Student creativity and innovation will be on full display at the upcoming New Music + Technology Festival May 1-3 on Virginia Tech's Blacksburg campus. The three-day event will celebrate the conjunction of experimental music and originative technology and will showcase a variety of performance styles from dance to multimedia to live coding. 

Festival director and performer Kyle Huchins, instructor of saxophone in the School of Performing Arts, looks forward to “a ton of student involvement, especially on the Monday concert.”

Clare Suess, graduate student in music with a focus in creative technologies, one of those student. Suess designed and fabricated her own instruments that the Virginia Tech New Music Ensemble will use during the performance. Suess made the instruments at the Creativity and Innovation District’s makerspaces using a variety of processes.

She used her skills in welding, laser-cutting, and coding to work the CNC plasma table, which uses a plasma torch to cut out shapes that have been programmed into a computer using numerical codes. The instruments are constructed from a variety of materials including felt, steel, plywood, poplar, aluminum, ceramic, paper, and acrylic.

To give an example of the variety of instruments she made, Suess said “one of the instruments has a little speaker inside and another has two microcontroller boards with sensors.” She is still deciding what to name her instruments.

Original musical stringed instruments created by Claire Suess using laser cut materials. The three instruments resemble lutes, with a rounded back, strings, and pegs.
Clare Suess used the makerspaces in the Creativity and Innovation District to build several stringed instruments for the festival. Photo courtesy of Clare Suess.

In addition to building her own instruments, Suess has animated a musical score that the musicians, including Hutchins, will play. The video projection is “a compilation of short animations that I have made based off of drawings and sketches I've done throughout this whole experience,” Suess said.

She said she trusts her fellow musicians with the unique score, as improvisation and personal expression are part of the artistry of her piece. “Musically at the moment, I've been open to just seeing what happens. The process and play sessions have been experiments in how they are played, how they sound to build a repertoire, so I'm still in the learning process.”

Several laser cut pieces that will become original musical instruments
Clare Suess used laser-cutting to fabricate some of her innovative instruments. Photo courtesy of Clare Suess.

Jacob Alan Smith, a music composition and music technology student at the School of Performing Arts, will be one of the musicians to play Suess’ instruments and animated video score. The instrument Smith will use “resembles a lute or a guitar that's made entirely out of metal, which sits in the lap,” he said. “Attached to the tailpiece is a contact microphone, which is then plugged into an amp.”

Smith’s composition, "Timetable," will also premiere at the festival on Monday. Suess and another student musician, Brian Washington, will perform Smith’s piece.

For Smith, Suess, Washington, and Hutchins, the rehearsal process has been one of experimentation and iteration. “Since all of the pieces utilize some level of improvisation, particularly Clare's piece, the process for working on and improving a piece's performance is different than just practicing over and over and getting the notes right. We judged our own improvement by playing a piece, then gathering feedback from amongst ourselves as to how well we portrayed what the piece was written to embody,” said Smith.

Other musical performances on Monday include the Virginia Tech Percussion Ensemble and a choreographed work by Scotty Harwig, assistant professor in movement, performance, and integrated media in the School of Performing Arts. The dance will showcase his students’ performance abilities throughout his movement piece.

Tuesday’s performances feature Nadje Noordhuis and Fifth Bridge’s premiere of a new work for five trumpets and electronics. Patti Cudd will premiere a new work for snare drum and electronics by Tiffany M. Skidmore. Scott L. Miller, Shannon Wettstein, and Terry Vermillion will premiere a new work developed last summer during Virginia Tech’s Spatial Music Workshop, a program which Hutchins and Tanner Upthegrove direct through ICAT.

On Wednesday, Miller, Sam Wells, and Hutchins will perform improvisations for saxophone, trumpet, electronics, and video. The performance will coincide with the release of a new album, "Havona," by Miller and Hutchins on SCARP Records.

The festival begins at 6 p.m. each night and runs Monday through Wednesday. Monday’s performance will be held at the Creativity and Innovation District, and the events on Tuesday and Wednesday will be performed in the Cube at the Moss Arts Center. All of the events are free and open to the public, although registration is required for the May 2 and 3 events in the Cube.

Tickets and more information information are available online.

If you are an individual with a disability and desire an accommodation, please contact Susan Sanders at 540-231-5200 or during regular business hours prior to the event.

Written by Liz Gray, a graduate student in arts leadership in the School of Performing Arts

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