Electronic composer to hold short-term residency at the con

Paul Karner

This coming week, the composition department will host composer Christopher Burns in a three-day residency here at the Lawrence Conservatory.
Burns will be giving a concert featuring his electronic compositions in the Wriston auditorium on Feb. 26 at 8 p.m. In addition, Burns will also be giving a composition seminar and hosting an open rehearsal for the Improvisation Group of Lawrence University.
Burns’ music will also be featured at the upcoming New Music on Sunday’s concert Feb. 25.
An accomplished composer of electronic and acoustic music and professor of composition at UWM, Christopher Burns represents a rapidly growing group of composers who have embraced technology as a tool for creating music.
Stemming from the work of early electronic composers such as Varse and Stockhausen, continual advances in technology have pushed the field forward and inspired more composers to turn to computers in search of new sounds and aural possibilities.
The concert Monday will feature a wide variety of electronic pieces with layers upon layers of musical material.
Burns’ “Kepler’s Monsters” is a rhythmically complex piece that moves with intensity and vitality. “There’s a rock and roll aspect to it,” Burns says regarding the swelling feedback employed in the music that is reminiscent of a rock guitar.
“Pipe Dream” is a brand new piece that has a much more meditative tone. Burns likened the piece to the movement of glaciers with regards to its slow drones and more atmospheric textures.
Much of Burns’ recent works are largely improvisatory, despite the countless hours required to prepare them.
Burns’ recent electronic music seeks to find a presumably paradoxical blend of electronic music and improvisation. His creates software for his compositions that essentially turn his laptop into a playable instrument.
The challenge, however, lies in turning his computer – something essentially rigid and algorithmic – into an instrument capable of musical expression.
“Computers are very literal devices,” says Burns. “They do exactly and only what you tell it.”
As a performer, Burns is intrigued at the ways in which the technology he uses can guide the performance of a piece while resisting him in some capacity.
Electronic music is a perpetually forward-looking field of modern composition. According to Burns, “Electronic music allows you to engage very directly with sound. It opens up resources and opportunities that are more difficult to get at with acoustic music.”
For example, the idea of simultaneity – an important component in much of Burns’ music – is something that is difficult to achieve with live musicians, but “falls very naturally from electronic music,” says Burns.
Working with computers also significantly alters the role of the composer and performer. Where the conception and performance of an acoustic composition rests largely on a performer’s knowledge and acquired technique, electronic music requires a much more holistic way of thinking about sound.
Burns also continues to compose acoustic music in conjunction with his electronic music.
Burns will be giving a composition seminar for interested students Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. in 142 Shattuck Hall. He will discuss his approach to acoustic composition among other topics.