Empyrean Ensemble to premiere new compositions by graduate students

By From page A11 | May 14, 2013

The Empyrean Ensemble — the resident professional new music group at UC Davis — will present an annual showcase featuring new works by graduate student composers at 7 p.m. Sunday, May 19, in the Vanderhoef Studio Theatre at the Mondavi Center.

“This year, the graduate students in composition have included electronics in their works,” said faculty composer Mika Pelo, who has been working with the seven composers. “They were free to choose any type of electronics they wanted, and they could write for the whole ensemble or any subset thereof.

“They all came into this with very different experiences in using electronics in their music; a couple of them had never used any electronics, and others have quite a bit of knowledge already. The result is breathtaking in the variety of approaches and styles of music, which makes me very happy; I find it is a sign of good health for a composition department when the pieces all turn out so different.”

Pelo added, “To highlight a few of the pieces, Alex Van Gils is collaborating with a coder from Cycle 74, the makers of one of the most famous softwares for music, Max/MSP. Together, they have created a surround-sound piece for solo viola and interactive electronics. The music will be all around the listener, and moments in the music will be ‘frozen’ with the help of software, to create a sound world where our concept of time and place will be displaced.”

Pelo said composer Gabriel Bolaños has “a completely different approach” as he bases his piece on a sound file of a reading of James Joyce’s poetry.

“This reading is translated into formants, sounds, and are then used to interactively filter an ensemble of clarinet, piano, percussion and cello,” Pelo said. “The musical material in the piece is also derived from the recording of the reading. To accomplish this, Gabriel has used software that linguists normally use, and the results are very novel.

“Will Cooper presents a third approach: He has written a duo for four players and electronics, in which the music played by the players is ‘mirrored’ in the electronics; sound files are ‘commenting’ on what is going on live, and sometimes the electronics sounds very much like the live instruments, offsetting the listener’s conception of the physical sound production, and at other times the electronics are filtered so that there is no doubt that we are hearing electronic sounds.”

The other graduate student composers taking part are Bryce Cannell, Chris Castro, Fang-Wei Luo and Scott Perry. The larger pieces will be conducted Christian Baldini.

Tickets are $20 general, $8 for students, available at www.mondaviarts.org or 530-754-2787.

Jeff Hudson

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