May 20 Computer Music Studio concert will feature new electro-acoustic works

May 6, 2014

The University of Chicago’s Computer Music Studio will present “Sonic Fractus,” a concert dedicated to electro-acoustic works by UChicago composers and guests, on Tuesday, May 20, in Fulton Recital Hall at 8 pm. These works showcase an experimental interplay between real-time computer music, live instruments, mechanically enhanced instruments, and video art.

The free concert will feature current student composers Tomás I. Gueglio-Saccone, Andrew McManus, Timothy Page, and Phil Taylor, as well as guest composers Francisco Castillo Trigueros, PhD’13, Insook Choi, Pablo Santiago Chin, and Daniel R. Dehaan. Each of the composers are or have been involved in the Computer Music Studio, a research and production tool in the Department of Music which provides resources to all composers interested in electronic and electro-acoustic music, allowing them exploratory space within which to learn about new technology, create new music, and participate in a communal environment for sharing ideas.

The studio also provides fertile ground for sonic installations and interactive art by opening up spaces for new interdisciplinary collaborations; students involved in electronic music feature prominently in UChicago’s Art|Science Initiative, now in its second year, with collaborations featuring composers Iddo Aharony and Andrew McManus currently underway. Last year’s projects included recent alumnus Francisco Castillo Trigueros’ Chromochord, the first musical instrument powered by biotechnology, on which Castillo Trigueros worked with a fellow UChicago student, biophysicist Josiah Zayner. The Chromochord has been widely covered in media, including Scientific American.

Just over the past year, several works that were realized or edited in the studio have received significant exposure on the world stage, earning recogniton for the University and its music composition program. Timothy Page’s Toccata (for cello, clarinet, and electronics) and Between Hell and Earth (for choir and electronics) were performed in Helsinki and broadcast on Finnish National Public Radio in spring 2013. In the fall of the same year, Francisco Castillo Trigueros’s Sur les Débris (for bass flute and electronics) was nominated for the prestigious Gaudeamus Prize in the Netherlands. Andrew McManus’s tape piece Mesospherics was featured at the University of South Florida’s New Music Festival this past winter.

Pushing Boundaries

Howard Sandroff, who directs the Computer Music Studio and has worked alongside student composers and artists for more than thirty years at UChicago, considers imagination and re-examination of existing standards crucial for a successful musical/technological endeavor.

“With each new generation of music technology, the earliest users create what shortly becomes a standardized or normal way to exploit the technology musically,” Sandroff said. “But the key to this and any generation of music and sound technology is to stretch it beyond what it was designed to do, thereby finding your own voice musically rather than being limited to ‘its’ voice.”

Sandroff encourages students to probe into the many possibilities available in a medium that is practically without imaginative limit, from designing, synthesizing, and manipulating sounds to figuring out how to deploy them in a musically meaningful way.

"Working with Howard and using the rich resources available at the Computer Music Studio, I was able to develop a body of work in electro-acoustic music that expanded both my knowledge and my experience in the field,” said student composer and concert curator Iddo Aharony. “We are encouraged to experiment and push the boundaries of what we already know how to accomplish. With Howard's expertise to guide us when needed, and our chances to share ideas with each other, we know we'll land on our feet, even if we end up quite far away from where we started."

The Computer Music Studio presents one concert each year to showcase student work. Past performances have included guest musicians working with both live and fixed media, as well as graduate and undergraduate students writing for MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) and creating sound installation art.

This year, many projects are focused around the Arduino, an open-architecture and extremely flexible microcontroller that has become a de facto standard for interactive kinetic, visual and sound art, robotics, and small form factor digital media. Students have worked alongside Sandroff since the beginning of this year to unearth and develop some of the myriad possible uses for the Arduino, learning electrical theory and exploring different sensors and basic robotics as well.

The upcoming spring concert, “Sonic Fractus,” will include such diverse Arduino applications as driving cell phone motors to play the strings of a piano, robotically-automated timpani, and magnetic sensors altering a performer’s amplified sound space, as well as other live electronic works, video, and sound installations.




Francisco Castillo Trigueros, PhD'13, and his collaborator discuss the Chromochord.