In Fall 2018, my revamped version of Electronic Chamber Music, focusing on interdisciplinary collaboration around technology, worked with the University of Michigan Museum of Art and the SMTD@UMMA performance series for a special concert in the museum’s Apse.
“The story of Japanese archaeologist Ryoichi and evidence of his worldwide excavations are explored by Patrick Nagatani in this series of photographs. Nagatani presents a narrative of Ryoichi’s archaeological work, supported by images of excavation sites, unearthed artifacts, and Ryoichi’s own journal pages. According to the photographs, Ryoichi discovered evidence of an automobile culture buried at sites across several continents: Stonehenge, the Grand Canyon, and a necropolis in China. This provocative and playful series compels viewers to reflect on how photographs and institutions, such as museums, shape our knowledge of the past and present.”
In the wake of my “Student Partnerships in Technology and Performing Arts” pilot course, I re-case my Electronic Chamber Music course as an opportunity for PAT students to collaborate with composers and performers in other disciplines to create technologically-mediated performance pieces over the course of a semester. The variety and sophistication of the outcomes continue to surprise me.
In part due to the popularity of Electronic Chamber Music’s first encounter with Techno, and because we felt we had much left to explore, for the second year in a row we used Techno as our inspiration. We listened, researched, discussed, composed, jammed, rehearsed, design, fabricated, and agonized — and the result was this:
We were honored to have Chip Davis, who endowed our studio, in attendance!
Each year, I give my Electronic Chamber Music ensemble a theme to which they respond. We listen to music, read, brainstorm, research, jam, compose, workshop, rehearse, design, build, and iterate, all leading to a public performance. The concerts usually consist of new arrangements or realizations of works from the repertoire, as well as original music by myself and/or the students.
In 2015, I gave the group the theme Techno, broadly considered. I did this for a number of reasons. Techno is Detroit music. It emerged from Detroit in the early 1980s, and people the world over associate Detroit with Techno.
Detroit is just about a 30 minute drive from Ann Arbor, yet to many at the University of Michigan it is a world away. An anecdote: When I attended an orientation for new international faculty at the University of Michigan I was told that “Chicago is only 4.5 hours away by train” and “there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer for worthwhile causes in Detroit.” Although the staff told us this with the best intentions, the subtext was clear: Chicago is where you go for arts, culture, and entertainment; Detroit is nothing more than poor people who need your help.
I admittedly was not expert in Detroit Techno going into this project, but I was eager to explore it together with the students. The goal was to approach the music honestly and respectfully; to set aside pretenses about the city, and to acknowledge that this globally significant music emerged from here.
As in all of my teaching, our approach was experiential. To know this music we were going to try to make it. But of course we aren’t from Detroit, it’s not the 1980s, and oh, we have 15 musicians in the ensemble, whereas Techno is normally performed by a solo DJ, or occasionally a duo. An imperative of this ensemble is liveness, so we went into it knowing everyone was going to perform. Admitting we weren’t going to try to make “authentic” Detroit Techno — which would have been by definition inauthentic — was liberating. It allowed us to respond and to revere Detroit Techno without being beholden to the stylistic idiosyncrasies of house, techno, drum and bass, trance, electro, that ardent electronic dance music listeners love to quibble over. We did our thing, which was geeky, ambitious, performative, technologically sophisticated, and deeply musical.
The show was on 4/4 2015 at the Jam Handy in Detroit. Here are some excerpts from the show:
The Tridents: Light Based Controllers for Techno
Brickbreaker — Techno video game jam programmed by Max Morrison
I performed Luciano Berio’s composition Altra Voce, for flute (arranged for french horn), voice and live electronics at University of Michigan Museum of Art, March 29, 2013 with Jennifer Goltz (soprano) and Adam Unsworth (horn). For the performance I created a new realization of the electronics part entirely from Berio’s score. The electronic performer is instructed to capture particular sections of the instrumentalists’ parts in real-time. The samples, as well as the live parts, are pitch-shifted and spatialized with prescribed trajectories across 8 speakers, with precise timings indicated on the score. My realization used Max and assorted MIDI controllers. The first performance was part of the U-M School of Music, Theatre, & Dance’s SMTD@UMMA series.
Second performance in Britton Recital Hall in January, 2014.
My Electronic Chamber Music group’s 2013 Spring Concert — Radiophonics — featured new and classic compositions using radios. Over the course of the semester, we explored the theme of radio: radio as a medium, as a technology, as an institution, as a musical instrument.
Performance by Conor Barry and Brian Kelley from the University of Michigan’s Electronic Chamber Music Spring 2013 concert: Radiophonics, directed by Michael Gurevich. Presented by the Department of Performing Arts Technology, School of Music, Theatre, & Dance.
This choreographed piece for two radios and two performers derives its source material from The Conet Project, a large collection of recordings of “number station” broadcasts. These shortwave radio stations first appeared after WWII, broadcasting mysterious coded messages often in the form of spoken sequences of numbers, to be deciphered by spies in the field. By extracting the rhythmic qualities of these broadcasts, we try to translate these covert messages into actions, oftentimes highlighting their more absurd characteristics.
Different Stations by Brian Kelley Different Stations is an improvisation in which one of the voices is particularly unpredictable: live broadcast radio. Through sampling and looping, radiophonic voices are tamed and ordered, becoming an instrument in its own right–-one that requires two performers to play in close coordination. A violinist and pianist must both find and create musical space to coexist with this new radiophonic voice. The title is nod to Steve Reich, from whom the hypnotic rhythmic elements and slowly unfolding form also derive.
On November 4, 2012, I led members of my PAT 101 class, and Prof. Tim James’s mycology lab — “The Mycotics” — on a mushroom foray in honor of John Cage’s 100th birthday. Cage was a friend of the late renowned UMich mycologist Alexander Smith and discussed foraging for mushrooms in the woods around Ann Arbor with Smith in his writings. What better way to honor him?
The Mycotics provided texts about mushrooms, which we used as the basis for musique concrète compositions. Fragments of these compositions were played on boomboxes and texts were read aloud according a score that used mushroom spore prints to generate event choices and timings.
On October 25, 2012 I delivered the opening keynote address at the Diseño+ conference in Cali, Colombia. The conference was the 5th International Meeting of Research in Design, a South American gathering of researchers in diverse areas of design, with a particular emphasis on music technology. My keynote explored the co-evolution of experimental music practice and electronic musical instruments, highlighting his recent research into the development of skill and style with digital musical instruments.
As a part of the Videosónica festival held in conjunction with the Diseño+ conference, I performed in a telematic concert of electroacoustic music on October 26, 2012. The concert featured performers in Cali and at Stanford University in California, joined by Stephen Rush’s Digital Music Ensemble in Ann Arbor. Although separated geographically, the performers were able to play together, supported by experimental technologies to deliver high-quality digital audio at low latency over dedicated research networks. This 3-way telematic concert was a first for Colombia as well as the University of Michigan.
The following night, I closed the festival performing a new realization of John Cage’s Rozart Mix in honor of the composer’s centennial. My gracious host Daniel Gomez took me on an adventure to find junk boomboxes and old cassette tapes to use as material for the performance.