Center for the Arts Story: When I arrived on campus in 1971, the Center for the Arts was still an architect’s concept, and arts/music/theater/film/dance people made do with classrooms, studios, and performance spaces, scattered all over campus. So what a miracle when the CFA doors opened, giving us access to magnificent galleries, theaters, the auditorium, studio and practice spaces. As a music major (piano), it was a thrill to practice on grand pianos in the soundproofed practice rooms. Though I never became a professional musician, Wesleyan and the CFA planted the seeds for a lifelong passion for the arts. In February, I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and saw the work of Piero de la Francesca, Fra Angelico, and other Renaissance masters, remembering how John Paoletti’s brilliant teaching awakened my love of art of that period. Attending Wes concerts, from early music to gamelan, gave me a taste for musical adventures, and I continue to explore and relish an eclectic range of performances in New York City. A couple of years ago, I was lucky to catch Ralph Samuelson MA ’71 (Ethnomusicology), performing with Japanese shakuhachi master Kinya Sogawa at Roulette in Brooklyn.
CFA Arts Administration Intern Chloe Jones ’15 writes about the Toneburst Laptop and Electronic Arts Ensemble and its upcoming performance on Friday, May 9, 2014.
Last spring Assistant Professor of Music Paula Matthusen founded Wesleyan’s Toneburst Laptop and Electronic Arts Ensemble. This Friday, May 9 at 8pm in World Music Hall the group will have their final performance of the year. They’re calling it an “electroextravaganza.”
Most of us don’t think of our laptop computers as instruments, so what then is a Laptop Ensemble?
Each member in the ensemble performs with a laptop that’s connected to a hemispherical speaker. Fourteen members strong, Toneburst projects sound out of an equal number of hemispherical speakers. Members draw from pre-existing programs and ones that they create themselves in order to generate remarkably inventive musical scores, each one a unique interaction between laptop and musician.
Highly interactive, it’s as much about the ensemble as it is about the technology. Just like any instrumental ensemble, the members assume different roles depending on the score and constantly engage with one another.
“This is a different way of recognizing the laptop as instrument but also as social interaction,” says Ms. Matthusen. “It takes its inputs in a way that we have to interact with each other.”
One work in this Friday’s concert has ensemble members connected to their computers and clapping hands, so that each time two members clap a musical note sounds. The original score, composed by graduate student Christopher Ramos Flores, transforms the ensemble into a circuit system.
“They are essentially acting like a large keyboard,” explains Ms. Matthusen.
Another piece derives its material from OKCupid, an online dating site. Composed by graduate student Daniel Fishkin, the score utilizes text-to-speech software to transform the OKCupid profiles into sound.
“Daniel’s piece recognizes the laptop as an interface to this entire other world,” comments Ms. Matthusen—the world of online dating and social networks.
This Friday’s concert is particularly momentous for Toneburst because it is comprised primarily of new works written by the ensemble members.
The scores are imaginative and engaging, technical and compelling. Each one is carefully crafted and then rehearsed again and again. Yet the laptop ensemble leaves a lot of room for improvisation and play.
“Learning the program is the first part of it and then you can figure out how to actually express yourself using the restrictions of the score,” explains Toneburst member Mark Frick ’14. “You’re taking a technology that hasn’t been exploited for something particularly expressive before and using it for an expressive means.”
“There’s a shared spirit of exploration that has evolved through the group as part of this way of making music,” reflects Ms. Matthusen. “They are working together to realize these scores, and there’s a power about that.”
The Toneburst Electroextravaganza concert is Friday, May 9, 2014 at 8pm in the CFA’s World Music Hall. Admission is free.
Center for the Arts Story: When the new cinema opened at the Center for the Arts I had the privilege of being chosen as one of the student projectionists. I took the job very seriously as I believed there was a real art to presenting a film professionally. I remember going to the cinema late one night to set up the film reels for the next day’s screening. It was dark and quiet. I was the only one in the theater. The movie was Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. In those days a feature length film came on many separate reels and we had two projectors. It took considerable skill for the projectionist to watch the corner of the screen for the small cue marks near the end of one reel, then start rolling and switch over to the next reel on the other projector without the audience ever noticing the change-over. I was checking out the cue marks and practicing the change-over between two reels when I looked out the port in the projection booth just as Martin Balsam, playing the investigator Arbogast, was nearing the top of the stairs inside Norman Bates’ house. From an overhead shot, the bedroom door swings open and Anthony Perkins, dressed as Norman Bates’ mother, charges Martin Balsam and plunges a kitchen knife into his chest several times. The Bernard Herman score screams with strident violin chords and Arbogast floats eerily through space in a nightmare fall down the staircase. Though I had seen the film many times I was frozen with fear. I completely missed the cue marks and never made the change over. When the horror eased a little and I snapped out of it, I quickly shut down the projectors, ran from the booth and out of the cinema never looking back. I would return in the light of day to complete my preparations and project the film in the safety and comfort of a theater full of people.
CFA Arts Administration Intern Chloe Jones ’15 talks to graduate student Samuel Dickey ’14, and seniors Daniel Light ’14 and Emmie Finckel ‘14 about their capstone projects.
Wesleyan’s Center for the Arts offers undergraduate programs in Art & Art History, Dance, Music, and Theater, and graduate programs in Music. In every department, students have the opportunity to create a capstone project in their final year. These projects take myriad forms, each one a reflection of the student’s unique interests and creative voice.
On Thursday, May 1, 2014 at 9pm in Crowell Concert Hall, graduate student in music Samuel Dickey ’14 will present his thesis concert. After graduating from the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mr. Dickey came to Wesleyan in pursuit of a Master of Arts degree in Ethnomusicology.
The two-year program does not require that students produce a concert, as not all ethnomusicologists play an instrument. Mr. Dickey, however, picked up his first guitar at the age of ten and hasn’t stopped playing since. In 2010 he learned to play the Jeli Ngoni, a string instrument from West Africa.
His thesis concert brings together musicians from the Wesleyan community and beyond, including a couple of his bandmates from New York City. Half of the performers are Wesleyan students.
In addition to the recital, Mr. Dickey’s thesis includes a written component of 75 pages. His essay examines the role of the guitar in West African music, and how this once foreign instrument became integrated into the performance of traditional songs. He is looking specifically at music produced on either side of the border between Mali and Guinea.
“Guitars have become a vehicle for translating traditional music into a more popular sphere,” he explains. “But more than the music being westernized by the guitar; the guitar has been Africanized by the music.”
Together, the essay and his recital mark the culmination of his studies at Wesleyan.
“The master’s program has been great,” says Mr. Dickey. “I think it will allow me to pursue the sort of foothold I’ve been after in the music world.”
After graduation Mr. Dickey hopes to attain an ensemble coaching position or become an artist-in-residence.
In addition to graduate students, many undergraduates in the Music Department produce recitals as their senior capstone projects. One such undergraduate is Daniel Light ’14, whose senior recital Resonance took place on Friday, April 18, 2014 in World Music Hall.
The Music Department grants its undergraduate majors a lot of flexibility in designing their senior projects. One student may choose to record an album, while another opts for making a musical.
Mr. Light began with a couple of songs that he had written and ultimately developed a set list of seven original numbers. He performed four of the songs with a full band, one with a string trio, one with a choral group, and one as a solo.
“It felt like a launching point,” reflects Mr. Light. “I remember thinking that I would like to do this again at some point, to use my own material to fuel a concert.”
Much like students in the Music Department, those majoring in Theater have the leeway to design a senior capstone project tailored to their interests. This past November, as part of her thesis, Emmie Finckel ‘14 designed the set for the Theater Department’s production of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull.
Envisioned as a theater prop house gone to ruin, the set filled the enormous stage in the CFA Theater with furniture and other objects. The audience watched the performance from the stage, immersed in the set alongside the actors.
The hands-on work that Ms. Finckel did for The Seagull comprised the first part of her thesis. The second part is an essay of 30 to 40 pages, in which she examines audience agency in immersive theater design.
Ms. Finckel’s thesis gave her the opportunity to work closely with faculty members, including Associate Professor of Theater Yuri Kordonsky, who directed the production, and Assistant Professor of Theater Marcela Oteíza, who has become a mentor to Ms. Finckel in her time at Wesleyan.
“It was wonderful to feel like they respected me enough to want me to be involved [in The Seagull] as their collaborator,” recalls Ms. Finckel.
Dramatically different in approach and content, these three examples of capstone projects speak to the wide-reaching interests of Wesleyan students and their impulse to innovate and create. The capstone programs provide students an opportunity to synthesize the experiences that they’ve had at Wesleyan, reflecting both on where they’ve been and where they can go.