Cabrillo Festival 2008 – Triple Play

Saturday’s Cabrillo concert was another winner. It opened with a beautiful piece by Dorothy Chang, moved on to an intriguing work by Mason Bates, and concluded with a spectacular percussion concerto by John Corigliano with Evelyn Glennie as soloist.

I found Liquid Interface by Mason Bates particularly interesting in its combination of live electronics with the orchestra. Back in my student days, where digital electronic sound could not be done in real time, this meant synchronizing the musicians to the time of a prerecorded tape, often with unsatisfactory results. Nowadays those older pieces are generally performed using a CD, not tape, but the pre-recorded part remains unyielding. Some composers would use analog live electronics within the ensemble, but the equipment was usually temperamental and could generally only be operated adequately by the composer.

I asked the “gear question” during the Q&A session that followed the concert about how the electronics were being controlled. The audience could see Mason using a Mac laptop, but what software was being used and could somebody else use it? In this performance, Mason was in the orchestra controlling the electronics using Digital Performer on a pair of Macs. But performances where the composer is not present still do rely on a CD player.

I hope that in the near future, composers like Bates can find a third way between the complexity of powerful sequencers like Digital Performer and the rigidity of the CD. This would allow for electronics to more fully integrate with orchestras. Perhaps the systems used for orchestral augmentation of pit orchestras (such as Sinfonia and Notion) can be adapted for use in these types of compositions. Maybe we can evolve MusicXML’s .mxl format so it can serve as an archival format for electro-acoustic works in the future like it can work for traditional scores today.

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