Back in 2000, I wrote an electronic piece for that year's Australasian Computer Music Conference called Brisbane Nocturne. I also wrote a paper in which I described the processes and the patch for the piece in great detail. Recently, a number of us have been talking about the issue of the preservation of live electronic music pieces. So for this year's ACMC, I decided to see if I could reassemble Brisbane Nocturne from my description of it. The piece was written using John Dunn's SoftStep, the predecessor to ArtWonk, controlling Martin Fay's Vaz Modular virtual analogue synthesizer. I resurrected SoftStep from the software vault – it still works just fine – and following the paper line by line, reassembled the original SoftStep patch based on the description in the paper. I should mention that after deciding to do this project, I did not listen to the original piece. One of the aims of the project was to reassemble the piece without reference to the original, and only after the performance, see how close I came.
I was successful in reassembling the patch, and performed it at ACMC 2012, in Brisbane, in a pretty successful performance. A few days after getting back from the conference, I made a studio recording of it, and then I listened to the new version and the original. My reconstruction was largely successful. What was different in the two versions was that the original was a lot more controlled and balanced than the new version. Dynamics vary more widely in the new version, and my average tempo is slower than the original, but varies more from moment to moment. So, for those that have an interest in such things, here is the original performance:
Brisbane Nocturne (2000) for live computer performance
Brisbane Nocturne Revisited (2012) for live computer performance
I don't know if I actually proved that it's possible to resurrect live electronic pieces based on a verbal description. It worked in this case, but the fact that the software still worked on current computers (I've been using XP since it first came out – that's more than a decade, right?) helped things a lot. The unavailability of the original patch, due to the fact that I archived all my backups around 2000-2002 with a program I no longer have (!) is one thing that makes me think that verbal descriptions are very important. I remember back in 1970, at Darmstadt, Karlheinz Stockhausen described notating one of his early electronic pieces in great detail, then said it was, in the end, futile because the filters he used to make the piece no longer existed, and the copies of the filter still in existence had capacitors which had corroded and changed their sound. So I still don't know what the “ideal life-span” of a live electronic piece is. But at least in this case, I was able to make a recording which sounds fairly close to the original. Perhaps recordings really are the way this music is going to survive.