Lipa Festival pushes the limit of music

Electroacoustic Performance


The annual Lipa Festival of Contemporary Music will deliver a musical experience unlike what many have ever experienced. The festival’s performances will try to make people rethink the limits of what music can really be.   

The Lipa Festival will take place over three days this week on Sept. 25, Sept. 27 and Sept. 28. All events are free of charge and open to the public.

The festival’s musical theme is electroacoustic music. Its events will consist of talks given by guest composers about electroacoustic composition and electroacoustic improvisation in performance. There will also be two separate performances of electroacoustic music throughout the festival. The goal with the festival is to expose people to electroacoustic music, which is a genre not widely heard or known.

The festival has been organized by Christopher Hopkins, associate professor of music, since he took it over in 2004. The year after he started running it, he decided to have the festival specifically focus on electroacoustic music.

“The opportunity to see this [type of musical performance] is rare. In part because it is brand new and not well known,” said Hopkins. “It’s a rare and special thing.”

Electroacoustic music can be classified as an experimental form of electronic music. The term “electroacoustic” refers to music made by computer technology that works with transforming sounds. Though there are different styles of electroacoustic music, a typical composition explores textures of sounds. Composers often focus on creating sounds and arrangements never heard before.

“It’s (electroacoustic music) about how humans can think and communicate [in a way] that’s not verbal and maybe not even directly representing any real world objects or experiences but [a composer] sends them through this metaphor of more abstract sounding music,” said Hopkins. “It’s based on experience, the work of others and the work of observation from life.”  

The festival will explore the theory behind electroacoustic composition by featuring two talks given by guest electroacoustic composers Scott Miller and David Taddie. Their talks will detail what their electroacoustic compositions sound like and how they compose them.       

Both of these talks will take place leading up to the concert of electroacoustic and visual music, which will happen Wednesday night at the Martha-Ellen Tye Recital Hall in the Music Hall.

The concert of electroacoustic and visual music is the festival’s centerpiece. It will include six performances of electroacoustic compositions. The performances will feature three guest artists and two ISU music faculty artists. The guest artists consist of the two composers and Pat O’Keefe (clarinet). The ISU faculties involved in these performances are Sonja Giles (flute) and Gregory Oakes (clarinet).     

“It is (electroacoustic music) in the classical music situation. You listen to it in a recital hall, rather than a dance club, for example, where the acoustics are excellent for listening. You’re also captured like classical music. It’s very detailed music, so it requires your concentration to appreciate,” said Hopkins.   

The types of performances in this concert will vary.

One musical piece titled “all sink” will be played through a series of speakers surrounding the recital hall. The piece, composed by Scott Wyatt, is meant to be light-hearted in nature. It will explore the sonic soundscape of dishwashing and is composed entirely of sounds from around a sink.  

Another type of performance will include an audiovisual component. For this, a large screen will be set up in the recital hall and the lights turned off. There will be a video played on the screen to accompany the song that will play throughout the recital hall.

One of these audiovisual performances is Miller’s “Solstice Orrery.” It will be the first ever public screening of this composition.

“Solstice Orrery is I think a very meditative piece. I’m doing more and more music that way that is in this general arena of ambient music,” said Miller. “It’s a reference to the solstice and an orrery which is a mechanical model of the solar system … so I’m making some pretty direct references to planetary behavior and activity.”  

Miller will be involved in another type of performance during the concert. He will perform his piece “Fun House” with guest clarinetist Pat O’Keefe. Miller and O’Keefe have been performing electroacoustic music together for 15 years under the name “Willful Devices.”

Miller said he specifically wrote “Fun House” with O’Keefe in mind to be the performer.   

“Fun House is very exciting. It is very virtuosic. Everybody will feel amazed at Pat O’Keefe’s performance because he’s incredible,” said Miller.

Their performance of “Fun House” will take the form of a structured improvisation. It will follow the performance concept of ecosystemic programming which makes the entire recital hall part of the performance.

To make this happen, Miller places microphones both on stage and in the audience to collect data from sounds being made in the recital hall. This sound data is sent to the computer technology Miller uses during the performance, which helps the computer decide how to manipulate the sound they produce. The sound they make in their performance will be in response to the sounds being made in the recital hall.

“Everybody who’s in it, like the audience members and performers and anything making sound, like a truck driving by that you can hear inside the building, these things are all contributing to it (the manipulated sound being produced by the performers),” said Miller.

Whenever they perform “Fun House,” it follows the same structure, but it always sounds different because every performance space produces different sounds.

“It’s also one [musical piece] where I think you can really hear how the room and the performer are interacting with the sound that’s being produced. In a way I think it makes you very much aware of the space that you’re in because suddenly you hear things happening that draw your attention to how sound behaves in the space,” said Miller.  

Miller and O’Keefe will give a talk and demonstration on Thursday about how they do this improvisation with electronics and instruments during a performance. They will discuss their strategies and philosophies behind it.  

This is directly related to the electroacoustic improvisation concert they will give Thursday night at Design on Main in downtown Ames. This performance will include Miller and O’Keefe, along with ISU faculty member Mike Giles who will play saxophone during the improvisations.

“I’ve been doing this enough where now when setting things up, I sort of get the sense of how sound behaves in the space, and then it’s really about being a good listener. That’s in the end the thing that makes any improvisation-based music succeed is when everybody who’s involved is listening,” said Miller.

Hopkins is looking forward to holding the improvisations at Design on Main because it will allow people to experience electroacoustic music in a whole new space.

As a whole, Hopkins says the Lipa Festival is a great way to introduce people to a new, experimental style of music that they may not be familiar with.

“It allows students who are interested to experiment with their eyes and ears on what music can really be,” Hopkins said.

Dustin Galvin, a senior in speech communication who is part of the choir program, appreciates opportunities like the Lipa Festival to experience new music. Galvin is not someone who was familiar with electroacoustic music before hearing about the festival.

“It’s nothing I’ve ever dabbled in. I definitely think it’s an interesting topic. I think the more the merrier for music whether it be any kind,” said Galvin. “I’m always open to learning about new music and getting introduced to it. And I think this festival is a great way for that to happen.”

“It’s fantastic when people hear you and they tell you they like it, but also they tell you they’ve never heard anything like this before,” said Miller. “Sometimes we can get too focused talking about the technology and the mechanics of how it works and that can make it maybe not very attractive to people, but in the end it’s actually about making music.”

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