’t you using Ableton anyway?

Participant: Yeah.

RBMA: But then you’re going to a different dimension straight away, aren’t you?

Participant: Yeah, you can do it vertically, but I don’t really know how to structure stuff. Maybe because I come from a different background of non-pop music.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Perhaps if there were a different scale, you could see the whole thing in a different three-dimensional way and use that. I think it needs a revolution. Why don’t you write a programme? Seriously.

Participant: I’m not really good at coding. I’ve been trying to learn programming for a while now but it baffles me, too abstract.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: You need a David Cockerell in your field. You have a concept and you need someone to screw it up, as it were.

RBMA: We can put it online with this lecture now. You’ve got your request, just put your email address on the stream.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: That’s exactly what happened to me, with some of the interviews in this, which were for an Australian film called What The Future Sounded Like. At the end of it I said I wish I could find someone to work with. Immediately, this Morning Line thing came up and the York University thing came up for me, just because of this film. Broadcast it and you’ll find people will come and help you.

RBMA: What email address should we put in there?

Participant: Please contact

RBMA: That’s the deal.

Participant: I can’t pay you, I can give you some beer, maybe (laughter).

Participant: Have you, by any chance, read a book called Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: I have, a long time ago.

Participant: I was looking at it the other day, and there’s this concept about classic thought versus romantic thought. And classic is very much the underlying form, how this thing really works, getting into the nitty gritty and breaking it all down, all the parts you can get. The romantic side is just ‘it sounds good: cool’, essentially. I don’t know if you covered this in your chaos-versus-order thing in randomness, but you obviously have a brilliant mind and you were able to invent a language and get into synthesis, that’s pretty amazing. But how do you translate the music you make from all the knowledge that you have into something that can have a sense of beauty?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: I don't know, no idea (pause / laughter).

Participant: OK.

RBMA: It’s probably one of the best lessons, to know when to say I don’t know.

Jono Podmore: There is an interesting point that our friend touched on earlier, saying he doesn’t come from a popular music background, so his approach to the sequencers or whatever is different. One of the reasons you’re appreciated by this crowd is that your work has had a massive influence in pop culture rather than high-art, academic, university culture. For what you’re working on now, can you see how that would have an influence on popular culture, on commercial culture?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: No, it’s really just a fluke that at my age I’ve got the opportunity to be trying out these new techniques again with the knowledge of what it used to be like. Therefore, in a way, I have an advantage of being able to jump in and not care. Only if I can gather people like that together…

Participant: Well, you’ve got his email address now (laughs).

Dr Peter Zinovieff: I haven’t, he must give it to me. (to participant) Will you give me your email address, write it down? It’s people like him, who have to think how best to revolutionise the state of play at the moment. That’s what people like David Cockerell did, to say: “Yes, I can do that out of a concept.”

Jono Podmore: But do you feel that is something that remains in academic culture or has a much greater repercussions in popular culture?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: I think it must be popular culture. As you said, so many people are able to synthesise music. But, in a way, it’s like saying a lot of people have a good piano, but it doesn’t mean there’s a lot of good pianists. The piano is very clever in that it’s got a wonderful format, so you can use all your fingers and all sorts of things. It’s a wonderful format. I don’t think there’s yet this wonderful format for making inventive electronic music. That’s what you were saying, isn’t it? That there isn’t such a wonderful device for controlling your thoughts into it.

Participant: My question was about improvisation as an electronic musician, but I guess, that’s the answer: you’re programming, you’re not performing.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: That’s why I showed you those scores that happened at the beginning: surprise, tension, greyness, dependency on what’s happening - these are the notions of inspiration to a music school. It hasn’t been done yet, but it will.

Participant: Do you think, if you had complete control, going back to what Moises was saying, and a different way of approaching electronic music that you would be able to express yourself like a concert pianist obviously can, but in the electronic realm?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Perhaps you could, or my great-grandchildren, but I couldn’t, no.

Participant: Do you think that’s the next level of improvisational electronic music?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: It must be, but it depends on having a good input device, which is subtler than a mouse and a keyboard.

Participant: That’s terrible.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Terrible (laughs).

Participant: (inaudible)

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Well, they’re monosyllabic in a way, aren’t they?

Participant: There are already multi-touch controllers.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: This magazine I mentioned, Source, if you can look in your music libraries, this wonderful extravagant magazine. Thick, with records in them. One of them is a page with different materials and animal furs and you touch it, you touch the different things and you think music, it’s a music score. This is brilliant. You close your eyes and touch different things and this is the score, so you have a page laid out with these things to touch. That’s what I mean. How do you use these different tactile things, to make what our friend wants? A good input programmer. Maybe. But that’s for you to do.

Participant: What about the use of motion capture?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: What about it?

Participant: You put markers on your arms and with the infra-red cameras you can take the movement that you make and then translate that movement into MIDI messages that could go to images and to sound.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Yeah, but it would be the language. Alright, you’ve got a hundred mice and you’re a good dancer and you’ve got 20 infra-red cameras and you’ve got this mass of information there, but that doesn’t mean that, because you’ve got this mass of tactile information that you make good music. What is the translation between one and the other?

Participant: I just thought instead of using implants motion capture could be like…

Dr Peter Zinovieff: It sounds wonderful, I’d love to hear your piece and see it because it would be visual as well. 

RBMA: There’s another one over there and then, I guess, what we’ll do is break it up and for those who are interested give a little demo of the unit and the rest of you will be relieved for your lunch break.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: ”Released” (laughs).

RBMA: I can see this total division between people who are absolutely into it and the others who are like: “What planet are we on right now?”

Participant: Sorry, to keep bringing it back to this corner, but in terms of the things we’ve just touched on, different controllers, giving you more control over a variety of different sounds, do you still think if you had a different controller, an implant or motion capture or whatever, how would you make it so you had complete control over the sounds and you weren’t still confined by the bounds by the control, say, of western harmony?

Dr Peter Zinovieff: I have to return the question: it’s up to you. I’ve got no idea how you would do that. How could I possibly know? These are unknown techniques to me. The future is in your hands, boy, as they say in Scotland (laughter).

Participant: Well, maybe you heard it here first.

Dr Peter Zinovieff: Good luck.

RBMA: I guess, that’s probably the perfect ending. The future is in all your hands and join me in thanking, Dr Peter Zinovieff.


Dr Peter Zinovieff: Thank you very much.