Indiscipline

Cross-disciplinary collaborative art project in which musicians and scientists from UVA were paired up to work on music and/or multimedia pieces with themes like astronomy, nutrition, and aquatic life.

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On April 21, 2011, the Haven in Downtown Charlottesville provided the location for eight pieces performed by musicians from the McIntire Department of Music at the University of Virginia and the Charlottesville Symphony Orchestra. Each composer collaborated with various scientists, astronomers, biologists and nutritionists to create scientific pieces. Steven Kemper’s piece “Anticenter Stream, composition: Old Stars”, for example, focused on the imitation of stars outside of the Milky Way Galaxy and his research about the formation of the universe. The piece was performed by Adam Carter, principal cellist of the Charlottesville and University Symphony Orchestra, who’s intense and rapid performance created a natural soundscape to illustrate the composer’s interpretation of the galaxy through music.
A piece composed by Paul Turowski titled “Source and Origins” continued with the theme of the creation of the universe and the mystery of the origins of life. Again, Carter was the sole performer and played the cello with strong command of the music, while accompanied by sounds emanating from a computer. The majority of the piece was played in staccato near the bridge of the cello to produce extremely high-pitched sounds. Throughout the song however, the pitch and amplitude continued to rise, in a manner similar to but less distinctive than the increasing Shepard’s Tone seen in James Tenney’s “Ann Rising” from 1969. The computer accompaniment created the strange sensation of being underwater or next to a river like Barry Truax’s “River Run” and its demonstration of granular synthesis. The combination of these two techniques effectively created a feeling of traveling through space.
The concert took a twist away from science and the universe and initiated a new focus of nutrition. The interesting and unique piece performed to demonstrate this twist was the work of Chris Peck called “Weave Some Wonder”. This piece combined the use of the cello, the clarinet and percussion in addition to a Reduced Fat Triscuits box to advertize the composer’s fascination with the beauty of the golden and salty cracker and its nutritional benefits. The information on the side of the box was read as the deep tones of the cello resonated in the background, followed by the use of the full box as a maraca. The piece culminated with the opening of the plastic inside the box and the eating of one Triscuit. Apparently, the exaggeration of the opening of the box was the composer’s effort to demonstrate the use of excessive packaging in the sale of processed food, which seemed a little less transparent to the audience. Nonetheless, each crunch of the cracker echoed in the Haven as everyone in the audience’s mouth began to drool, while the performers taunted them for over five minutes with vivid and sensory descriptions of the popular snack. This positive reaction from the audience could turn this piece into an interesting and innovative marketing campaign for Nabisco.
This compilation of scientific and musical performances demonstrates the creativity and intellectual side of composers in the Charlottesville area. Particularly for a free event, “indiscipline” was definitely worth the walk and created a new appreciation for local musical performance.

April 21st 2011, I witnessed my first music-science collaboration in performance concert or for that matter, my first ever electronic music concert. I experienced performances that used objects such as pots, corals and even a triscuit box to make sounds, something that I had never pictured in a formal music concert! The concert comprised of 8 very different performances that gave the audience a feel of many aspects of electronic sound composition while at the same time, spread awareness about real world and health concerns. I found two compositions rather interesting: North Fork Dry Run in Shaver Hollow. Shenandoah National Park. Winter 2011 and Coral Attraction.

North Fork Dry Run in Shaver Hollow. Shenandoah National Park. Winter 2011, the music and inspiration of this composition come from a passion for natural beauty and a profound interest in preserving our environment; not for one second did I doubt this fact as it made me feel like I was one with nature. One could clearly notice the artistic use of musical syntax as the varied sounds of the different instruments coexisted beautifully throughout the composition. The very sharp-pitched sounds in the beginning were followed with the sounds of the water and the aggressive synthetic sounds of the xylophone, which did a good job in portraying the complexity of nature. The verse, “And then I’m going home”, gave the piece the important human aspect that is being emphasized by the composer in the role of preserving the environment. Another intriguing aspect that I noticed was how the structure of the church (the venue) enhanced the aspects of the sound. The glass windows and high ceiling, definitely added depth and enabled the use of delay for certain sounds in the composition.
“Coral Attraction”, celebrates the fact that acoustic vibrations draw living things together. The composition emphasized that aspect by using real corals to incorporate reality into the piece. It exploits the use of different sound generation methods such as ecoacoustic and acousmatic sound. The two performers used real corals to make interesting real life sounds along with digitized recorded sounds of falling droplets of water on the surface. Throughout the length of the piece, there were sounds that could be heard but the audience was left wondering where those sounds actually came from! This was an integral part of the composition as these sounds were increasing in intensity while at the same time, adjustments where made in their frequency so as to emphasize on the sounds of the corals. Along with this, the composition was given a varied exposure with the use of the cello and the synthesized sounds of the flute. The piece ended beautifully with a very long slow release of the noise of water fading away.

Both these compositions left me intrigued about the use of different instruments and objects in the composition of electronic music. Indiscipline was a completely new experience for me that introduced me to a whole new level and category of music.