BEAST (Birmingham ElectroAcoustic Sound Theatre) is the concert sound system of the University of Birmingham’s Electroacoustic Music Studios.
It was founded in 1982 by Emeritus Professor Jonty Harrison, to showcase electroacoustic music produced in the Studios and around the world. Over the succeeding decades, well over 100 composers based in the Birmingham Studios have been members of BEAST. As well as winning international competitions and receiving performances, broadcasts and commissions, many of these composers have gone on to teach in universities all over the world (Manchester, De Montfort, Harvard, etc.). In 2002, BEAST became part of the newly formed Centre for Composition and Associated Studies (COMPASS) in the Department of Music at the University of Birmingham and has, for many years, enjoyed a close working relationship with the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group. Since 2014, Scott Wilson has served as BEAST's Director, along with Annie Mahtani, Chris Haworth and James Carpenter as Technical Director.
BEAST has performed extensively in the UK and other parts of Europe, including at London’s South Bank Centre (often as part of Sonic Arts Network promotions), the Edinburgh and Huddersfield Festivals, the Henry Wood Hall (Glasgow), the Adrian Boult Hall (Birmingham), MultiMediale II (Karlsruhe), The Royal Dutch Conservatory (The Hague), The Acousmatic Experience (Amsterdam), Aspekte Festival (Salzburg), Inventionen Festival (Berlin), Echt-Zeit Festival (Basel), Aix en Musique (Aix en Provence), and Sound Around Festival (Copenhagen). It received very high acclaim as the concert sound system at the 1990 International Computer Music Conference in Glasgow and was an important contributor to both Sounds Like Birmingham – UK City of Music 1992, and Birmingham’s Towards the Millennium Festival during the 1990s. BEAST’s own promotions in its home town have included ten years of the Barber Festival of Contemporary Music, several years of rumours… and related events at the Midlands Arts Centre, murmurs… at the Crescent Theatre and, for the past decade, it has been a regular part of The Series at the CBSO Centre. In 2012 BEAST began holding concerts in its new home, the custom designed Elgar Concert Hall at the Bramall Music Building, and in 2015 launched the first of its BEAST FEaST festivals as BEAST's flagship annual event.
Originally, the BEAST diffusion system was designed around the use of multiple channels of separately amplified loudspeakers, whose differing characteristics make them appropriate for a particular position or function. The system includes arrays of tweeters (high frequency speakers which can be suspended over the audience), sub-woofers (low frequency speakers) and full-range speakers of varying characteristics and from different manufacturers. The performer is able, via a custom-built diffusion desk or a computer interface, to create a variety of sound images, and to 'sculpt' the spatial, dynamic and dramatic implications of the music in a particular performance environment in order to interpret and realise the composer's intentions. In more recent years the system has evolved to adapt to support emerging approaches to spatialisation, including multichannel diffusion, 'n-channel' work, higher order ambisonics, VBAP, etc. It remains at the forefront of research into hybridised approaches to immersive spatial presentation. BEAST is also engaged in ongoing research into new controllers and interfaces for the performance of acousmatic and electroacoustic music and can now install systems of around 100 loudspeakers.
For more than thirty-five years, BEAST has been committed to performing electronic music to the highest possible standards. The composers associated with the system display a variety of styles and aesthetics, but are united by a desire to explore the unique creative potential of the electroacoustic medium.