Philadelphia classical music events, discussion, and directory
Exploring the possibilities of electronically enhanced or modified sounds used in some contemporary classical music pieces has proven to be an interesting journey, and I'm excited that it's the unifying theme for the 2012/2013 Network for New Music season. The first concert focused on new works for voice and electronics through a partnership with Voice of this Generation (VOTC). The concert was an interesting mix of styles and use of electronics, and the number of occupied seats for such an eclectic event was impressive.
The use of electronics varied widely, but I was struck by the lack of real-time operation of the electronics by the musicians. I might have missed some subtle interaction, but it appeared that only one work, Melissa Dunphy's "June", required a performer to manually operate a device. A looper pedal, which is more commonly used in rock bands, was used to record bits of music and replay them. Multiple tracks may be added so you can quite literally become your own one-man band. Here's an example of a musician who's obviously quite skilled at this layering while performing:
Of course it helps that the tune and rhythm in this example is quite simple. Using a device like this in the world of classical music presents a number of challenges:: a. complexity of the music, b. complexity or lack of a steady beat, c. classical musicians are not used to operating two devices at once (singing while playing another intrument), d. lack of experience with these devices.
Baritone, Brian Ming Chu bravely took on the challenge of operating the looper while he was singing. He laid down some rhythm loops, then layered vocals and harmonies on top. The warm melodies and deeply personal poem by Lauren Rile Smith fit together beautifully.
By contrast, another solo performance involved significant alteration of sounds and electronic enhancements. The composer, Adam Vidiksis performed his own work, "Synapse_circuit" in a kind of duo with his computer. It was described as a "symbol of human-machine interactions". While a score was used by both human and machine, both adjusted their performance based on each other's performance, thus demonstrating the premise of the piece - the synapse circuit. I've heard other performances with similar technology and I was struck with the control Vidiksis had over the computer generated portions. Instead of spinning into electronic chaos, he restrained the effects to produce a structural work in the form of a human/computer counterpoint. The result was a more musical performance.
While Vidiksis' work was a kind of love affair with technology, the complete opposite appeared in the text used by Tony Solitro in his work, Automata. The text by Randall C. Couch and Lily Kass, based on E.T.A. Hoffmann’s short story Die Automate, described the main character's severe distrust of anything artificial. The soprano sang off stage accompanied by electronic sounds for most of the piece, but appeared with flowers in hand towards the end. It was a bit like a mini-opera, and the electronics helped to differentiate the different parts.
Network for New Music surely lived up to its name with new music, new poems, and new technology. I'm looking forward to exploring other variations in contemporary classical music with electronics throughout the rest of their season. A complete list of composers, poets, and performers for "Voice Electric" can be found here.