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.