The sound of traffic. Children running and laughing. Overheard chatter. Sirens blaring. What if someone told you this was all music? That it could be incorporated into music? Well, that’s what electro-acoustic music does.
On April 11 and 12, the Chicago College of Performing Arts (CCPA) hosted its sixth Electro-Acoustic Music Festival in Ganz Hall. The festival featured guest musicians, composers from neighboring universities and even had a CCPA student performing their own composition in the festival. But what exactly is electro-acoustic music? And what does it entail?
Electro-acoustic music is very much unlike any other music you have ever heard before. It is defined as a type of music that is made up of sounds from instruments, as well as pre-recorded sounds, from a synthesizer or an electronic device of some kind. It originally came out of the late 1940s. Many of the composers in the festival used everyday sounds, in the pieces alongside live musicians, sometimes.
It can also include other elements to enhance the musical experience. For example, guest composer Luis Fernando Amaya’s piece “que (no) te cubras de sombra” (may you not be covered by shadows) was played with accompanying darkness. The lights were turned off in Ganz Hall to accompany the music, providing for an interesting and new experience. One could feel the sound reverberate off the walls and it felt as if the sounds were coming from different parts of the room, despite the sound of the recording filling the hall.
Another example was featured guest composer Scott Miller’s piece, “The Frost Performs Its Secret Ministry.” The piece had live musicians and was accompanied with a video. The video featured a bright, mint-colored geometric shape that built upon itself until it filled the screen, then disappeared the way it was built. It was interesting to accompany the sounds with the visual element, the sounds and instruments making it sound as if ice was building with small crackling sounds as the visual element grew.
“Electro-acoustic music is any sound that utilizes a speaker and you can hear through speaker. It can be recorded format. It can be programmed as, you know, digital software and anything, any sound created through means of electronics coming through speakers can be electronic music. You have to somehow manipulate and edit and process,” explained Professor Kyung Mee Choi, a music composition teacher at CCPA. “I love the fact that it augments our imagination and expands the possibilities of what can be sound or music.”
This festival was created by Professor Choi in 2013. The idea came about in a way to invite other schools to join and share their music as a way to interact and appreciate music together. “First time I came here, we had we created the electronic music course sequence per year. So, the first year we actually had a concert at the end presenting our students work, but later we realized wouldn’t it be better to actually make as a festival to invite people outside of school so that their students can interact. So, the first year was actually one-day festival,” Choi said.
Professor Choi had a piece featured in the second night of the festival titled “Pendulum,” which was played musicians Charles Huang and Ling-Fei Kang on the English horn and oboe, respectively. She was commissioned by the musicians who played the piece to write it for them, thus she wished to show the similarities and differences of the two instruments as best as she could.
“An English horn and oboe are very similar sounds. You know they’re temporally and all similar, but, also, they’re different. So I wanted to create something that two instruments can share. And then behind the scenes was the idea about moving object the pendulum that swings so rapidly or hard that we imagine that it can be coming from a complete different source, but it’s actually coming from same source. So the sameness of what the oboe and English horn could have also create differences,” said Professor Choi.
The main thing Professor Choi wished for this festival is the opportunity for interaction between students. “First of all, I think the students didn’t even know they existed in different schools, so that itself is a really great opportunity. And also inviting somebody else from another school they spend that talking and networking is very important in any field. But, especially in music field, this connection creates opportunities for other people.”
The festival featured many diverse and interesting pieces, offering a completely different look at music that many people aren’t familiar to. It’s an eye-opening experience to listen to electro-acoustic music, and is malleable genre of music with the incorporation of recorded, process sounds. The 2019 Electro-acoustic Music Festival was enjoyed by many and was a lasting experience for those who attended.