New Musics fest showcases original electroacoustics

by Joseph Debonis | 5/2/07 10:31pm

According to the brochure, "'Cusp' is the unraveling of the voice into a chaotic electronic soundscape. Musically, it tries gradually to create a thin line between the acoustic space of the piano and voice and the electronic vocal-oriented space of the recording. Lyrically, it refers to a cathartic rediscovery of self."

The above describes electroacoustic music graduate student Carmen Caruso's "Cusp"; it is merely the tip of the inventive (and remarkably creative) iceberg that is the 29th annual Festival of New Musics. A weeklong event that commenced with "E-Concert: Electronic Music" on April 29 and will continue through this Sunday's "G Concert: Undergraduates, Graduates and Gamelan," the annual festival showcases the graduate and undergraduate work in Dartmouth's celebrated electroacoustic music program. It also hosts a group of talented faculty and special guests who are present-day Goliaths on the international new-musics scene.

"[The festival] provides a link between the basement of the Hop or Bregman Studio to the rest of the Dartmouth community. Unbeknownst to many Dartmouth students, Dartmouth has been home to some of the foremost contemporary composers and electroacoustic composers -- professors Christian Wolff, Charles Dodge, Jon Appleton, Kui Dong, Larry Polansky," said Katey Blumenthal '06, the festival's coordinator. "That students can work with such a talented group of musicians ... is a really special part about Dartmouth."

Special guests for this year include the Barton Ensemble, which performed on Tuesday evening during the "B-Concert." The Amsterdam-based ensemble creates "composer-portrait" concerts that focus on the work of specific, leading contemporary composers.

Sunday's "E-Concert: Electronic Music" featured the most current offerings of graduate students and faculty in the electroacoustic music program, while Tuesday's "B-Concert" jointly offered listeners a performance by The Barton Workshop and original compositions by both graduate and undergraduate students. Award-winning animations by Sonia Lei '08 and Adam Belanich '08 were screened, complete with original music composed by graduate students Sean Peuquet and Charlie DeTar.

"It is really special when we can make the festival interdisciplinary; it always brings more to the concerts," Blumenthal said.

"A-Concert: Acoustic Music by Living Composers" on Wednesday exhibited performances by students, faculty, visiting artist Tod Meehan and the Contemporary Music Ensemble (students in Music 50).

"I-Concert: Improvisations" will take place in Faulkner Recital Hall on Saturday at 8 p.m. Faculty, visiting faculty, special guests and Dartmouth's very own "The Ice Cream Truck," consisting of 10 undergraduates, will improvise pieces in the most contemporary of styles.

The cutting-edge Festival of New Musics will conclude this Sunday with "G-Concert: Undergraduates, Graduates and Gamelan." Kim Tran '07, who played guitar in Tuesday's concert for a piece by Patrick Handler '07, will have two of her short study pieces played at Sunday's "G-Concert" at Top of the Hop.

"It's always really exciting for composers to be able to hear their works performed. There are not many venues around campus for musicians, especially composers, to get their voices heard," Tran said.

Though Tran said that she wishes more undergraduates were involved in the concerts, the attendance of Dartmouth students at the Festival's events is equally important.

"Going to hear concerts that are a bit 'out there' is a good a way to test how open your mind is and how you react to things that might take you outside your comfort zone," she said.

Tran's description of one of her own songs (to be performed Sunday) exemplifies "out there:" "[It] is called the 'Nut Song,' which uses syllables of different kinds of nuts (pistachio, cashew, macadamia), starting off with single syllables and then building rhythmic complexity until the nuts' names are sort of recognizable subliminally, and then tapering back down to single syllables again."

College, after all, is just the time for expanding one's horizons.