Fall 2022 Concert

CECM Fall 2022 Concert - Program Notes

This concert was streamed by IUMusicLive! on December 4, 2022. We would like to thank Tony Tadey for operating the cameras, encoding the stream, and providing technical advice. Kevin Shima led the team of students who mixed our 8-channel live sound to stereo for the stream. Thanks to Alicyn Warren for running the mixing board for the hall.

Shuyu Lin: A Dream of Butterfly, a Butterfly of Dream

The most famous of all Zhuangzi stories — “Zhuang Zhou Dreams of Being a Butterfly” — appears at the end of the second chapter of Zhuangzi, “On the Equality of Things.”

    Once, Zhuang Zhou dreamed he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering about, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn’t know that he was Zhuang Zhou.

    Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Zhuang Zhou. But he didn’t know if he was Zhuang Zhou who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming that he was Zhuang Zhou. Between Zhuang Zhou and the butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things.

The piece has three sections:

It begins with “reality,” the sounds coming from the percussion instruments on stage. However, instead of being played by a percussionist, the percussion is played by mechanical devices: solenoids. The performer uses hand gestures to control the solenoids on stage.

Followed by the “dream,” the acoustic percussion sounds transform into sounds coming from the speakers. All the electronic sounds are controlled by the performer on stage. Meanwhile, the visual elements are the abstract butterfly narratives controlled in real time by the performer’s hand gesture. 

Finally, “a dream within the dream” is a tribute to the movie, Inception. The inspiration for the live visual parts comes from this incredible movie.

Zhuangzi. Basic Writings, 3rd edition. Translated by Burton Watson. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003. ISBN 0231129599.

Chloe Liuyan Liu: Culture is the Body III, Our Energy

The interactive music series Culture is the Body is a response to the Japanese theatre director Tadashi Suzuki’s book of the same title. Suzuki’s insistence on the use of animal energy in theatre impactfully calls for a re-evaluation of our relationship with our body in the modern world. When expressing the idea of “culture is the body,” Suzuki asserts a pessimistic view of today’s technology — that it alienates us from our body, and therefore our culture. Interactive music, however, presents the possibility of bridging technology and our body. Body movements trigger microscopic data streams, which instantly transform into sounds. This process of turning body movements directly into corresponding musical expressions encourages a stronger body awareness.

In an age where technology is rapidly advancing, I urge us to pause and reflect on our physical existence through this interactive music series. Can we still feel our body? Can we bring our body with us into the next development of technology? In Our Energy, the third exploration of Culture is the Body, two performers constantly initiate, share, and define body energy. I want to thank Katelyn Connor for bringing her rich perspective on body energy and movements as a contemporary dancer to this composition. (Percussion samples are taken from Thomas Frost.)

Walker Smith: It’s all in your head

It’s all in your head.
Every sound, all noisy thoughts.
Distracts us from falling rain
While we fall into ourselves
Inner music blocks our ears
Call the monkey brain to rest
Focus on the breath
Inside, outside…all the same
It’s all in your head.

Xiaogang Xiang: Mianeow

For thousands of years, cats have been a company to humans but never tamed. They are sometimes full of curiosity for this world, and other times idle in the comfort of their homes. From my perspective, everything about them is mysterious and surprising.

The title of this music comes from my cat named Mian. Mianeow is the combination of Mian and Meow, and I had the inspiration because of the way Mian meows. It is an interesting coincidence that Mian and Meow sound very much alike.

This work depicts three scenarios that happen in my daily life with Mian: daily conversation, playing between Mian and me and noises Mian makes when eating. It is an attempt at interpreting the meanings in her voice and deconstructing the intentions behind her behaviors by imagining her train of thoughts, digitalizing her voice, and characterizing the ambiance sound around us. Ultimately, I wish to showcase the beauty and uniqueness of her voice. At the same time, there are also several reflections on the unexpected nature of her meows in this work.

Kyle Brooks: Flight

Flight is a composition for alto saxophone, fixed media, and live electronics. This piece is a personal reflection on the experience of excessive traveling. Whether it be for work, leisure, or personal matters, most people can agree that the process of moving throughout their own space can, while exciting and novel at first, can quickly become as daunting as it is tiring. This composition utilizes video signals that are affected by the music happening around it to elicit musical and visual imagery that is reminiscent of these sensations. Whether it be driving on the highway in the middle of the night, or flying across nations, the different sights and sounds of these experiences are at the center of my creative vision for this piece.

The sounds heard in the composition are all sounds generated from the saxophone that combine acoustic sounds with sounds that have been digitally altered to elicit different concepts. These sounds work in tandem with fixed media and the video representing it to bring an organic foundation to an otherwise prepared multimedia experience.

hunter t. johnson: what does a phone call mean to you?

i talk to the people that i love on the phone almost every day. throughout my life, the frequency and intensity of these calls has changed and grown alongside me. some call once a month. others, once a week. some used to call every night before bed. i love these phone calls. they are a source of joy and warmth for me. however, not all phone calls are like this. phone calls can also reveal terrible truths to you, deliver gut-wrenching news, and even break your heart. some days, my phone is a lifeline that keeps me from feeling alone. other days, it is an evil and grotesque thing that holds me back from ever really being happy.

the sound material in this work comes entirely from recordings of my own voice. as the piece progresses, the clarity (and vulnerability) of the voice increases. this is an invitation, welcoming you directly into my own personal struggle with my cell phone. however, there is no one way to understand this little object in our hands that provides us with meaningful connection and profound isolation in equal measure. in presenting this work, i wrestle with these distinctions; hoping to share with you my questions, rather than my answers.

Ariel Sol Bertulfo Schwartz: Beat/Switch/Niche/Step

Sounds like 2016…

Zouning Liao: These Creatures, Unseen

Ever since the camping trip in the Aspen Mountain this past summer, I have become more interested in field recording and decided to write a piece dedicated to nature. Upon receiving my new mics for ambient field recording, I took a few ambisonic recording adventures in the Griffy Lake and Monroe Lake to capture the sounds of the late summer, which mostly consists of crickets and birds. I was amazed by the richness of the cricket orchestra in the forest, and how the orchestra transformed so vastly at different times of the day. You will hear eight different recordings of the crickets at the same time as the opening, and the crickets will take you on a journey of exploring the spectrum between real and synthetic sounds. The beauty of fixed media is that you only open one sense—the auditory, and therefore, you can maximize your imagination for making this listening journey unique to you. I invite you to visualize the immersive environment as you travel through different sections of the piece.

Jee Won Kim: Subtitles

My inspiration starts with a video of a deaf American sound artist, Christine Sun Kim, talking about closed captions.

I think a lot about closed captions. Those little lines of text below me right now. As a non-hearing person, I rely on them. Here’s a not-so-well-kept secret about closed captions: they suck. Captioning dialogue is one thing, but captioning sound is another. For example, if music starts to play, the captions might go something like: [music]. If. I’m lucky, maybe I’ll get: [violin music]. Which is... better, but still not enough. It doesn’t tell me anything about what that sound is made of. The more description, the better. (“Artist Christine Sun Kim Rewrites Closed Captions,” Pop-Up Magazine, 2020)

Her video stuck in my mind for a long time and made me think very deeply about it. Then it reminded me of an American artist, Mark Rothko’s color field paintings. When his paintings are seen from a distance, it is easy for people to perceive them as one color chunk like “red” or “yellow.” For example, his painting No.3/No.13 will be described as a painting consisting of magenta, black, green on orange. This perception is not wrong. However, people who cannot see the artwork will not be able to imagine how precise and detailed No.3/No.13’s colors are. Although it is black, if you look closely, it is not just one black color but painted in different shades of black by the various brush strokes, amount of acrylic on canvas, and the color surrounding it. This painting cannot be described using only three colors.

All the thoughts gathered in my mind and finally culminated into one idea: What if I write music that can be heard without hearing, seen without seeing?

Corey Chang: Agents of Paradise

Whenever the idea of non-human intelligence, such as AIs or extraterrestrial lifeforms, is brought to the forefront of discussion, we often have two possible outcomes in mind: paradise or demolition. Either we work in harmony with these new species, or they overpower humanity. Personally, I would leave this fate up to a coin toss.

My piece Agents of Paradise explores these possibilities through a dramatic and exciting pulse, followed by a section of stasis, yet containing the feeling of disturbance. Do you welcome our new overlords with open arms?

Alexander Toth: argumentum ornithologicum

The concept for this piece derives from a short thought experiment by Jorge Luis Borges, the text of which is produced here in full.

I close my eyes and see a flock of birds. The vision lasts a second, or perhaps less; I am not sure how many birds I saw. Was the number of birds definite or indefinite? The problem involves the existence of God. If God exists, the number is definite, because God knows how many birds I saw. If God does not exist, the number is indefinite, because no one can have counted. In this case I saw fewer than ten birds (let us say) and more than one, but did not see nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, or two birds. I saw a number between ten and one, which was not nine, eight, seven, six, five, etc. That integer — not-nine, not-eight, not-seven, not-six, not-five, etc. — is inconceivable. Ergo, God exists.

Despite (or perhaps on account of) this baffling logic, this thought has stuck with me for several years, though has remained more-or-less ineffable. Regardless, its principal interest — ambiguity of number — is accessible to me through several musical applications, including the courtly love songs of Antoine Busnois and, more recently, the “cloud” or “mass” phenomenon of so much 20th-century music. However, what bores me about the “cloud” or “mass” is that the ambiguity of number reduces the entire phenomenon to merely one giant, amorphous voice. In my piece for live electronics, I address this problem by vastly reducing the number of voices, yet maintaining and even exacerbating, to a degree, the indefiniteness of this number. Sounds may have consistent harmonic, melodic, timbral, or even prosodic qualities, but the jitteriness and lacunae which I have injected into these sounds renders their identities (and, therefore, their individual and collective numbers) uncertain, thus constantly fluctuating. The patches I designed for this piece run primarily on generative algorithms, producing unstable environments which are yet highly susceptible to control, as I demonstrate in my live manipulation of these sounds and sound-states.