View all news

Machine music turns human


Zoe Satherley
11 October 2007
Southern Cross University musician Barry Hill has a special take on contemporary electronic music – he forgoes drum machines and pre-recorded material to create rich rhythmic and sonic textures live on stage.

So accomplished is the Byron Bay performer that he is in demand nationally and overseas, and last year captivated a 20,000-strong crowd at the Woodford Folk Festival.

Next Wednesday, October 17, the PhD candidate with the University’s School of Arts and Social Sciences, together with his group the Cyberbass Electronic Ensemble, will create a musical-visual feast on the University’s Lismore campus. While playing traditional instruments such as acoustic bass and saxophone, the four musicians will employ contemporary audio programs, software synthesisers and mobile phones in a format reminiscent of a traditional jazz ensemble.

Video artist Cicada (Kirsten Bradley) will complete the multi-media experience by projecting on to three large screens images that Barry has shot while on tour with the likes of acclaimed ‘live electronica’ acts The Bird and Amphibian.

In keeping with the hi-tech, cutting-edge nature of Barry’s work, the University will be using the event to trial real-time webcasting of a complex audio-visual live performance. As well as demonstrating the University’s commitment to experimentation and innovation, the webcast will allow Barry’s overseas PhD examiner to experience the event live.

“One of my three PhD assessors is based in the United Kingdom and will be able to watch as part of my assessment, so the gig will be part Internet examination and part music performance,” said Barry, an Australian Post-graduate Award (APA) scholar, acoustic bassist and computer musician.

Barry is completing a doctoral research project titled Human Machine Music, which examines the emerging genre of ‘live electronica’ and reflects upon the creative processes used by Australian musicians seeking to create computerised music live on stage. The project also explores the social and economic relationships between musicians, their sub-culture and the wider community.

Barry is interested in observing the way that innovations in music reflect changes in wider society. “Musicians now tend to work more exclusively with machines and computers to make music rather than jamming with other musicians and acoustic instruments,” he said.

“Maybe this reflects the fact that as a society we are not communicating with each other as much physically. Instead, we tend to communicate through emails and text messages, mediated by machines and computers and corporations.”

Still, Barry sees new and exciting opportunities for music-making, especially through the use of computers. “These machines offer vast new opportunities for music-making and ways of networking and earning money through music,” he said.

“Contemporary electronic music is evolving rapidly in response to technological and social changes. I expect to see more gigs involving people playing computers in an interactive, theatrical way. And maybe at the same time as we play live to a pub audience we can also stream live to the whole world.”

The performance kicks off at the Lismore campus of Southern Cross University at 6 pm on Wednesday, 17 October. A special website devoted to the event will be available from Friday, October 12 at

Photo: Musician and PhD candidate Barry Hill is giving a concert at the Lismore campus next Wednesday as part of his Human Machine Music research project.