Studio for Electroacoustic Music (SEM) at the East German Akademie der Künste
In a continuation of the Prussian Academy of the Arts tradition, the East German Akademie der Künste offered young, recently graduated composers a chance to pursue their studies with mentors selected from the Music Section’s members. In essence, this allowed them to work in more depth within the framework of their classical university training.
In the 1960s in East Germany, though, there was no option for exploring the generation of synthetic sound. For this reason, when I was elected a member of the East German Akademie der Künste in 1978, I reopened the discussion started by Paul Dessau on establishing an electronic studio. However, this idea was not supported within the Akademie itself.
In political terms, electroacoustic music was suspect, not only accused of formalism, but also thought to offer a gateway to a “western culture” (“If Cologne is doing it, then WE certainly won’t.”). Since the studio founded by Gerhard Steinke in 1956 at the radio and television research centre in Berlin-Adlershof had been closed just a few years later, the overall prospects for establishing a studio were not good. Nonetheless, a small budget was granted to start the Kontakte concert series, launched in 1980. From then on, the Studio, in its initial form, held annual guest concerts given by European studios, and organised seminars for young composers and musicologists. At that time, the East German Akademie der Künste was housed in Luisenstraße, and the concert hall there also had a small recording studio with two tape recorders. When it proved possible to acquire a third tape recorder, my master student Ralf Hoyer set about writing a first piece for double bass and audio tape. As a result, the Studio as such can actually be said to have been founded in 1980. Other second hand equipment, especially from broadcasting studios, was bought over the following years – and, in total contravention of East Germany’s strict foreign exchange laws, a DX7 was even acquired from West Berlin. In addition, the range of equipment was expanded with a prototype of the Subharchord, an electronic device developed in the radio and television research centre to synthesise and process sound.
From then on, the Studio was constantly working on productions, helped by the budget it had successfully managed to acquire for commissioned compositions. Finally, in 1986, thanks to strong support from the Akademie executive management, the success of the Kontakte series and the interest of young composers (the cultural policy situation had also shifted toward a more laissez-faire approach), the Studio for Electroacoustic Music was officially opened. Moreover, it was also well-staffed, with a recording engineer, a programmer, a musicologist and an audio technician.
Georg Katzer, 2014
Seminar on electroacoustic music, 1982, Hermann-Matern-Straße, Akademie der Künste der DDR © AdK