Senior Lecturer (Music & Technology)
BA (Hons), PhD, PGDipMIT (distinction), MSc (distinction), MMus, MA (merit)
John Dack was born in Kings Cross, London in 1950. He worked as a photographer’s assistant, guitar teacher and music copyist before studying music as a mature student at Middlesex Polytechnic. He undertook postgraduate studies at Middlesex Polytechnic (PhD) and further studies at City University (PGDipMIT, MSc), Goldsmiths College (MMus) and Middlesex University (MA).
John’s principal research area is the relationship between the practices and theories of composers and sound artists working in the electroacoustic medium. This research is, therefore, historical as well as musical/analytical. His doctoral dissertation (completed in 1989 under the supervision of Denis Smalley) compared the theoretical framework of Pierre Schaeffer (the ‘inventor’ of musique concrète) with contemporary developments in German elektronische Musik (particularly serial thought). Much of John’s research at the Lansdown Centre for Electronic Art explores these tensions within post-war European music. In numerous articles and conference presentations he has explained and illustrated the relevance of Schaefferian thought to contemporary music theory. For example, Schaeffer’s strategy of re-appropriating musical terminology and locating it within a virtual rather than an actual environment facilitates a critique of concepts such as ‘instrument’ and ‘play’. Moreover, John has also examined the influences on Schaeffer’s thinking from post-Romantic thought (principally Symbolism) and phenomenology. With Christine North (an ex-Senior Lecturer in French Language and Literature at Middlesex University), he is currently engaged in translating key texts from French. They have been commissioned to translate Schaeffer’s A la Recherche d’une Musique Concrète (1952) by the University of California Press. In addition, they have completed a complete translation of Michel Chion’s exegesis of Schaeffer’s theories Guide des Objets Sonores (1983). This will form part of the EARS web site (an AHRC supported project initiated by De Montfort University) (www.ears.dmu.ac.uk). John also plans to translate important German texts with Dr Ralf Nuhn (another Research Fellow at LCEA).
Invited research presentations have taken place at at Sheffield University, Leeds University, Brighton University, De Montfort University and Portsmouth University. His research has been presented in Britain, Ireland, France, Germany, Spain, China and Turkey.
The ‘open’ form
Since 2000 John has investigated the potential for creating ‘open’ forms in both sonic art and music by means of digital rather than analogue technology (this research will not, generally speaking, include algorithmic techniques). He applied successfully for an AHRB Small Research Grant to continue these researches. This project concentrated on an analysis and re-working of the analogue electroacoustic composition Scambi(1957) by the eminent Belgian composer Henri Pousseur. This first stage is now complete. As part of the project John organized a symposium in which Henri Pousseur presented an account of his experiences in the studios of Milan, Brussels and Cologne with particular reference to his use of ‘open’ forms. He also invited Prof. Pascal Decroupet (University of Nice) and Dr Craig Ayrey (Goldsmiths College, University of London) to present papers. The participation of students was integral to this project (staff-student collaboration is a hallmark of much work at the centre). New digital realizations of Scambi as well as new translations and research documents have been placed on a web site hosted by LCEA (www.scambi.mdx.ac.uk). This web site was designed by Dr Stephen Boyd Davis who leads the Lansdown Centre for Electronic Art and also demonstrates the importance of collaboration between LCEA staff members. The use of the Scambi web site to disseminate John’s current research illustrates the centre’s determination to present material (whether audio, text or video) from completed projects as well as works in progress.
Building on this project with Pousseur, John has initiated another investigation into his ‘open’ form composition the Huit Études Paraboliques (1971). Henri Pousseur realized his Huit Études Paraboliques in the Cologne studio of the Westdeutscher Rundfunk. Like many of his compositions these eight electronic studies are ‘open’ works. However, by contrast with the aforementioned tape work Scambi which could only be realized using editing techniques of the analogue medium, these tape compositions were produced in ‘real-time’. Several new versions now exist by Pousseur and other artists which combine these studies in different ways. The possibility also exists for the addition of new material. Thus, they can be considered ‘remixes’ (a term used by Pousseur himself). John’s current investigations concern the ‘open’ nature of these Huit Études Paraboliques and will situate Pousseur’s practices within the context of contemporary musicians/sound artists for whom the ‘remix’ (both ‘live’ and recorded) is an accepted, established technique. It is anticipated that further realizations from students will emerge from the project (these will also be placed on the Scambi web site) in addition to conference papers and journal articles.
A realization of John Cage’s Fontana Mix (1958) has also been undertaken. This work can be considered as another type of ‘open’ form work. Unmodified sounds from London and Berlin were used according to the instructions in Cage’s ‘score’. The Berlin sounds were recorded in 2006 by Will Saunders, a Sonic Arts student studying at the Universität der Künste. Details of this project will also be placed on the Scambi web site along with an mp3 version entitled the Berlin_London Fontana Mix. As with the previous ‘open’ form projects, various versions of Fontana Mix will be placed on the Scambi web site along with related documents.
John’s contribution to the Sonic Arts undergraduate programme consists of teaching two modules based on his research field of electroacoustic music and contributing to third year modules. He also assists with the MA Sonic Arts programme as required by Dr Nye Parry (the MA programme leader) as well as supervising MPhil/PhD students. John is also a visiting lecturer in the music departments of Goldsmiths College and City University and teaches Musical Awareness at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Junior Department.
John was external examiner for courses at the University of Brighton and the University of Portsmouth and is currently external examiner for courses at the University of Westminster and Estover College (a college of the University of Plymouth). In addition to his teaching and research activities John curates programmes for ZKM web radio (www.degem.de/webradio).