By Wendell Leafstedt
On Saturday, Oct. 31, visiting artists Richard Craig and David Revill performed contemporary music for flute and live electronics in Harper Hall. The concert was open to all and was attended by students and professors of various disciplines. The duo presented five pieces, each of which demonstrated unique musical ideas.
Assistant Professor of Flute Erin Lesser delivered a welcoming introduction at the beginning of the concert. It included a few notes about the music and instructions from the performers about optimal seating positions. As she left the stage, audience members repositioned themselves in the center of the hall, equidistant from four large speakers.
Revill, in charge of the electronics, worked hard to show the benefits of various pieces of software and hardware. Craig’s skillful flute playing left nothing to be desired. Both players were mindful of each other, carefully coordinating each note and button-press.
Their arrangement on stage was unique. All electronic equipment—two laptops, a mixing board and many other small devices—was placed on a table in front of the stage. Revill was required to operate the equipment during the performance.
Craig stood behind a wall of ten music stands that faced the audience. Many of the concert’s musical selections were lengthy; it was helpful to use Craig’s progress from stand to stand as a measurement of progress.
The central piece of the program was “Solo” by Karlheinz Stockhausen, a notable 20th-century composer. The sounds of the flute were looped and layered on top of each other while the electronic feedback was used to create a diverse portfolio of sounds.
“Solo” was a difficult piece to digest, as it lacked many elements of structure we use to orient ourselves when listening to most music. There were few expressive lines, contrasting sections or memorable motifs. This piece, like others on the concert program, forced listeners to leave their assumptions about sound and music behind.
Many people in attendance had never heard how electronics could be used in contemporary music. No one should feel obligated to listen to this music, but exposure to these unfamiliar sounds might change the way you perceive familiar music and other art forms.
The purpose of Craig and Revill’s masterful but esoteric performance was to educate the audience about the potential advantages of live electronics. Ideally, people chose to accept the unfamiliar sounds and expand their frames of reference, but everyone was left to decide independently.
The remarkable and exciting sounds produced in this concert serve to remind us that there are always musical possibilities that nobody has yet imagined, both in composition and performance.