Photo montage from ensemble rehearsal (April, 2015)



What is an Ensemble?

by Janel Sagert

When someone says the word ensemble, what comes to mind? If it is in the context of music, one may think of a group of musicians. These musicians perform together, but it is not as simple as just playing what is in front of you. It is about becoming a group of several people that turns into one entity.

Music is often an art that takes the individual and places them within a group. The individual has their own set of skills as well as strengths that are different than anyone else’s strengths in the ensemble. The individual is unique from the rest of the ensemble. Though this could be seen as detrimental to the ensemble because there are different “minds” within the ensemble, which is not always the case. A good ensemble member is able to fit their skills within the ensemble like a puzzle piece. This can make the ensemble stronger. Being in an ensemble means that where one person leaves off, you start. Where one person’s strengths end, you begin. You become one unit that feeds off of each other. In any ensemble communication is essential. Excellent communication can lead to excellent performances.

Another art form can provide an analogy for how a musical ensemble can work. Many television shows and movies take advantage of ensemble casts. With ensemble casts, each actor and character bring something different to the show. They all work together to create the show. But if you were to take away one of the cast members or characters, the quality drops and the unit does not work as well as it once did. Each one of those members brings something different to the show that strengthens it. This idea is no different when it comes to a musical ensemble.

How to be part of an ensemble is something that I have learned during my years in musical ensembles, and continue to learn in Electro-acoustic Ensemble. At times I tend to focus on only what I am doing and not what the ensemble is doing as a whole. But when I turn my focus to the group, it always seems to make the not only the group better, but also myself. The piece that I am apart of during this semester with my current ensemble has tested my skills within an ensemble. Because it is a highly improvisatory piece that allows each one of us to decide what sounds we can make, it can be quite easy for me to get lost in what I am doing, and disregard what the rest of the ensemble is doing. But when I stop and listen to what others are doing in the piece and try to add to it, I feel as though the piece becomes better and we become better as an ensemble.

As you can see, an ensemble is a group of individuals who come together to create one unit and thus are regarded as a whole. No one person is above the ensemble or the ensemble would dissolve. It is equal parts give and take.

Ensemble Musings

by Rebecca Cameron.

This is my fourth year in the Digital Audio Arts program and I am taking the second level of Electro-Acoustic Ensemble. I was at home the other day, when the sound of a stream of water from a faucet hitting the curved edges of a metal bowl caught my attention. “Listen to that sound!” I thought. For several moments I was thoroughly mesmerized by the change in sound, timbre and volume that were caused by tipping the bowl in different directions, and by changing the amount of water pressure. Before this program, and probably more specifically, before being a member of this ensemble, I would not have been overly interested in this sound, much less considered it to be musical, or its materials to form an instrument. These changes in perspective are the most obvious examples of the influence of this class.

I came into this program from a primarily classical music background and was quite unprepared for contemporary electronic music. Soundscapes, musique concrete and even minimalist music were quite new to me and something I would not have ordinarily listened to. Through my time in this ensemble, though, I have gained the view that all sounds have a musical quality and can be music, and also a deeper appreciation for music that is more timbral and texture-based, as opposed to tonal or harmonic-based.

Being a member of this ensemble has also really challenged my initial conceptions of what music is and what an instrument is. Last year, I was part of a group that used Max to receive messages from OSC, a piece of software that was responding to the changes in sensor data within a Wii remote. I would never before have thought of a Wii remote as an instrument, but I have become convinced that with MaxMSP and MIDI, just about anything can be transformed to control parameters of music. The extremely challenging part is defining these parameters!

I was primarily involved with programming and dealing with the ‘software’ side, while other group members dealt with the ‘performance’ side and the ‘composition’ side. This gave me first-hand experience with the cooperative nature of electronic music. It’s rare that you can find someone who is skilled in every area that’s needed, and even if you could, it might take them 2-3 times as long to do everything because they’re doing the job of several people! Within the groups and projects that were composed and performed last year, there was incredible variety and I felt like I had really come to see it as ‘music’. Through my time in this program, I feel like my definition of music has been simplified, but also expanded. Music is a human activity and as such, I believe it requires human intelligence and creativity. You may have programmed a robot to play your piece for you or your iPad to read your brainwaves and control musical material, but at the very outset, it still required intelligence and choice. I may have different tastes and preferences about music, but something which I do not personally find interesting/pleasing etc. can still be music.

Sharpening Sound Skills to Pay the Bills

by Matt Cameron.

My experience in live audio production before joining the Digital Audio Arts program in 2009 was mostly in the context of sound reinforcement for small ensembles or solo performers. Events that I have engineered for include (indoor and outdoor): concerts, church assemblies, theatrical plays, and weddings. Even with about thirteen years of experience in live sound, however, I enrolled in this program of study to grow stronger as an engineer/producer, and to gain practical skills for my career in music and sound. The electro-acoustic ensemble course has given me a chance to sharpen my sound reinforcement skills in my third and fourth years of study; years which otherwise would not have offered such opportunities within class time due to the numerous demands of the full music degree program which Digital Audio Arts is.

Working toward a final concert involving numerous small ensembles as well as one large one has challenged me to streamline my workflow and to deal with more elements at one time than I ever had before. In my third year I was part of the tech team setting up mics and patching cables on stage. This year I am behind the mixing console as well, using my experience from last year to improve the overall experience for everyone, myself included. Along with a small team of techs, I will work to make the setup, rehearsal, and performance of this year’s concert a success, both sonically and relationally among performers and technicians. This excites me, as I have been jumping at chances to work in practical situations to improve my audio production and reinforcement skills since my first year, usually in extra-curricular opportunities. The fact that I am able to do this for course credit is refreshing to me, and I hope the availability of such opportunities increases as the Digital Audio Arts program develops.

Performers and technicians in the ensemble are all classmates, and the larger ensemble performance pieces incorporate students from both ensemble I and II courses. At rehearsals, which occur mostly during class time, students collaboratively create and rehearse, working on their specific tasks, be they electronic music creation, electronic audio software programming, controller interface mapping, acoustic instrument involvement, or technical setup and operation of equipment. The course is unique in the sense that it offers students the chance to choose the area of electro-acoustic music production they wish to focus on, while challenging them to try unfamiliar technologies and encouraging them to broaden their experience in performance.

In the future, the skills that I have sharpened through this course will prove useful to my career. From a more keen ability to hear problems and fix them, to the simple skill of plotting a stage diagram and setting it up, each task is turning into a tool that I can use. Besides that, the experience of working with a variety of people with a common goal is always invaluable to the building of any career. Here’s to building skills that will someday pay the bills.

Creativity in the Electro-Acoustic Ensemble

by Adam Lefaivre.

The Electro-Acoustic Ensemble, as directed by Dr. Andrew Stewart, allows music students (in Digital Audio Arts) to have their own creative input in a class and get school credit for it; this is highly beneficial to the ensemble, since most of the students involved are highly creative.  The student can contribute to the ensemble in many ways, but students demonstrate technical creativity, improvisational creativity and compositional creativity. Compositional creativity allows for students to exercise their accumulated knowledge about music theory, music history, and computer assisted composition.  Technical creativity allows students to learn more about their performance instruments (or even develop appropriate instruments, depending on the desired creative outcome) or interfacing with appropriate technology in order to accomplish a compositional goal.  Students also develop their improvisational skills, which is a creative component in music that is not always available in some institutions of classical music.

Some examples of students demonstrating technical creativity are: Tugrul Rahimoglu developing his very own Max patch that analyzes melodies and musical scores, and manipulates these melodies so that they become inverted around a central note.  Rahimoglu is still developing this software; however, the idea of such a program is very creative, and has already been utilized in a theme and variations composition that Tugrul, Matt Cameron, and Rebecca Cameron developed on the theme of Helter Skelter by the Beatles.  Another example of technical creativity is Mathew Hellawell’s creation of the silent drum, which was based on a designed instrument created by Jaime Oliver (    Hellawell successfully built a replica of the instrument and incorporated it in into a group composition titled Transmission. This composition also included Adam Lefaivre, who played classical guitar, and Shauna Gregus who mapped a Yamaha WX7 wind based gestural controller to Logic Pro in order to achieve some of the atmospheric sounds for this composition.  One final example includes a recent composition created by Jordan Nickorick involving sonically manipulated feedback produced by guitar amplifiers; the feedback is created by placing microphones into tubular enclosures, allowing for resonant frequency manipulations of the tubes.  This ensemble is very encourages technical creativity to flourish, as can be seen with the amount of technical know-how.

The ensemble also allows for compositional creativity, whether it be in a traditional classical music idiom, or more in the vein of textural based electronic music.  An example of this compositional creativity was the premiere of Jordan Nickorick’s Acousmatic piece titled Transient, which was originally written and developed for a 9.1 sound system.  Transient was developed entirely from vocal recordings and clearly demonstrated Nickorick’s ability to write compositionally successful and texturally rich electronic music.   Not only is compositional creativity a possibility in the ensemble but so is improvisation.  While writing various compositions students are able to improvise with one another in order to formulate the basis for a composition.  Furthermore students are encouraged to improvise solos in various scenarios; this has been encouraged for the piece “In C” by Terry Riley which the students have been working on, and will perform this semester on April 20th in room W420 in front of a receptive audience.

The Electro-Acoustic Ensemble allows students with creative minds to present their ideas and compositions, receive constructive criticism, and perform in front of an audience.  This process is conducive to success on many levels, making the Electro-Acoustic Ensemble not only beneficial to the University of Lethbridge’s music department, but beneficial to each individual involved in the ensemble.  With the amount of creativity the ensemble demonstrates, one can only wait, in anticipation, for many successful concerts.

Integra Contemporary & Electroacoustics

Integra Contemporary & Electroacoustics is a student ensemble that focuses on the interpretation of contemporary art music with and without electronic music components. In Integra, we build on traditional performance and compositional practices, as well as experiment with new instrumentalities, creating new performance paradigms and exploring a potential for increased musical expressivity through technology.  The integration of new instrumentalities with acoustic instruments (saxophones, guitars, didgeridoo, accordions, voices, percussion instruments, digital turntable, MOOG Voyager,  wii remotes, microphones, etc.) is an exciting aspect of the ensemble formation and leads to a very wide range of diverse and often unexpected sound combinations.