Electro Acoustic Barndance brings unique variety of talent to UMW
By TESS OSMER
There were no “sweat britches,” as Dr. Mark Snyder of the Music Department at the University Mary Washington calls newly trending ‘sweat-pant- shorts.’ There were, however, a lot of black- framed glasses and plaid button down shirts at this years Electro Acoustic Barn Dance, a festival of 12 separate concerts, beginning on Thursday, Nov. 10, through Saturday, Nov. 12. This will cover the first six concerts while a later article will outline the next six.
As per usual, the Barn Dance upheld its theme of inspirational, experimental and electronically based music.
The first concert was held at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday in Pollard Hall and began with Lindsay Crabill’s piece titled, “upside down pizza,” which was performed with fixed media.
Second up was Bequetha, or music and composition graduate of the University of Mary Washington, Becky Brown. Her piece was called, “I want —— please.” With Brown on the harp it was a masterful piece. Brown has many accolades of which include performances at SEAMUS, the Society for Electro-Acoustic Music, and SCI, the Society of Composers, which are National and Regional Conferences, Third Practice and Electronic Music Midwest.
Next up was Annie Neikirk, of the University of Delaware where she teaches music theory. Her piece, “Lung Ta,” was performed with Adam Vidiksis, who is a composer, percussionist, improviser and technologist based in Philadelphia, on percussion. Mainly, this piece derives its inspiration from Lung Ta Prayer flags, which come in a set of five colors that represent five elements. These include red, which represents fire, blue, which represents the sky or space, white, which represents air or wind, green, which represents water and yellow which represents earth.
Neikirk’s piece was meant to “evoke each element,” as the program notes, by pairing percussion instruments with various recordings as a way to “musically augment the [audience’s] experience.” These recordings include “deep, low drums for the Earth, recordings of both water and fire for the middle movements and the whoosh of the wind followed by pure crystalline sound of the sky.” In addition, each movement in the piece is accentuated by the sound of prayer bowls.
Following Neikirk was John Thompson, director of music technology at Georgia Southern University, and his piece, “Electrotactile Maps,” which was accompanied with a video display. “Electrotile devices allow the brain to map tactile voltage pulses applied through the tongue or other skin surfaces, to the brain.” The program describes this piece as “a kind of sensory substitution.” The “audiovisual aggregate is introduced as such a grid, which gradually becomes interpreted as coherent objects,” as represented in the video.
After Thompson’s piece was Leah Reid’s performance. Reid holds a Doctorate and Masters’ degrees in composition from Stanford University. Her piece was titled, “Ring, Resonate, Resound.” Written in homage to John Chowning and his work of “beautiful sonic landscapes,” which were explored through his research and discovery of FM Synthesis. Reid’s composition, “explores timbre through dozens of bell sounds which provide the harmonic and timbral material, structure, foreground and background for the piece.”
“Eventually,” the program reads, “the ocean will dissipate into the sky.” And so it did as Marissa DiPronio’s piece, “Smaller Oceans,” began next.
DiPronio is a composer of both acoustic and electroacoustic music in Cincinnati, Ohio where she is currently pursuing a doctorate in music composition. With Tony Steve, percussion and composer at Jacksonville University, alongside, Adam Vidiksis, once again on percussion, I’m sure the audience was utterly mesmerized.
Second to last was Thomas Dempster, assistant professor of music and composition at Calflin University in Orangeburg, S.C. His piece, “Congaree Voices,” was compiled with sound recordings from Congaree National Park, the largest remaining old-growth bottomland forest in the United States. With Sujung Cho and Jacob Clark playing a piano duet, “Congaree Voices” takes the audience on “an imagined journey from the heart of the swamp, along the Congaree River.”
Last but not least, was Carter John Rice, a native of Minot, North Dakota, who performed his piece “Acousmagic.” He believes that “sound objects that remain unseen might be the most interesting.” His performance was a beautiful and inspiring mixture of magic, and live electroacoustic music.
Continuing Friday, Nov. 11, the Electroacoustic Barn Dance’s second concert showcased even more widely diversified artists.
The first performance began with senior music major Michaela Brown’s, “Did Ya Get All That?” whose piece I covered in an article on Dr. Snyder’s class concert, titled, “Musique Concrète.”
That article can be found at: http://blueandgraypress.com/2016/10/13/electronic-music- class- showcases-the- art-of- masking-sounds/.
Secondly, with Dr. Kelly Kazik, who currently preforms with Olde Bridge Chamber Orchestra, on flute, composer Haerim Seok began her piece, “Behind the Flute.” Born in Seoul, South Korea Seok is currently pursuing a DMA at the College-Conservatory go Music at the University of Cincinnati. “Behind the Flute,” began as a study of techniques for the flute. “I sought to find a variety of sounds that could be considered unique,” Seok writes for her program notes.
A homage to the digital age, independent composer Ken Davies created and performed his piece, “Twitter Rhapsody,” following Seok. With Sarunas Jankaskas, a native of Lithuania, on clarinet the piece is meant to evoke a disorganized “stream of consciousness,” related to “clarinets, twittering, the color blue, birds, skies, clouds and rhapsodies.” Davies has performed in past Barn Dances.
“On the limits of a system and the consequences of my decisions,” a song too true to my own life, began next. This was a piece by Ryan Carter, a composer who has been highly regarded by publications such as the New York Times. As Keith Kirchoff, pianist, composer, conductor and teacher, began on the piano, the audience must have been on the edge of their seats. “Like a Martian dance Party,” the program reads. Kirchoff is also highly regarded in the music community and has been described as “energetic” and “precise.”
Accompanied by fixed media, the next piece, “Enveloped,” was played. Composed by Galina Belolipetski, who is also a student, violinist and researcher at the University of Virginia Tech, this piece aims to “incorporate traditional music theory and interdisciplinary research.”
“Enveloped,” is the result of a week’s worth of recording sounds across the campus of Virginia Tech. Meant to keep the audience engaged, the introduction of the piece is a “short taste of the sounds that are to be manipulated for the rest of the piece.” Belolipetski has recently been selected as a Catalyst Fellow and will contribute to one of her primary goals at the university, which is “to promote interdisciplinary arts on campus.”
Some UMW students might know the pianist that was a part of the following performance, Dr. Theresa Steward, a current adjunct professor here at UMW. “CPL,” was composed by Jesse Guessford, a co-founding director of MMT, (Music, Motion and Technology) a dance collective based in Northern Virginia. Though Guessford has claimed many accolades, this piece, however, was written, dedicated to and inspired by Dr. Linda Monson, a woman of “energy and enthusiasm about music.”
In addition, “CPL” is meant to represent the most important trio in music composition: meter, rhythm and pitch, while following a constant pattern of A/B, B/C and A/C.
Finally, following Guessford was composer, associate professor of music and chair of the music department at Wabash College in Indiana, Peter Hulen. His piece, “Diptych,” is defined literally off of the artistic definition: a painting on two panels, or a tablet with two hinged leaves.
Therefore, this was a piece with two related movements.
The first movement in “Diptych,” is called, “Kepler-186f.” It is the first validated Earth-size planet orbiting a star in the habitable zone. Its discovery, and this piece, envelops signals of finding “worlds similar to Earth.” The second movement, “Ontology,” is in homage to “The Unanswered Question,” by Charles Ives. Referring to Ives’ “perennial question of existence.”
Concert three of the Barn Dance took place on Nov. 11, and began again with a UMW student performance. Senior and music major, Melissa Johnson’s piece, “Hello,” as fixed media, was just as enthralling and my description of her work can be found in the above linked article in The Blue & Gray Press.
The second piece, however, composed by Monroe Golden, with Tony Steve, who performs his own piece in this concert, on percussion, was fresh and invigorating. Called “Vestiges,” this piece is scored for metals and metallic models with “alternating sections loosely based on ferric folksongs and a large jazz standard.”
Monroe Golden is a composer from rural Alabama who now lives in the bustling city of New York. His “overtone-informed music” has been described as “delightfully disorienting” and “full of wit and beauty.”
Composed at the Electronic Music Studios of Stockholm, Sweden, 2001, “The Call,” followed next. American composer of electroacoustic and acoustic music, George Brunner, made sure all the samples in the piece were, at some level, reminiscent for the audience, pulling from popular rock and opera songs. In the program he writes, “I hope [the audience] enjoys this fanciful, virtual journey of seven minutes and five seconds.”
Continuing with the theme of experimentation and unique individual inspiration, was composer and percussionist, Professor Tony Steve of Jacksonville University. A member of the Jacksonville Symphony from 1978 through 1993, Steve’s piece, “You Are My Agenda,” challenges the capitalist nature of large corporations.
“How often is each of us the point of someone’s cloaked inquiry to our life?” Steve asked. Combining video, soundscape and live percussion, Steve entranced the audience. If you have attended the Barn Dance before, you have watched and been inspired by the dedicated work of Mr. Steve Hennessy. Currently, he works as the programming director for the Barn Dance, lives and composes in Richmond, VA and, this year, performed his piece entitled, “The Louse Dreams.”
An aural thesis that “conforms to its environment,” the “Louse Dreams,” is a “veiled statement.” Hennessy’s use of the Axoloti synth is to form a “guided improvisation that features voice, a live processed playback of a field recording… along with harsh, stochastic synthesis.”
Following, verbatim, a “Parenthetical,” is a statement that explains or qualifies something which precedes a said statement. With fixed media, composer Andrew Sigler encapsulated what it means to follow those before you that inspire and motivate you. Sigler’s music has been awarded numerous times and constantly delights audiences.
Last in the third concert of the Barn Dance was the performance of Samuel Wells who composed the piece and played it on trumpet. “Light is Like Water,” he called it, is the “first installment of a series of works for solo trumpet.
Tired of reading yet? Well, the audience was not tired of attending the fourth concert of the festival at 3 p.m., Nov. 11, in Pollard Hall.
With music flowing through them, the speakers soothed and hypnotized the listeners. Beginning again with a student performance, senior Levi Manuel showcased his composed piece, “Rebirth.” For Manuel, it is a song that represents “life’s ups and downs,” and “the cycle of trauma or sadness leading back to everything being okay.” In the program Manuel adoringly adds, “I am very pleased that [the audience] made it to this performance.”
Following Manuel was composer, pianist, conductor and teacher, Keith Kirchoff, and the performance of his piece “Irrational Rationalities.” In this piece was the additional performance of the SPLICE Ensemble, which includes Kirchoff himself, Samuel Wells and Adam Vidiksis. “Irrational Rationalities,” composed in 2015, is “loosely inspired by Alvin Loving’s painting ‘Rational Irrationalism’ produced in 1969.” Loving was a cubist painter who concentrated on spatial illusionism. Therefore, “Irrational Rationalities,” explorers a “similar play but from the opposite direction.”
Thirdly, another beautifully inspired piece, composer Christopher Cook, recent recipient of the Fromm Music Foundation commission from Harvard, performed “Blue Marble.” Pulling from NASA’s most detailed true-color image of the Earth, “Blue Marble” follows a simple melodic idea through its “evolutionary journey.”
With Margaret Jones on the violin, composer James Caldwell performed his piece, “Texturologie 20: Pain Bob” following Cook. Caldwell is a professor of music composition and theory at Western Illinois University and earned his doctorate of music at Northwestern University.
“Texturologie 20: Pain Bob,” is a “virtuosic, perpetual motion piece that swaths the violin…[with] tonal cycles that unfold at various rates.” This piece largely pulls from the change-ringing pattern called “Plain Bob Minim.”
Additionally, the violinist on this piece, Margaret Jones, performs with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, freelances and teaches violin privately.
Ah Francé, should we say, as “In Shadow In Shade,” began. Inspired by the work of Victor Hugo’s poem “La Tombe Dit Á La Rose,” composer Christopher Chandler performed his piece next with Keith Kirchoff on the piano. Chandler is a visiting instructor at the University of Richmond where he also received his bachelors in music composition and theory.
Sixth in the fourth concert was Neil Flory’s piece, “Wilderness/Entropy.” Beautifully, the program reads, this song is as if “we [the audience] plunge[d] into this great and strange and wondrous surrounding wilderness,” until the audience is “completely engulfed.”
Flory is a music coordinator at Jamestown Community College in Jamestown, New York. His works have been played across the United States and South America.
Seventh and last on the fourth concert was Xain Wang’s performance, “Baetylus.” A Baetylus is a sacred stone that fell from heaven and contained the power of life, according to the program notes. This piece was made for the saxophone and included live electronics and an interactive video.
With the similar faces of SPLICE: Samuel Wells on the trumpet, Shawn Wallace on the alto saxophone, Keith Kirchoff on the piano and Adam Vidiksis on percussion this piece was both complex, layered and outstanding.
The video component of the piece was centered on a single sphere that moved about the screen while the piece progressed, entrancing the audience.
The fifth concert begins with UMW student, sophomore and marketing major, Jordan Vernon’s piece, “The Beginning of the End.” Marked by her struggle with anxiety this piece is further covered by The Blue & Gray Press at: http://blueandgraypress.com/2016/10/13/electronic- music-class- showcases-the- art-of- masking-sounds/.
After such an emotional piece, Janis Mercer’s work, entitled “Alphabet,” triggered the heart of the outdoors. “Each movement [of the piece/ instrument] correspond[ed] in shape to the letter of the alphabet for which it is named,” the program reads. With Tony Steve again on percussion this piece put me on the ocean, where the clouds rolled in and it was raining and the tide rolled in and I was quickly tapping my feet in the water.
Following, with additional rich emotion, was Richard Johnson’s piece, “Socavino.” The program notes encapsulate this piece entirely, reading, “Ah, wine and romance.” It was deep, dark and stunning. It is also easily accessible to watch if you missed it, at: https://vimeo.com/145881810.
Richard Johnson is a multimedia artist and composer who lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The fourth piece of this concert, excuse my bias, was one of my favorites throughout the festival. Composed by Ronald Keith Parks with Tony Steve on percussion, “Afterimage 3,” tantalized my senses, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. Slowly, with buckets of rocks, slates of cinder blocks, bricks, tile and the use of two bolts, the song reinterpreted the meaning of ‘traditional materials’ used to make music. Ronald Keith Parks is currently a professor of music at Winthrop University.
Of course, no concert is complete without a laser show, and Jacob Schlaerth’s piece “Scribbles,” did not disappoint. As Schlaerth performed on a large glass armonica, it was almost as if a siren was going off in the woods. It was a very intense display as the lines of the video display stretched across the screen.
Jacob Schlaerth is a composer, artist and artist and received his degrees in music performance and composition from Ohio State University.
Following, was the audience’s submersion into “Stories From an Alien Pond.” Composed by Julius Bucsis, the title encapsulates its sound. As the program reads, it was an “imaginary interaction between life forms in and around a pond of liquid on another planet.” The piano and animal sounds transported listeners to Bucsis’ world.
Bucsis is a composer, guitarist and music technologist and is currently working toward achieving a Doctorate in music composition at Ball State University.
A transition from light to dark, with lyrics written by English professor Elizabeth Savage of Fairmont State, “If Your Boy Leads,” was performed next. Much like a coming of age story, this piece was composed to evoke the worries of a parent, or so it seemed. “If your boy leads, let him,” mezzo-soprano Jenifer Weber cooed throughout the piece. The composer, Daniel Eichenbaum, serves as assistant professor of music at Fairmont State University.
“The Galileo Project,” finished up the concert, composed by Tanner Upthegrove. It was reminiscent of “MacBeth,” the famous play by William Shakespeare, as the audience was transported to space. The “Galileo Project” explores the portrayal of the “uncanny valley,” or the point at which the “synthesized is indiscernible from reality.”
Inspired and emotional, UMW senior Elias Ingea performed his piece, “Ezekiel and his Royal with Cheese,” which can be described again at: http://blueandgraypress.com/2016/10/13/electronic-music- class-showcases- the-art- of-masking- sounds/.
Using a vintage Minimoog analog synthesizer, Jason Bolte composed and performed his piece, “Swish-Swoosh,” following Ingea. Bolte lives in Bozeman, Montana and teaches music technology and composition at Montana State University.
Third up was composer and McGill and MIT graduate Nina C. Young and her piece, “Metal Works,” which was spilt into two electro-acoustic interludes: steel and quicksilver. This piece was also a set of four pieces for piano and electronics that were tied together with the electro- acoustic interludes.
As Young describes it, “the piano, with its tightly wound metal strings, becomes a resonate characteristic of metal objects.”
Dr. Steward of UMW made another appearance as the pianist on this piece. Fourth on the sixth concert was, fittingly, the performance of “6 Short Studies,” composed by professor of music and composer in residence at Lewis University, Mike McFerron.
“These one minute “experiments” led me to more substantial pieces,” McFerron writes of his piece. The six studies are aptly named: 30 Bars of Sound, Tra(p) (f) (m), 360 Steps, Dinadanvtli, Minute Distances and Techno Feel Ya’. For me, it began and ended as a series of action scenes in a movie, both intense and invigorating.
Beautifully, this next work by composer, digital artist and flutist Linda Atlas, “started with a desire to combine [her] research interest in algorithmic composition…”
“Meru: Tracing Earth,” is an agglomeration of GPS data. Derived from the mapping of Meru Peak, a mountain in the Uttarakhand region of India, this piece unseeingly drops the audience on a tour of the nature of India.
Next up on the last concert of this first half of the festival is Rodney Waschka II’s piece, “A Portrait of Stephanie Spencer.” Described as a “slow, gentle horseback ride into memory,” this piece is a stunning transformation from beginning to end. Inspired by the real Stephanie Spencer, who is a professor, “horsewoman,” dog trainer and art historian, the ‘portrait’ was created by “mapping into audio two images associated with professor Spencer.”
Rodney Waschka II is a composer best known for his “unusual” operas and works, which can be found at http://www.waschka.info/.
With masterful energy, the next piece entitled “Trio Variations,” took my breath away. Inspired by UMW’s eccentric assistant music professor himself, Dr. Mark Snyder, “Trio Variations,” was composed by Jeff Herriott and performed with Trevor Saint on percussion and Ben Willis on contrabass.
Herriott is a composer that uses “sounds that greatly shift and bend at the edges of perception,” while Trevor Saint “improvises widely with instruments [and their] extreme offerings,” Ben Willis is a bassist and composer that provides a “omnivorous” approach to music.
Last, with a “Letter to the Moon,” was Christopher Biggs’ piece which sounded like a stressful day, much like I’ve experienced. But the main speaker, the trumpet, presided above the noise. Engaging and sporadic, Biggs treats all of his music “as collaborations between himself and the initial performing artist by working with the performers during the creative process.” In this case, he worked with, previously mentioned, SPLICE, and ensemble of pianist Keith Kirchoff, Samuel Wells on the trumpet and percussionist Adam Vidiksis.
For additional information on these artists, their pieces and their accolades please refer to: http://eabarndance.com/programs/.
The second half of coverage on the Barn Dance will be posted next week.