Interview with Franz Zotter, Head of IEM Institute for Electronic Music and Acoustics, Graz – Austria

The 12° episode dedicated to the discovery of Research Centers, Museums and Recording Studios where electronic music in all its forms is studied and practiced. First: Museo del Synt Marchigiano – Italy (here). Second: SMEM Swiss Museum for Electronic Music Instruments – Swiss (here). Third: MESS Melbourne Electronic Sound Studio – Austrialia (here). Fouth: Nakatsugawa Korg Museum – Japan (here). Fifth: Museo della Farfisa – Italy (here). Sixth: VSM Vintage Synthesizer Museum – USA (here). Seventh: CIM: Colloquio di Informatica Musicale XXIII – Italy (here). Eighth: SoundMit – International Synth Event – Italy (here). Nine: EMEAPP – Electronic Music Education and Preservation Project – USA (here). Ten: EMS Elektronmusik Studion – Sverige (here). Eleven: Institute for Computer Music and Sound Technology (ICST) – Swiss (here). Today is the turn of Pr. Dr. Franz Zotter, head of IEM Institute for Electronic Music and Acoustics, located in Graz, Austria. I invite you to read the interview

Here the Italian Translation

How did the IEM Institute for Electronic Music and Acoustics come about?

(Home foto: Franz Zotter and IKO, by Johannes Gellner, 2024) IEM was founded in 1965 as a part of the University of Music and Performing Arts in Graz, which was an Academy of Music back then. The aim was to support local composers by technical means and knowledge required to make electronic music.

In terms of education, origins of a more dedicated course program was established targeting music recording first and later on the program Electrical Engineering and Audio Engineering together with the Technical University in Graz that had its 50th anniversary in 2022.

IEM initiated a dedicated master curriculum for Computer Music within the Composition program in 2005, which has been extended to a curriculum Computer Music and Sound Art Bachelor and Master on its own in 2014. Meanwhile, there is also a Sound Design Master program we are involved in, and courses that can bring musicology students in touch with contemporary artists.

Covering the upper end of the academic scale, our university issued doctoral studies in science and in the arts in 2009 to deepen the activities in research and artistic research. Moreover, our doctoral school has a well-established collaboration with the Zurich University of the Arts.

How is it structured?

IEM is part of the University of Music and Performing Arts in Graz and we cover the field “Sound and Music Computing” within the university, by mainly pursuing two academic paths: one in Computer Music and Sound Art and the other one in Audio Engineering and Acoustics. Roughly there are 4 professors covering the artistic branch, 4 professors the technical branch. There are a bit less than 10 doctoral candidates, about 4 Post Docs, external lecturers, university staff and student workers, so that in total we are about 40 people. We meet every week to organize and align our ideas and goals.

What equipment does the IEM Institute for Electronic Music and Acoustics have?

Our core lab is the IEM CUBE, a small loudspeaker concert hall that is about 11m x 10m, with 25 loudspeakers covering the upper hemisphere, and 5 subwoofers around, as well as a motion capture system, and two icosahedral loudspeakers. It is not always to get a booking, but it is always a pleasure to work there.
There is a production studio with a 1+4+7 loudspeaker hemisphere and a subwoofer for post production, a teaching studio with screen and a 4+8 channel loudspeaker system, and a smaller experimental lab studio that is currently equipped with a mobile Genelec 8020 system.
And there is an acoustic measurement chamber with flat absorbers, and a small electronic lab, and of course microphones and mobile equipment needed for recording large ensembles or to make recordings in the field.

What can you do at the IEM Institute for Electronic Music and Acoustics?

The largest cross-sectional technology used in our lab is spatial audio and in particular Ambisonics, with currently three of our studios and the CUBE equipped to listen to Ambisonics on loudspeakers.

Most of what is done here is centered on research and academic education.
On the technology part: audio recording, acoustics, audio effects, etc. (Audio Engineering), on the artistic side: electroacoustic music, live electronics, sound installations, etc. (Computer Music and Sound Art).

We try to keep student activities driven by questions in artistic research and research, and it is quite interesting to attend student concerts and listen to the works they came up with.

There is always some program going on, not only semester concerts but also our dedicated concert series “signalegraz” or “jungesignale” taking place in the great Ligeti Hall at MUMUTH, and last but not least our lecture series “signalesoirée” and “openCUBE” convey what is currently going on.
On a doctoral level, there are university-wide events called “Doktorand*innen Forum” or “ARTikulationen”.

Picture of the IEM CUBE (photo: Franz Zotter, 2022)

Is it possible to do research at the IEM Institute for Electronic Music and Acoustics?

As stated above, staff and students engage in artistic research and research. There are several ways to engage in research at IEM, also without the status of a student or staff. For instance, we have two music residencies per year, sometimes one of them is specifically an artistic research residency, for which successful applicants have the opportunity to visit and work in our labs for a couple of months, all with a small salary and access to the lab.

And apart from that, we are mostly open to collaboration and there is some lively exchange with other universities.

Is the IEM Institute for Electronic Music and Acoustics on social media?

We have a Facebook website and YouTube channel, and most of our lab members have a Vimeo account, but there is not much of a LinkedIn or Instagram activity. There is not always time to fill the social media between all the ongoing businesses, but at least IEM’s website is able to cover most of the news.

Does the IEM Institute for Electronic Music and Acoustics care for the issue of gender in Electronic Music? And in Austrian Musical Culture?

We have been covering gender topics in composition, oftentimes in collaboration with the center of gender studies and diversity of the university. The collaboration gives us the opportunity to organize workshops and lectures and focus on gender specifically within Computer Music and Sound Art.
As gender balance has been improving within the student community, and our academic staff is friendly, open, and supportive, I believe that gender balance will continue to spread.

What is your relationship with the Austrian government?

The university holds the relationships with the Austrian governments, and I believe that the relations are always fair.
We are lucky that the Austrian Research Fund (FWF) has a program for funding artistic research, and I am lucky to say that we had received funding for many really interesting projects, such as Embodied Gernative Music (Eckel), Choreography of Sound (Eckel), Transpositions: Artistic Data Exploration (Eckel), Orchestrating the Space by the Icosahedral Loudspeaker (Zotter), Inter_agency (Eckel/Gioti), Gamified Audiovisual Performance Practice (Ciciliani), Algorithms that Matter (Rutz), Speculative Sound Synthesis (Pirrò), to name a few.

2 compact spherical loudspeaker arrays, the IKO by IEM and Sonible on the left and the 393 mixed-order compact spherical loudspeaker array on the right (photo: Stefan Riedel and Franz Zotter, 2021)

Is the IEM Institute for Electronic Music and Acoustics open to collaborations with institutions, associations, research centres?

As mentioned above, we have a collaboration with Zurich ZHdK in Switzerland in terms of the artistic doctoral school, the collaboration with the local Technical University in Graz, but these are just some prominent ones. We have regular excursions for students to see other institutions, we try to bring their works to conferences and festivals. There are a lot of international ties, partly because of our students, partly because of our staff’s connections, and in some part due to exchange programs such as Erasmus.
Last but not least, we purse to reach international artistic and scientific communities and audiences for our students and their works, and of course our own works.

Ongoing projects and future projects?

We have been supporting open software, to name one group effort as one of the most continuous and timeless project of all our lab. For instance, such as hosting the Pure-Data community servers and developing some libraries, developing supercollider unit generators, developing the IEM Plugin Suite, and hosting Europe’s Student 3D Audio Production Competitions. These efforts are ones that we have been doing in the past, and which have become long term projects that are reaching far into the future.

Link: IEM Institute for Electronic Music and Acoustics Home Page

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Link: IEM Institute for Electronic Music and Acoustics Vimeo Channell

Link: IEM Institute for Electronic Music and Acoustics Youtube Channell

Link: IEM Institute for Electronic Music and Acoustics Instagram Profile

Link: IEM Institute for Electronic Music and Acoustics X/Twitter Page

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