Not Just a Good Source of Dietary Fiber

Pears are probably not what you would expect to take center stage at an electronic music concert, though I am not sure what type of fruit would be expected.  It all began last Sunday at 7:30pm in Room 101 of the Becker Communications Hall right here on the University of Iowa campus.  The Electronic Music Studio presented a concert to showcase many of the talented local electronic music composers along with their special guests from Kansas City, The Digital Honkbox Revival.

The Digital Honkbox Revival, for this performance, was comprised of regular members Brad Baumgardner (bass clarinet, pear), Scott Blasco (guitar, computer, pear), Andrew Cole (computer, pear), Katherine Crawford (voice, pear) and local guest artist Rebecca Ashe (flute, pear).  The Revival is a new music ensemble that has spawned from a collection of past and present students from the University of Missouri – Kansas City.  They produce an eclectic mixture of acoustic and electronic music using some rather unique methods.

The program kicked off with a composition by Earle Brown, a contemporary of John Cage, titled Four Systems.  This is normally performed on a solo piano, but Brown set no limitations on the number or groups of instruments that can be used.  The Revival used all of their forces available to perform Systems, including their computers, for a truly 21st century adaptation. Systems was composed using graphic notation and is interpreted individually by each performer.  The overall effect is very improvisatory and gives the listener a lot of interesting events to focus on.

The duo of Baumgardner and Blasco took the stage next to perform Adam Hardin’s piece Echolalia. The title refers to a speech disorder in which an individual uncontrollably repeats words that are spoken to them.  This idea was tied directly to the composition.  Echolalia featured a solo bass clarinet, that when filtered through a computer, mimicked its original sound with added effects, echo, and phasing.  The overall product was astonishing and the bass clarinet playing of Baumgardner was extremely creative and virtuosic.

UI composition students Yungsoo Kim and Shane Hoose both presented their purely electronic compositions A Play on Sounds and Recoil.  Kim’s Sounds utilized recorded voices and other sounds that had been broken apart, reversed, sped up, slowed down, or altered in a number of other ways. The overall effect of this piece was one of many different scenes that at shifted to very quickly and frequently.  As if one is attempting to pass through a crowded and noisy room at a quick speed.  Shane Hoose’s Recoil featured components mainly derived from the sounds made by various firearms.  The work was very well organized and delivered what was expected.

UI percussion Andy Theirauf performed two compositions on the EMS concert.  The first, titled Pisces Piece was composed by Thierauf himself and featured various found-percussion instruments and a large quantity of water.  As the instruments were banged and dipped, Thierauf looped the many sounds into a finely woven tapestry of interesting rhythms and timbres.  The second piece performed by Thierauf was UI student composer Dr. Zach Zubow’s Copenhagen Wheel. This piece combined a set of cardboard boxes and electronic sounds to form a highly rhythmic soundscape.  The work suggested a very primal feeling at times and the use of cardboard boxes reminded me of street performers in my hometown of Chicago.

The final performance on the EMS concert once again called the entire Honkbox crew back to the stage to perform what may have been the greatest crowd pleaser of the evening.  Baumgardner and Blasco’s Yard Pears featured the use of our unlikely star, the pear.  The fruits were utilized as percussion instruments for multiple players by the use of tiny microphones inserted into them.  Surrounding these delicious rhythms were multiple other layers of sound.  Vocal loops were introduced by various performers on stage and played back is succession. The performers improvised every new track that was looped.  The last section of Pears called for free improvisation of acoustic instruments.

As an orchestral-oriented instrumentalist my knowledge of and exposure to electronic music is limited.  I was unsure of what to expect when attending the EMS concert last weekend.  In my experience, most people tend to shy away from events like this one as they are considered to be nothing more the a lot of beeps and bloops.  In reality, what this concert offered was a collections of well-crafted compositions that were executed by highly knowledgeable and gifted musicians.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Not Just a Good Source of Dietary Fiber

  1. athierauf

    It was definitely a very fun concert. I think are are several problems that concerts like this pose to audiences and performers. One is the fact that a lot of the music, especially fixed media pieces (purely electronic), can create a disconnect with the audience since there’s no visual, just speakers. The other problem is usually technical glitches that come up that can be extremely annoying to both the performers and the audience, who is left sitting in their seats watching performers look forlornly at their computer begging it to work. Luckily this concert had a solution to both issues, having live electronic pieces gave the audience something to watch when the electronic sounds started, and there was only one minor technical glitch during the last piece that the performers worked out without too much disruption. I think if electronic music concerts continue to address both of these issues then they will grow in popularity and move out of lecture halls and into larger spaces. I think it’s also notable that our university has a concert series dedicated to electronic music along with a new music ensemble. Kudos to all involved!

  2. jhallberg88

    Very cool! Last year when the Center for New Music Midwest Exchange was held at The University of Missouri – Kansas City, I also heard Yard Pears. It sure was an… interesting… compositional technique! And I agree with you, athierauf, things like technical glitches can definitely be annoying and uncomfortable for performers and audience members during electronic based pieces. I remember when Yard Pears was performed at UMKC – the performance was filled glitches and the performers had to restart over and over again. It certainly took away from the composition’s initial effect on me, but glad to hear they are still performing it and working out all the bugs!

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