Composition and Music Technology Lecturer Dr Benjamin Carey recently undertook a four-day mini residency at the Melbourne Electronic Sound Studio (MESS), a unique not-for-profit organisation dedicated to the creation of electronic sound and music. Supported by an internal grant from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, Dr Carey spent the full residency working with a very rare, 1975 Serge Paperface modular synthesiser. “For this Residency at MESS, I was privileged to be able to dive deep into the beautiful monolith that is the Serge Paperface ’75 system. Having had the chance to spend a couple of sessions with this machine earlier in 2019, I felt like I’d only scraped the surface of what it was capable of. This residency allowed me to really get to know this amazing piece of electronic music history.”
In my music I’m drawn to complexity, self-sustaining musical processes and the delicate dance between human and machine agencies in composition and performance.
Dr Carey teaches and researches in the area of composition and music technology in his role as Lecturer at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, University of Sydney. He makes electronic music using the modular synthesiser, develops interactive music software and creates audio-visual works. “In my music I’m drawn to complexity, self-sustaining musical processes and the delicate dance between human and machine agencies in composition and performance,” said Dr Carey.
Dating back to the 1960s, modular synthesisers fell out of favour with the march of digital music tools that began in the 1980s. However, they have been seeing somewhat of a renaissance in the world of electronic music in recent years, with new designs and manufacturers appearing on the market regularly. An original design from the heyday of analog synthesisers, the Serge Paperface system housed at MESS was designed to be flexible and open-ended. Dr Carey explains: “In contrast to synthesiser designs that include a chromatic keyboard and a fixed signal path, modular synthesisers like the Serge are open-ended, allowing the musician to decide how the different parts of the instrument interconnect to create unique sounds and structures. There’s something about the physicality of exploring these instruments that you just can’t get with software tools, and I think a new generation of electronic musicians are really starting to appreciate this aspect of music making”, he said.
“I’ve been working with a Eurorack modular synthesiser as an integral part of my artistic practice for the past 3 or so years. The more time I spend with modular systems, the more I’m interested in the way they make me think, how they challenge me to discover music within often unwieldy networks of electricity – music that surprises me upon each listen. Part of this process has led me to researching the genesis of some of my favourite designs and approaches to music making using these machines, and the Serge system is a great example of such a design.”
The residency was wrapped up by a sold-out public workshop where Dr Carey both explained what he’d learned during the week on the instrument, and taught the audience how the system works. As a unique, large and somewhat complex instrument in the MESS collection, Dr Carey’s workshop was aimed at demystifying the instrument for an audience of eager electronic music enthusiasts. As well as taking the group through the musical potential of the machine, Benjamin showed examples of recordings made throughout the week, which he has now begun shaping into a series of compositions planned for release later in 2020.
Founded by Robin Fox and Byron J Scullin, the heart of MESS is the MESS Studio, a fully functioning sound production workshop representing one of the most unique, eclectic and historically significant collections of electronic instruments in the world. Working from within the studio is the MESS School, a place for people to engage with the history, technique and artistry of electronic sound and music creation presented in a format that is flexible, affordable and artist driven
Benjamin Carey is a Sydney-based saxophonist, composer and technologist. Ben makes electronic music using the modular synthesiser, develops interactive music software and creates audio-visual works. He currently teaches and researches in the area of composition and music technology in his role as Lecturer the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, University of Sydney. His work has been performed and exhibited nationally and internationally at numerous festivals and academic conferences including the Huddersfield Festival of Contemporary Music (UK), the dBâle festival of electronic music (Switzerland), the New York City Electronic Music Festival (USA), the Totally Huge New Music Festival (Australia), IRCAM Live @ La Gaité Lyrique (France), the Festival de Mùsica Electroacùstica (Chile), the International Computer Music Conference (Australia) and the International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression (USA, UK and Australia). He collaborates regularly with artists/ensembles such as Zubin Kanga, Joshua Hyde, Ollie Bown, Megan Clune, Kusum Normoyle, Alon Ilsar, Ensemble Offspring, Sydney Chamber Opera, and many others. Ben completed a PhD in interactive musical composition at the University of Technology Sydney in 2016.
Hero photo by Liam Bray.