Conservatory Brings Back Electroacoustic Music Festival

The Electroacoustic Musical Festival on Zoom./ John Schilling
The Electroacoustic Musical Festival on Zoom./ John Schilling

On Apr. 7, the Conservatory of Music at Brooklyn College hosted the 40th Bi-Annual International Electroacoustic Music Festival with original works by seven different “emerging artists” from the Sonic Arts MFA program.

   Hosted by George Brunner, the Director of Music Technology and Adjunct Lecturer, the festival is typically held in person over a course of three days. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this was not possible.

   “Usually, we are in person doing this,” Brunner recalled at the start of the festival. “Since we can’t do the three day festival that’s normal, we’re doing this one-day, virtual festival.”

   The night began on an eerie note with “Knife Night” by Ruben Salles, an evocative piece that  utilizes carefully paced piano sounds, sound effects to create a sense of dissonance, and a tone reminiscent of a dream sequence. For Salles, his inspiration came from piano pieces by George Crumb, which typically involve unusual sounds and alternative forms, and Silence, a book by John Cage, who was an experimental composer. 

   Soon after, the festival continued with “A Time Before Birds,” a piece by Tiger West, which had only been written a few weeks prior to the festival. Despite this quick turnaround, the piece is of significant importance to West.

   “As I was writing it, I thought I was writing about the state of our environment, and then…I realized it’s more strongly about saying goodbye to my mother who died suddenly last summer,” West said. “That was quite shocking to make that realization and then realizing how the two are very much connected and related.”

   With sounds of whispers and birds chirping, the piece features a strong, emotional piano melody that accompanies the constant repetition of “goodbye.” The piece continues with a harmony of voices that reinforce the melancholy associated with saying goodbye.

   Unlike the strong emotions from West’s piece, Andrew Cowie immediately followed by playing a less intense piece called “Dirty Laundry.”

   “It was conceived as a sole percussion piece…with some electronic samples in the back,” said Cowie. “It’s inspired by the rhythms in washing machines so I collected samples, transcribed them, and composed around those samples.” 

   Cowie played the piece along with a video of a spinning washing machine as a reference to this inspiration and the song’s title. At first, the piece sounds like a silent laundromat, but the sounds quickly transform with spontaneous beats of varying speeds and volumes that give the piece a sense of uncertainty.

   This theme continued with Rosie K, who played a piece for “synthesized sixteenth tones and processed clarinet.” Her inspiration, however, was quite different.

   “My inspiration was the atmospheric interzone between the timbre of the wind and these other specific tones,” said Rosie. 

   In its entirety, Rosie’s piece used sounds commonly associated with portals and teleportation, which created an immersive and out-of-this world soundscape.

   Incidentally, the piece that would follow was titled “Use of Sound” by Emmanuel Ortiz, which was accompanied by clips of astronauts and outer space. Throughout its duration, the piece maintains a steadily paced piano melody that is supported by different sound effects that paint a picture of the atmosphere.

   “I tried to combine the use of sound in an audio sense…using very resonant sounds that kind of travel left and right [in] stereo…with the physical sense of the use of space,” explained Ortiz.


Tiger West playing “A Time Before Birds” during the
festival./ John Schilling

Next, Nathaniel Korb played “Corona Park,” a song from an EP he produced for Rebecca Karpen, a friend of his. According to Korb, most of the songs on the EP are for acoustic guitar and “Corona Park” was originally going to be as well. Korb, however, saw it more as a pop track.

   “I took the demo, chopped it up, sort of redid it with the intention of it being an alternate version, and I sent it back to [Karpen],” said Korb. “She really loved it, and now it’s the official version.”

   With different electronic sounds and tuning, Karpen sings passionately about a day at Corona Park with a friend, which she refers to as “one of the best days of [her] life” throughout the song.

   The festival came to a close with Sean Fowler, who did not disclose the name of his piece, but warned that it was “noisy” and urged the audience to close their eyes “and see where it goes.” This proved to be a rather different approach to music that sounded more like ambiance with sounds of machinery and technology.

   In closing remarks, Prof. Brunner praised the artists for presenting their works and reflected on the experience as “a new adventure in [the] virtual electroacoustic music festival at Brooklyn College.”