The studio is based at the Berlin Academy of Arts, one of the most historic cultural institutions in the world, and is unique as a music production facility not only because of its heritage but also because of its multifaceted nature. Following its foundation in 1980, the studio was housed in various buildings in the city until it found its final home at the Academy of the Arts in the Hansa district in 2012. Today, the studio is one of only three public experimental studios of this kind in Germany. This article gives an overview of some of the milestones in its story.
The S.E.M. at the Academy of Arts of the GDR (1980–99)
The Studio for Electroacoustic Music was located at Luisenstrasse 58/59, on the top floor of the Langenbeck-Virchow House, which, between 1950 and 1976, was the headquarters of the DDR Volkskammer (national parliament) and was handed over to East Berlin's Academy of Arts in 1976. From 1980 onwards, the sound studio there was gradually turned into an experimental studio.
The Executive Committee of the Academy of Arts of the GDR decided to establish an electroacoustic studio as long ago as the end of the 1970s. The studio was first opened to the public in 1986. It served mainly as a place for members of the Academy and their master students to create their projects, but it was also available for use by other composers when possible. The studio employed a sound engineer, a programmer, a music scientist, and a sound technician. The Artistic Director was Georg Katzer.
During the 1970s, Georg Katzer (1935–2019) had gained experience of studios abroad, including in Bratislava and Bourges. His seminars on electroacoustic music and the series of electroacoustic events that he founded at the Academy of Arts in 1980, called Kontakte, were unprecedented initiatives in the GDR that attracted a youthful audience.
The equipment in the studio was set up to produce tapes and allowed both MIDI applications and analog sound synthesis and processing. The technology included an FZ-1M Casio sampler, a Yamaha DX7 synthesizer, an AMS3 modular synthesizer (special model), an MS-20 Korg synthesizer, a Tiracon synthesizer, Yamaha CX5M and CX7M music computers, Commodore C64 computers, Atari 1040 ST computers, a 16-track tape recorder with dbx from Tascam, two Telefunken stereo master consoles with Variospeed, and various special effects devices, filters, and compressors.
By 1989, around 30 electronic compositions for tape had been produced at the studio, including musical pieces by Georg Katzer, Hermann Keller, Lothar Voigtländer, and Ruth Zechlin, as well as works by younger composers such as Lutz Glandien, Ralf Hoyer, and Helmut Zapf. Another focus area for the studio was putting on performances of electronic music. From 1980, the East Berlin studio's twice-yearly series of events called Kontakte (Contacts) presented the studio's own productions and important works reflecting electronic composition in the past and present. From 1988, the events were joined by the Werkstatt-Tage elektroakustischer Musik (Workshop Days for Electroacoustic Music), a festival that lasted several days and was especially intended to promote international music-making. Other signs of musical rapprochement included inviting the German-British avant-garde rock band Cassiber (consisting of Heiner Goebbels, Christoph Anders, and Chris Cutler) to record a new album at the studio and the GDR becoming a member of the International Confederation of Electroacoustic Music (C.I.M.E.).
In 1989, the efforts to promote and develop electroacoustic music in East Berlin reached a high point with the founding of the GDR Section of the International Confederation of Electroacoustic Music (C.I.M.E.). The aims of the Confederation included organizing annual Workshop Days for Electroacoustic Music, setting up a record library of all the electroacoustic works by composers in the GDR, and encouraging international collaboration with other studios.
The reunification period in Germany brought far-reaching changes but also new opportunities. The year 1990 began with a concert by the Studio for Electroacoustic Music at the GDR Academy of Arts as part of the Inventions ’90 festival hosted by the West Berlin Academy of Arts in Hanseatenweg. After the two Academies were united in 1993, the studio continued to operate as a production studio until the end of the 1990s. It produced tape and computer compositions, backing tapes, radio plays, live electronic music, music for movies, videos, theatre, and radio dramas, and multimedia projects. Four-week working scholarships gave young artists from Germany and elsewhere the opportunity to work in the studio.
In addition to the Workshop Days for Electroacoustic Music that had taken place annually since 1988, the studio organized more workshops in the 1990s and a regular monthly event.
By 1999, around 100 compositions had been produced in the studio, including works by Coriún Aharonián, Johannes Bauer, Mario Bertoncini, Ludger Brümmer, Paul-Heinz Dittrich, Julia Dmitruykova, Elena Gantschikova, Lutz Glandien, Hans-Joachim Hespos, Walter Thomas Heyn, Ellen Hünigen, Dmitri Kapyrin, Georg Katzer, Klaus Martin Kopitz, Robert Linke, Harald Lorscheider, Ricardo Mandolini, Herbert A. Mitschke, Helmut Oehring, Ralf R. Ollertz, André Ruschkowski, Friedrich Schenker, Gerhard Stäbler, Hans Tutschku, and Helmut Zapf. Towards the end of the 1990s, a partnership with a group of freelance media artists enabled the studio to handle more movie and video productions in addition to services for Academy of Arts programs.
The S.E.M. in Heubnerweg (1999–2012)
Following reunification, a long-drawn-out restitution process began in order to return the Langenbeck-Virchow House to the societies that used to own it. Until the studio could move into its final location on Hanseatenweg, the Charité medical school temporarily made a property in Berlin-Charlottenburg available to it, free of charge.In fall of 1999, the studio moved into Heubnerweg.
The Heubnerweg Studio
At the beginning of the 21st century, Berlin has an international reputation as the capital of sound design. The electroacoustic studio of the Academy of Arts is an integral part of that, playing a dual role as event organizer and production facility. The studio is firmly positioned in the city's cultural life, thanks to its Workshop Days and event series such as the m-cluster and regular collaborations with festivals in Berlin such as MaerzMusik, Inventionen, Klangwerkstatt, Intersonanzen, and the Randspiele in Zepernick. It also has international partnerships with studios like the INA-GRM in Paris and GRAME in Lyons.
The studio on Heubnerweg had an eight-channel studio for the composition of electroacoustic works, plus the technology to record and produce music using acoustic instruments. The studio's equipment included a Neumann N20 console, a ProTools HD 2 Accel system, and eight Geithain RL-900 speakers. There was also a 40-square-meter (430-square-foot) recording space for small groups, a multimedia-equipped video studio, and a workshop.
During this period, the studio concentrated on producing works for instruments and electronics, video and sound installations, and interdisciplinary projects and did not confine itself to purely electroacoustic music or any specific styles. Projects such as the multimedia scenic work The Machine Man (L’homme machine) by Georg Katzer (Rheinsberg, 2000), Michael Beil's Battery (Batterie) for percussion with five-channel tape recording and video (State Opera House Berlin, 2003), and the Avantcore project Licht-Zeiten by Michael Wertmüller/Lillevan (MaerzMusik, 2011) clearly demonstrate this broad scope. The artists working in the studio at that time included Annesley Black, Emanuele Casale, Aureliano Cattaneo, Kee-Yong Chong, Gerald Eckert, Hanspeter Kyburz, Adriana Hölszky, Guido Hübner, Elsa Justel, Vadim Karassikov, Clara Maïda, Chris Newman, Carsten Nicolai, Matthias Ockert, Hèctor Parra, Walter Prati, Nicola Sani, Hannes Seidl, Annette Schlünz, Dieter Schnebel, Thomas Schulz, and others.
The S.E.M. in Hanseatenweg (since 2012)
The Studio for Electroacoustic Music is now located in the main building of the Academy of Arts in Berlin-Tiergarten. In the meantime, there have been some major changes for the Academy: the new building on Pariser Platz has been finished, and the institution is now sponsored by the state.
The Move to Hanseatenweg
The rehousing of the studio gave shape to a vision dating back to the 1990s: the concept of the Academy of Arts in Hanseatenweg as a place where artistic work would be produced, with the Studio for Electroacoustic Music at its heart. The studio was installed in the former offices and stack-rooms of the Historic Archive. The premises were renovated and re-divided up to create a modern studio that meets the structural and acoustic requirements for professional music production. There are three production units: one large control room (Studio 1), one recording room, and a guest studio (Studio 2).
Studio 1 is the central production facility at the Studio for Electroacoustic Music. The acoustically optimized room, flooded with natural light and measuring 57 square meters (614 square feet), can be used very flexibly. The studio is equipped with professional analog and digital technology and is particularly well suited to multichannel productions.
When it came to the technical set-up, initially the old equipment from the Heubnerweg was installed. New prospects opened up in 2015 thanks to a large donation of surplus studio equipment from the Deutsche Telekom subsidiary Berkom (now called T-Systems). The facilitator for the donation and the first Director of the Research Studio for New Sound Systems at Telekom was Gerhard Steinke, who had been in charge of the Laboratory for Problems at the Acoustics-Music Interface in Berlin-Adlershof during the 1950s and 60s where the legendary Subharchord was developed.
Studio 1 can be used for recording, mixing, mastering, or digitizing and also as a venue for rehearsals or small events, as required. The permanently installed traverse allows the total of 24 available speakers to be individually configured for each project.
The Studio as a Production Facility
As a production facility, the studio is a response to how we understand art and use media in the technological age. Encouraging artistic creativity to blossom is at the heart of everything it does. The studio offers artists practical advice and support at all phases of the creative process, from the initial idea to a public performance. Its significance lies in the fact that it occupies a non-commercial position at the interface between art and high-level specialist knowledge and infrastructure expertise.
The studio is remarkable because it can be used so flexibly and seamlessly integrates analog and digital technology. The central rack is the connecting hub between the studios and allows them to be linked to the main building by fiber optic cables.
The studio can be used by all members of the Academy and the Youth Academy (the Academy's own scholarship scheme for up-and-coming young artists) and for specific projects by talented artists from anywhere in the world, regardless of their discipline. It serves as a media center within the Academy of Arts and provides services for all departments within the organization. Consequently, the interdisciplinary nature of the studio makes it a central, integrating element, and its productions are a trademark of the Academy of Arts.
One of the guiding principles of the Studio for Electroacoustic Music is an understanding that music can be the catalyst for interdisciplinary projects. Also of great importance is its role as a living archive, a place where the avant-garde tradition is explored and shared, through its repertoire and its musical artifacts.
Panorama of Studio 1—The permanently installed traverse allows the total of 24 available speakers to be individually configured for each project
Artists who have worked at the studio since it opened at its new premises in Hanseatenweg so far include Peter Ablinger, Tomomi Adachi, Sunlay Almeida, Chengbi An, Mark Barden, Blixa Bargeld, José Manuel Berenguer, Louise Bulot, Charo Calvo, Kaj Duncan David, Johanna Diehl, Arnold Dreyblatt, Koenraad Ecker, Vinko Globokar, Erhard Grosskopf, Christoph Grund/Ulf Aminde, Marie Guérin, Hanna Hartman, Carlos Hidalgo, Daisuke Ishida/Allen Weiss, Georg Katzer, Mazen Kerbaj, Thomas Kessler, Annette Krebs, Christina Kubisch, Raimund Kummer, Maximilian Marcoll, Susann Maria Hempel, Juliana Hodkinson, Hannes Seidl, Kristine Tjøgersen, Kirsten Reese, Lucia Ronchetti, Frederic Rzewski, José María Sánchez Verdú, Valerio Sannicandro, François Sarhan, Carles Santos, Mario Verandi, Helmut Zapf, Vito Žuraj, and many others.
Studio 2 and the Recording Space
Studio 2 provides a space for two-channel productions and recording and gives artists the opportunity to work on their projects independently.
The potential of the studio to act as a creative hub, and the role of the Academy as a meeting place, complement and enhance one another to mutually beneficial effect. The studio's own KONTAKTE festival, which has taken place since 2015 and focuses on fostering artistic creativity and experimenting with new ways of synthesizing the arts, is particularly influential. The multiday festival presents contemporary performers of international standing and gives special priority to new productions, which are supported by studio residencies. With its interdisciplinary and innovation-oriented approach, KONTAKTE—a festival that promotes networked collaboration and is aimed at a wide audience—serves as an open platform for shared artistic experiences. The first three festivals featured over 300 artists and 70 first performances. Also worthy of mention are the EM4 | Berliner Studios series of events, which is organized jointly with the Hanns Eisler University of Music, the University of the Arts, and the Technical University of Berlin and has so far presented 18 concerts of classic electroacoustic musical works.
Collaborations, partnerships, and joint productions within Germany and elsewhere are particularly important in the studio's work. There is a great deal of interaction with universities and members of the free scene in Berlin, as well as with umbrella organizations, cultural institutions, orchestras, and other studios and festivals. Among other things, the studio has supported a series of radio productions such as the award-winning radio plays by Susann Maria Hempel, Auf der Suche nach den verlorenen Seelenatomen (In Search of the Lost Soul Atoms) (a joint production with the RBB; winner of the War Blinded Audio Play Prize, 2018), and by Marie Guérin, Même morts nous chantons (Even Dead We Sing) (with Deutschlandfunk Kultur and France Culture; Prix Phonurgia Nova, 2018). Other examples of recently developed projects involving the studio include the installation The Resting State by Arnold Dreyblatt (n.b.k., 2019), which has both visual and acoustic elements, and the movie opera Deutsche Wohnen—was singen die diven (German Living–What do the Divas Sing) (2019) by Christoph Grund and Ulf Amide, with projections and sounds produced by the Subharchord prototype. This was performed in the open air on the Hansaplatz as part of the pilot project Kunst im Stadtraum (Art in the City) in Berlin. International collaborations include the co-production Body Symphony (2017/18) with the Goethe Institute and participation in festivals like Slowind in Slovenia (2015) and Primavera en la Habana in Cuba (2020).
The studio is the only one of its kind in the world to have such a collection of unique historical musical artifacts, including the prototype of the Subharchord II and Hermann Scherchen's rotating loudspeaker sphere. At the studio, caring for and maintaining these instruments is combined with a mission to show the public how they work, in art projects, and on guided tours. The role of the studio as a media archeology laboratory also entails performing and documenting historic musical compositions. The studio's repertoire includes classic electroacoustic musical works by former and current members of the Academy of Arts such as Boris Blacher, Vinko Globokar, Erhard Grosskopf, Georg Katzer, Olga Neuwirth, Luigi Nono, Enno Poppe, Frederic Rzewski, and Dieter Schnebel.
A production facility, a sound-producing body, a networking hub, and a living archive—the Studio is a significant public resource for artists in Berlin.
40 Years of the S.E.M.
Today, in the year 2020, the studio is still pursuing its vision of inspiring the future of the arts and exploring the dynamic changes and opportunities that lie ahead. We are proud to celebrate its 40th anniversary and its commitment to empowering the Berlin arts scene.
Concept, Text & Layout: Gregorio García Karman
Coordination: Karoline Czech
CMS & Media Management: Till Vesely
Photos: Kaj Bienert, Christian Kraushaar, Martin Wolff
Lectorate: Viola van Beek
Assistance: Gerriet K. Sharma