SMEE New Music concert stirs chapel audience

Jessica Vogt

A piano was the only classical fixture on the Memorial Chapel stage at the Spontaneous Musical Enlightenment and Education House’s new music concert Sunday night.
Other items littering the stage included several tables full of computers, microphones, amps of varying sizes and enough cords to wire a small house. The entire setup was absurdly incongruous in the chapel, and would have been more appropriately suited to a rock concert amphitheater.
At ten minutes past 8 p.m., a shy and mild-mannered Paul Feyertag, composer and organizer of the concert, with dyed red hair and black heavy-rimmed glasses, walked on stage and addressed the audience, quietly reminding us to turn off all cell phones – a remark that seemed rather odd, considering the multitude of electronics filling the stage behind him.
The show began with two acoustic compositions: “Duet for Clarinet and Oboe,” by freshman Stephen X. Flynn, and senior Scott Sandersfeld’s “Blanche McCarthy” for voice and string quintet. After these two relatively “normal” pieces, the concert began a full-scale electric assault on the eardrums.
Bryan Teoh’s “Urban Decay” was the perfect beginning to this offensive. A sparse composition, Teoh’s nonstandard amplified guitar blended with percussion played by Greg Erskine, creating what could easily fit with the urban montage opening of any movie.
On the inspiration for his composition, Teoh commented, “It’s based on a photo series I saw a few years ago of old abandoned buildings falling apart. The different times of day transformed each landscape from threatening to scary to warm and inviting.”
The second half of the concert was a symphony of electronics. The eclectic, mild-mannered, introspective bunch of performers sat behind computers, creating sounds wild in contrast to their own appearances. Teoh, who also performed on electronics, likened his approach to electronic improvisation to sculpting.
“I create a large block of sound and then mold it into what I want,” he said.
The electronic improvisers used custom-made computer software to create and mold sound from both live and prerecorded noise. The artists appeared to be trying to find meaning underneath the static and rumblings of ordinary air – as if they were listening for and finding the blips and beeps of alien life.
Senior Reid Stratton, who created the final piece, “. two bright rings, though I was there,” has a moderately different approach to electronics. His prerecorded piece used field recordings and only altered the volume and time of each sound.
“I wanted to write music that didn’t have key signatures and quarter notes . to let the sounds speak for themselves,” Stratton said. “I used my judgment and my ear to decide what sounds would come in, how long they would last, and how they would interact with one another.”
The sound filling the chapel was pensive, obtrusive, poetic, empty and strident all at the same time. Noise like this could induce insanity – indeed, one wonders if this is what a crazy person hears.
If you could call it music, it was certainly of the most unconventional sort. Perhaps a better name would be “sculpted noise,” or “aural poetry.” But whether music or noise, the SMEE concert could not have been better.