BEAST (Birmingham ElectroAcoustic Sound Theatre) is the concert sound system of the University of Birmingham’s Electroacoustic Music Studios.
Founded in 1982 by Jonty Harrison, since 2014 BEAST has been under the direction of Scott Wilson, with Annie Mahtani as co-director from 2020, and Simon Smith as technical director. Over the decades since its launch BEAST has become established as one of the leading systems for the presentation of electronic music in the world, and as an ongoing catalyst for creation and innovation in the field. BEAST is particularly recognised for its key role in championing the development of acousmatic music – music composed especially for loudspeakers – and live ‘diffusion’, a practice aimed at creating immersive sonic experiences in concert. While continuing to advance creative work in these areas, BEAST is also a platform for a wide variety of sound-based art in various styles and genres, including live electronic music, pieces combining instruments and electronic sound, soundscape composition/phonology, and sound installations.
BEAST has performed extensively in the UK and other parts of Europe, including at London’s South Bank Centre, the Edinburgh and Huddersfield Festivals, the Henry Wood Hall in Glasgow, MultiMediale II in Karlsruhe, The Royal Dutch Conservatory in The Hague, The Acousmatic Experience in Amsterdam, the Aspekte Festival in Salzburg, the Inventionen Festival in Berlin, the Echt-Zeit Festival in Basel, Aix en Musique in Aix en Provence, and the Sound Around Festival in Copenhagen. Closer to home BEAST’s activities have included regular contributions in The Series at the CBSO Centre as part of our collaboration with the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group. In 2012 BEAST began holding concerts in its new home, the bespoke designed Elgar Concert Hall at the Bramall Music Building, arguably one of the best venues of its size for the presentation of electronic music in UK and elsewhere.
One of the largest systems of its type in the world, BEAST can mount setups of as many as 100 loudspeakers distributed around the concert space. This approach goes far beyond the capabilities of commodity and cinema ‘surround sound’ systems, allowing artists to create vivid and unique sound worlds, which immerse the listener in a new and engaging sonic experience.
“…we want to take our audiences on journeys to unknown worlds across unchartered expanses…”
BEAST’s founder, Jonty Harrison (born 1952), studied music and composition at the University of York. Between 1976 and 1980 he worked at the National Theatre and City University, London. In 1980 he joined the Music Department of the University of Birmingham where he directed the Electroacoustic Music Studios and started BEAST as a vehicle for presenting concerts in the growing field of electroacoustic music. Originally consisting of an improvised setup using available resources, under his stewardship BEAST grew over three decades into the world class system it is today. In 2014 he retired from his work in the Department, but is now Emeritus Professor of Composition and Electroacoustic Music and remains a part of BEAST’s extended family.