The Beast of Bramall

Martin Longley quivered under the B.E.A.S.T. in Edgbaston.

Bramall Music Building
University of Birmingham

The long-running B.E.A.S.T. organisation (Birmingham ElectroAcoustic Sound Theatre), and its massive multi-speaker array, have found a relatively new home up on the top floor of the Bramall Music Building at the University Of Birmingham. Up in the dome, they are running a series of concerts that display some of the best electroacoustic works in the UK, and often beyond.

A hundred speakers might be B.E.A.S.T.’s upper limit, being one of the globe’s largest sound systems, even if many of those boxes might be quite tiny. There are always the bulging, floor-squatting bass bins, though, to handle the stomach-churning depths. Music might be sculpted by sound processing dissection, inside a laptop, but when it leaps out into the outside world, a skilled diffuser is always a boon, guiding every element into its ideal speaker, and space, within the spherical sound-stage.

As ever, there were several pieces by established composers, the programme completed by new student work. As some of the students are already busily constructing their own career profiles, the line between these stages can often be smeared. There’s something about the top floor’s circular dome-construction that’s especially conducive to speaker placement, corners banished up above, with small speakers suspended around the actual domed ceiling. This particular sequence was titled Emergence, allowing a broad definition of that concept to be explored via its six works.

Old hand Adrian Moore bookended the first half with a pair of his Sea Of Singularity pieces, establishing a platform for sonics more restrained and environmentally contemplative than is frequently the case. A notable composition from the first half was a< <<>>>b, by Christopher Haworth, who chose the face the audience from a conventional stage position, rather than diffusing from the centrally-positioned mixing desk.

His initial approach was to pluck away at isolated flecks, gradually increasing their density, but eventually working up to an increasingly full blanket of thoughtfully-sculpted noise. His curve of activity increase was particularly well-choreographed, building up to a brutal finish. The evening’s star composer was veteran player Denis Smalley, presenting an extended piece that had only just been premiered in May of this year, celebrating his 70th birthday.

Here, the development of Fabrezan Preludes was much more gradual, preferring to avoid a predictable explosion of activity. The three sections possessed a soothing sense of slow growth, spreading multiple layers of soft clouding throughout the dome. Generally, this was an opportunity to hear electroacoustic music in its less theatrical, more introverted manifestation.