Inventor set to blow away public

By Todd Balazovic (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-01-18 10:13
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Inventor set to blow away public

Bruce Gremo plays his self-invented flute which links directly to a computer. Courtesy of Bruce Gremo

Composer, performer, instrument maker, "multiple flutist" - Canadian Bruce Gremo is a man of many titles. On Jan 29 he will be the title act at the Beijing Conservatory as he showcases a self-invented flute via telecast to both Beijing and Canada.

The 53-year-old is on the forefront of Beijing's hi-tech contemporary music scene and will be playing his latest creation, a flute controlled by computers that he calls the Cilia.

"The flute itself doesn't make any sound," he said, but when linked to computers it can produce, and measure, almost every sound imaginable.

The invention was approved for a patent just last month.

Using combination of computer applications he created and a vertical arrangement of digital sensors, Gremo has spent the last seven years developing the Cilia.

"The first prototype was developed shortly after I arrived in Beijing," Gremo said.

He recently returned from a trip touring Taiwan, where he performed at universities and gave lectures on his electronic instrument designs, including his new experimental flute.

It has been well received, but for people who want their own anytime soon, he advises "don't hold your breath".

"The first market for it is people like myself, academics, but I hope I get the right kind of support to turn it into commercial implementation," he said.

He said he hopes to have it commercialized within the next 10 years.

In addition to composing on his own creations, the veteran flautist has also mastered over 30 different types of instrument including the ancient Chinese porcelain xun and the bamboo flute.

Gremo said he now spends much of his time working on his newest musical venture, which he calls "interactive computer music".

"I write applications that are capable of listening to an acoustic instrument and analyzing, through a microphone, what that player is doing," he said.

The applications measure various aspects of music to help musicians tweak their weakest points.

"I'm not a computer scientist. I'm not a mathematician either," he said. "I am a musician interested in evolving the field."

While contributing to the academics of music, the self-proclaimed "multiple flutist" says he has always strived to be more of a player than a scholar. And it shows.

Over the three years that Gremo has lived in Beijing, he has slowly moved into Beijing's sprouting contemporary and experimental music scene, doing improvisational performances he calls "freeprovisation".

He says breaking into the contemporary scene is no easy task.

"If you want go to places such as the Beijing Conservatory, don't go unless you have something big to offer," he said.

His most prominent position is as the principal flautist for Xinya Kongqi Orchestra, the first independent, for-profit orchestra in Beijing's modern history. He was only the second Western musician to join the orchestra.

Though he keeps company with some of Beijing's most respected scholarly musicians, Gremo is also often found performing in small pick-up jam sessions at places such as D22 in Wudaoku, a venue best-known for its rock music, or the small Guluo area hutong bar Amilal.

His goal is to play his type of music where people wouldn't otherwise see it, he said.

The makeshift performances often capture the essence of multiple styles of music, he noted.

At times they have combined Indian folk music and Mongolian throat singing with Gremo on the Japanese bamboo shakuhachi.

Though contemporary music in Beijing is not as popular as some others, Gremo is happy to be making big noise in such a quiet scene.

"It's all about the music," he said.