Monthly Archives: December 2014

The UI Electronic Music Studios Present an Evening of New Works for Fixed Media

The University of Iowa composers presented a fantastic concert of varying aesthetics and values within electronic music.  With its missing performers, contorted motives, and bursting arrays of sound, electronic and computer music has the potential to leave an audience member feeling awkward.   The experience is exclusively temporal.  It is the case more so with electronic than acoustic music because of these “missing” factors, or general aspects of a concert.  The focus becomes less about beautiful melodies and more about the manipulation of timbre, texture, flux, etc. to create an overarching soundscape.  In that regard, University of Iowa Electronic Music Studios (EMS), has accomplished a great deal.  The precise, multi-faceted, and imaginative qualities emanated from the individual works made the concert an excellent aural experience for the listener.

The December 14th concert in Becker Communications Building commenced with the audience being plunged into a ruckus noise, if I have ever heard one.  The Aggressor, a piece for fixed media and poet by Barry Sharp, startled audiences with its bold and blistering opening passage, disquieting moments of respite, and overall creepy (for lack of a better term) aura.  While mostly sound mass in nature, one can especially hear the control over pacing in the opening passage through shifts in timbre, pitch and motivic material, and dynamics.  The second piece on the concert was Piques and Vallyes by James Naigus where the utilized the “unique nature of sounds as signals of curiosity and attention as well as vessels of subtlety” to inform the piece.  Next was a piece by Bernard Short entitled Ominous Groove.  This work along with Odd Combo (later on in the program) by Jonah Lyddon Hatten projected a different sort of aesthetic quality, using elements of pop music such as “beats” and various bass lines within the work.  The piece definitely incorporated elements of pop-culture.  A highlight of the night was a work by Nima Hamidi entitled Sama; the only work in the concert that involved a lived performer.  The piece utilized a more accessible aesthetic—employing a traditional Iranian style—with the composer himself improvising in a seemingly virtuosic fashion on the setar, a folk instrument of Iran.

A work by Joseph Norman called Compulsory Deviations brought back memories of the 1950’s electronic music aesthetic.  Using sampled guitar sounds, Norman created an interesting web of timbres, gestures, and very long sounds to create his piece.  restoration/alienation was the sixth piece on the program by Jacob Simmons and utilized the aspects of dynamic swells and “density of texture while exploring contrasting timbres and registers.”  The timbre and gestures were particularly interesting, and even more so in one of my other favorites from the evening:  Plunge and Tumble.  Paul Duffy’s use of contrasting timbres and the morphing of gestures over time made this piece enthralling to listen to.  The contrasts of bright and dark sounds as well as clear and dull sounds created an exciting landscape for the listener to enjoy.

The penultimate work was Jonathan Wilson’s Chimespace, which involved the sounds of sampled bells in the composer’s personal collection.  The manipulation of sounds within the piece created interesting source material as the audience attuned to the actual “ringing of bells and the area in which these sounds are heard.”  Finally was Jonah Elrod’s installation IC1223.  Using algorithmic techniques, the piece performed a transition from night to day preceding the concert, and afterwards the audience heard the transformations once again, except from day to night.  Using the brand new Laptop Orchestra U Iowa (LOUi) speakers, the work acted as a prelude and postlude to the concert and created an interesting aural effect in the lobby of Becker Communications Building.  The concert was an enjoyable experience.  The program exhibited the diversity in aesthetic values among the composers, in addition to a high level of control and craftsmanship in each individual work.

If you are interested in learning more about the work of composers at the University of Iowa, there is a link here that will take you to the Center for New Music Website.  The site contains information about CNM, the composers, and the upcoming and previous concerts for the year.

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Center for New Music Concert: Laptop Orchestra of the University of Iowa – LOUi.

On Saturday December 13, the Center for New Music of the School of Music of the University of Iowa presented a concert of the Laptop Orchestra of the University of Iowa, which goes by the name LOUi. The orchestra performed at the Riverside Recital Hall.

According to the City Press-Citizen report, this is one among only about a dozen of these groups throughout the country, most of them associated to universities. I was very excited to attend a concert of such an unusual ensemble. In fact, after many years as a musician I had started to feel like I had never attended a concert before. What is a laptop orchestra anyway? What kind of sound you may hear? Does it require a real musician or an IT specialist? Do they use traditional scores? Those are some of many questions I had puzzling my mind, even after so many years attending concerts of all kinds of music.  Thus, what one could expect from such an unusual ensemble?

The first half of the program presented the pieces Quirky-Quotidian by Andy Thierauf, Cocci II by Alexandros Spyrou, Eco-Location by Jonah Elrod, Laptop Quartet no. 1 by Jonathan Wilson, and …by Antietam`s waves by Taylor Gillhouse and Jason Palamara. The pieces Quirky-Quotidian, and Eco-Location called my attention by the use of “ordinary” sounds. The first was built on sounds of everyday objects like bottles and cardboard boxes, the second was created with sounds recorded in different locations of Iowa City, sounds like birds singing and a truck. The pieces Cocci II and Laptop Quartet no. 1 were examples an interesting and intricate use of sound manipulating. The last piece on the first half of the program was an interesting multimedia piece based on the Civil War. It was a very dramatic piece associating manipulated sounds and dancing.

The final half of the program presented the pieces Dresses by Joseph Norman and Paul Duffy, Quartet for LOUi by Justin Comer, and past every exit… by Jason Palamara. The pieces on the second half of the program brought more acoustic sounds and multimedia pieces, like the piece Dresses, which mixes a poem by Charles Bukowski, which was actually recited on stage, acoustic sounds, and computer manipulated sounds. The last two pieces on the program, Quartet for LOUi, and past every exit… also shows an interesting mix of acoustic sounds and sounds manipulated by computer.

My first impression when I got to the hall was that I had just got inside an IT center, the only thing resembling music at that moment was the piano on the back of the stage. As the Research Assistant Jason Palamara remarked, it was not difficult to imagine that the performers were going to read their emails during the performance. In fact, as explained by the Center for New Music director Dr. David Gompper there are much more about this orchestra than “just” laptops. It is a totally different approach to musical performance, starting with the composers performing their own works, going through an intricate process of live sound manipulation, streaming what is happening in real time on a screen, dancing, and actual acoustic instruments.  What I could witness in the LOUi performance, was a concert of new music that redefines all concepts of live performance I could have so far. The LOUi is definitely pushing the boundaries of music performance practices further, and redefining the role of the composer in a concert hall.

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“Finding Hope” presented by Oakdale Community Choir

On this Thursday, 11th December 2014, Oakdale Community Choir performed the Finding Hope concert in IMCC (Iowa Medical and Classification Center) which is one of the most heart touching experiences in my life.

After about twenty minutes driving from UCC, I arrived at the IMCC. High wire fences with rows of strong lights from high above already gave me a sense of solemnity. I went into the main building, received a strict security check, then passed several checkpoints, and began to feel a little bit nervous. However, when I arrived the gymnasium where the concert took place, my nervousness was immediately dispelled by the smiles on the faces of choir members, among which are professors and students from UI, inmates, and their families, indistinguishable, all wearing purple or green T-shirts with print “Finding Hope” on it. An upright piano was in the right side, podium in the center, and three microphones in the left side. There Choir members was comfortably talking to each other, greeting visitors, some offered warm hugs. Technicians were tuning the instruments and equipment before the start. This picture has drawn a sharp contrast to the cold, dark winter night outside the building. This contrast could also be found in the picture on the cover of programme, a flower blossoming on a snowing day.

At 6:15 pm, Dr. Mary Cohen, associate professor of the School of Music specializing in music education, founder of the Oakdale Community Choir, and the conductor of the concert, gave the opening, initiated joyful interactions with the audience, lighted up the ambiance. The choreographed repertoire apparently condensed painstaking effort. The performance began with rearranged Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band of Beatles, wonderful opening song suggesting the audience to “sit back and let the evening go”. Following songs, High Hopes, Beauty before Me, That Lonesome Road, and so on, interwove with choir members’ narrations about their own stories and paths of finding hope, which augmented the theme. The standing position of members in purple and members in green were also carefully arranged, changing long with the processing of the performance in a deliberate way, provided visual tension. Christmas carols brought a festive atmosphere into the facility. Accompanied by the praising – May You Walk in Beauty – the concert entered its final phase.

The harmony in the correspondence between the choir and instruments was extraordinary. Instrumental accompaniment brought out the power of the vocal to appeal to the audience emotionally. In this unique concert, however, I feel that the musicianship that we commonly value most was only next in importance to the message conveyed by the music: Hope. A man seeking happiness through song writing, a loving mother recovering from the greatest grief one could imagine after losing her daughter, I immersed in these stories feeling their struggle as if it all happened to me. Sometimes, my fists clenched before I realized. But when the choir began to sing, the first words of The storm is Passing Over by Charles A. Tindley hit in my heart, I felt relieved and strengthened at the same time. It sang: “Courage my soul, and let me journey on.

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