September 9, 2004

Digitalizing the Classical

Print More

From the early experimentation with trippy electronic beats heard on The Beatles groundbreaking 1967 masterpiece Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, to the heavily synthesized pop immortazlied by such ’80’s karaoke classics as “Tainted Love,” to the heavily sampled mainstream hits of gangsta-pop mogul Sean “Puffy” Combs, digital music is everywhere we listen. While the exact future of digital music may be as unpredictable as the future itself, one thing remains certain; as technological innovation continues to flourish, digital technology will play an increasingly important role in how both musicians and consumers experience music.

In order to address the progress achieved in the arena of digital music, along with acknowledging the possible apprehensions arising from an increasingly digitalized medium, the Cornell University Department of Music has coordinated The State of the Art: Perspectives on Digital Music in the 21st Century. The colloquia was conceived by Professor/Composer Steven Stucky as a means for evaluating the future of digital music at large, as well as assessing how digitalization will impact the future of Cornell’s music program.

Cornell’s Department of Music has responded to the increasing integration of digital technology and music with the creation of a digital music program under the directorship of Senior Lecturer David Borden. With Borden’s guidance, students are afforded the opportunity to produce their own beats with the aid of music software programs and synthesizers and to experiment with the juncture of animation and digital scoring. Furthermore, in a partnership between the Departments of Music and Theatre, Film & Dance, Lecturer/Resident Sound Designer Warren Cross offers his expertise in sound design and digital performance.

However, while such courses provide a solid foundation for students interested in digital music technology, they cannot possibly account for the full range of perspectives, the complications and the controversies surrounding digital music. It is that void in diversity of specialty and outlook that State of the Art hopes to fill. The lecture series includes speakers from the classical to the pop tradition and everything in-between on the spectrum in which the lines defining musical genres have become increasingly blurred, due in large part to digitalization.

The festivities commence on September 10th from 1:25-3:00 in Lincoln Hall B20, with a composers’ forum with David Wessel, director of the Center for New Music and Audio Technologies at UC-Berkeley, followed by an informal discussion on the future of technology in music.

The State of the Art will resume on September 16th when Benjamin Thigpen, former Musical Assistant at the French IRCAM (l’Institut de Recherche et de Coordination Musique/Acoustique, for all you Francophones out there), delivers his speech Dividing by Zero at 4:30 in B21 Lincoln Hall. The events continue the following day with back-to-back speeches by Princeton University notables Perry Cook and Paul Lanksy.

At 8:00 P.M., the festivities will transfer to Barnes Hall, providing an opportunity to see, and hear, innovations in digital music in action. Cook and Thigpen will be included on an impressive roster, along with Eastman School of Music’s Kevin Ernste, performing his piece Birches, a response to Robert Frost’s poem of the same name, which includes viola music coupled with electronic sounds. Also on the roster will be Phillipe Manuory’s Jupiter, which combines the innovative flute stylings of Elizabeth McNutt with real-time electronic system masterings of Miller Puckette.

But, alas, all good things must come to an end. On September 18th, the finale will commence bright and early with a lecture by Manoury of UC-San Diego entitled Incidences of Real-Time Processing in Musical Composition at 10:30 at the Johnson Museum’s Lecture Hall, followed by Puckette’s presentation Live Music in the Recent Future.

Finally, the colloquia will end with a film series at 2:30 in Willard Straight Theatre, highlighting films that combine engaging visuals with digital music, including Lansky and Grady Klein’s Pattern’s Patterns, based on the sounds of voices simply repeating letters and numbers, an adult-like Sesame Street set to digital music.

From the composer to the casual music fan, everyone will somehow be affected by the increasing role of digital technology in music. And with such a vast array of speakers from a wealth of perspectives, State of the Art is bound to provide something for everyone.

Archived article by Talia Ron
Red Letter Daze Staff Writer