The School of Performing Arts and the Institute of Creativity, Arts, and Technology are preparing to welcome a collection of guest artists for this fall’s New Music + Technology Festival. The festival will run Sept. 25-27 in the Cube at the Moss Arts Center and showcase the ever-broadening field of music technology, focusing on new compositions and performance systems.

The festival opens Monday, Sept. 25, with a performance from the Beo String Quartet. Showcasing familiar and new compositions from master and contemporary composers, Beo uses electronics, live sound processing, and spatial audio manipulation to mount classical performances for today’s audiences. The performance will feature works by living composers embedded in a single Bach fugue from "Art of Fugue."

Highlighted composers include Virginia Tech Associate Professor of composition and creative technologies Charles Nichols as well as Missy Mazzoli, Andrew McManus, and an original composition by Sean Neukom, Beo’s violist and co-founder. “We've been lucky enough to have an ongoing relationship with Charles," Neukom said. "We've played a number of his works and even recorded a full album of string quartets that will be released on Centaur Records later this year. The festival felt like a natural extension to this relationship.”

The festival continues Tuesday, Sept. 26, with a collage concert featuring many of the School of Performing Arts' music faculty. “For a lot of these pieces that we’re presenting, ... the world premiere is the beginning of the life of these works,” said Kyle Hutchins, assistant professor of practice of saxophone and director of the New Music + Technology festival. Some of the works being premiered will be performed later this year at other festivals and organizations around the country.

Tuesday will begin with a new work from immersive composer Leah Reid. “Jouer,” meaning "play" in French, speaks to the meaning of the word in a sonic landscape, utilizing soprano saxophone and the 140-channel audio. The piece was specifically composed to utilize the Cube’s spacial audio capabilities, like many premiering on Tuesday, but will be reimagined to be presented at peer institutions this year, including Berklee College of Music.

Eric Lyon, professor of practice in the School of Performing Arts, will perform his original piece “What if you dialed this number and the 1980s picked up the phone?” Lyon’s piece, composed for keyboard, will demonstrate his study and expansion of computer chamber music and immersive music for massively multichannel systems, also known as high-density loudspeaker arrays.

Nichols also will be debuting a new work, “Emerging: Wuhan-Hu-1.” Made in collaboration with molecular biologist and Associate Professor Deborah Good and graduate student Shannon Mauro to sonify the spike protein of the COVID-19 virus into music. By employing the same musical cryptogram systems that Bach, Schumann, and Ravel used to translate names into pitches, Nichols mapped the chemical symbols of the skeletal formulas to notes of different pitches. Through analyzing other aspects of the amino acids, like branching and elemental properties, the structure of the piece developed. Composed for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and computer is the first piece realized using this system of sonification.

Tuesday concludes with the debut performance of “To St. Augustine” composed by Bobby Ge, the 2022 Jessie S. Yee Memorial Commission winner. The Yee Memorial Commission, endowed by Virginia Tech professor of chemistry Gordon Yee, allows professional musicians to compose works specifically for premiere by the School of Performing Arts faculty.

"To St. Augustine" is a setting of a poem of the same name by Nobel laureate, Liu Xiaobo. Speaking with Ge about the process he said, “I pored over the poem and gradually devised a kind of musical arc. ... As I composed, I left ample space in the piece for electronics and built the electronics sort of in the cracks left by the acoustic score.” Composing the piece was a new challenge for Ge. “I’ve never had the chance to write for such an amazing space as the Cube, and I really tried to take advantage of the sonic possibilities of the sound system with the electronics I’ve designed.”

Wrapping up the festival on Wednesday, Sept. 27, will be a performance from the Higgs whatever, a duo of long-time friends Miller Puckette and Kerry Hagan.

Puckette is the associate director of the Center for Research in Computing and the Arts as well as a professor of music at the University of California, San Diego. A leading member in the field of computer music and performance algorithms he is most known for authoring Max, a graphical development tool for music and multimedia synthesis.  

With work that spans algorithmic methods for music composition and sound synthesis and spatialization techniques for 3D sounds, Hagan is a prominent member of the electronic/electroacoustic musicology sphere, currently serving as an associate professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and president of the International Computer Music Association.

As the Higgs whatever, Puckette and Hagan’s work explores timbre, spatialization, real-time computer processes, algorithms, interaction design, performance practice, and performance systems. Hutchins describes the duo’s work as “experimental, electroacoustic performance art.” They will be presenting a series of works featuring music faculty, fixed audio/video content, and unorthodox staging specific to the Cube.

In addition to their performances, all presenters for the festival will engage with local K-12 students and Virginia Tech students through private performances, seminars on composition, performance, and music production, and an Institute of Creativity, Arts, and Technology playdate to further contextualize this avante-garde work. “We’ll no doubt break out some of our interactive set pieces. At the core though, we’ll be exploring our favorite topics: critical listening, critical thinking, and how these apply to music and beyond," Neukom said.

“The New Music + Technology Festival pushes the sonic and performance boundaries into the territory of the unknown, so that hopefully you come to it not knowing quite what to expect, but trusting [the presenters] enough that you know it will be something new and exciting," Hutchins said.

Tickets and parking

All performances are at the Cube at the Moss Arts Center. All events are free and open to the public. Seating is limited and reservations are required.

Find information about the festival, including links for free reservations, online.

All university community members and visitors will need to display a parking permit, use the ParkMobile apppay a fee, or pay using an hourly meter to park on the Blacksburg campus unless otherwise noted by signage. Find additional parking information online.

If you are an individual with a disability and/or desire an accommodation, please contact Susan Sanders prior to the event.

Written by Ashley Cooper, a graduate student in arts leadership in the School of Performing Arts

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