Vol. 36 Issue 4 Reviews
SEAMUS 2012: The National Conference of the Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States

Lawrence University, Appleton, Wisconsin, USA, 9-11 February 2012. Full documentation of the event is archived at http://blogs.lawrence.edu/seamus2012/.

Reviewed by Cory Kasprzyk
Bowling Green, Ohio, USA

SEAMUS 2012The Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States (SEAMUS) held its annual conference at Lawrence University on 9-11 February 2012.

Competently led by co-hosts Asha Srinivasan (Lawrence University) and Ed Martin (University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh), the three packed days featured 13 concerts, three paper sessions, and five installations. The participants included a varied community of composers and performers. The composers in attendance ranged from first-time attendees to well-known contributors to the field such as Jon Appleton, who was seen sporting an “Appleton” sweatshirt. Readers of the Computer Music Journal, likely familiar with SEAMUS, could anticipate yet another successful event that showcased the vibrant community of artists working within this medium.

While most attendees arrived to mild weather, quaint Appleton, Wisconsin presented a true Midwestern winter (i.e. heavy snow and wind) for the bulk of the event, forcing most of us inside to enjoy hot beverages from conference sponsor Copper Rock Coffee. The Lawrence Conservatory of Music, embedded within the University, proved to be a gracious, charitable host, yielding evident support from administration and faculty alike. Concerts were held within Harper Hall and Lawrence Memorial Chapel, all outfitted with loudspeakers donated by another conference sponsor, Genelec. Harper Hall offered an intimate setting with 5.1 diffusion, video, soloists, and chamber ensembles. Lawrence Memorial Chapel accommodated larger ensembles as well as eight-channel diffusion. Concerts were expertly planned and executed by the technical crew of composers on hand (Jason Bolte, Jay Batzner, Andrew Seager Cole, and John Chittum), whose tireless efforts were pivotal to this smoothly run conference.

With five installations present, a great variety was offered, including the Deep Listening Institute’s Adaptive Use Musical Instruments (AUMI) Open Station. Representative Jaclyn Heyen demonstrated AUMI, opening the minds of many with this powerful and flexible tool. Additionally, a broad range of paper sessions took place, ranging from the discussion of workflow in common software packages (e.g., Max/MSP) to physical modeling.

The 13 concerts programmed represented the range of electroacoustic music available today, exploring a large variety of technical and aesthetic viewpoints. As description of each work is beyond the scope of this commentary, mention of various highlights follows. The conference’s co-hosts, Srinivasan and Martin, each presented compelling work for instruments and live electronics. Srinivasan’s Keerthanata, skillfully performed by saxophonists Sara Kind and Jesse Dochnahl, expertly blended South Indian classical music with her own voice. Martin’s Swirling Sky, performed by pianist Jeri-Mae G. Astolfi, extended the piano’s harmonic possibilities, depicting individual moments and characters in a clear sky.

Other works incorporated chamber ensembles with fixed or live electronics. These included Douglas Geers’ Tremor Transducer, which built to a blended, captivating texture as the piece ended, as well as Christopher Chandler’s the resonance after…, which subtly utilized electronics to explore further the inherent features within his harmonies. The latter piece was this year’s second-prize winner in the SEAMUS/ASCAP Student Commission Competition.

Works for stereo and multichannel fixed media also contributed to the varied selection present at the conference. Many pieces stood out, including Thomas Dempster’s Contact Clusters, Andrew Babcock’s Imbroglio, and Scott A. Wyatt’s Arms of Peril. All three works presented an impressive sense of physicality that could not be overlooked. Rick Snow’s Labyrinth was deemed the unofficial crowd favorite in this medium, presenting metaphors to explore during many memorable gestures in what was a powerful work. Many other pieces included visual components, including Mikel Kuehn’s and Jean Detheux’s hauntingly beautiful …lilac shrieks and scarlet bellowings…. David Bird presented his inimitable work, Fields, virtually transporting the audience outdoors to hear the sound of two snare drums, 150 feet apart. A number of microphones, placed at distances based upon ratios of the harmonic series, helped craft this truly memorable piece.
Collaborations and unique instrumentations could also be found. Per Bloland’s Of Dust and Sand utilized the composer’s Electromagnetically-Prepared Piano device, performed by Nick Towns, to effectively explore new sonorities and performance practices on an old instrument. This piece also included saxophonist Sara Kind, who blended her instrument with the unique timbres through a series of multiphonics and also sang into her instrument. Jeff Herriott’s swarms of light in metal was incredibly beautiful, soft, and delicate. Trevor Saint skillfully played the glockenspiel in this work, slowly moving along with the electronics to leave the audience in suspense. Anne Claire Fassnacht’s and Lawton Hall’s Grattage: Baris Tunggal was performed by the composers along with members of Gamelan Cahaya Asri, satisfactorily adding to the repertoire with a work for gamelan gong kebyar and live electronics.

Many composers performed their own works, often yielding brilliant musical events. Joo Won Park’s Toccata was a playfully, hectic, impressive improvisation, directly viewed through his laptop’s live camera feed. Jon P. Bellona proved that one could be incredibly expressive, visually and aurally, with a single Wacom tablet in his work, AUU (And Uh Um). 2012 Allen Strange Award winner Jason Charney exaggerated strong aural gestures as he calmly operated his iPhone on stage during a performance of his piece Compass.
The many performers in attendance at the conference offered a great command of their instruments. Saxophonist Drew Ceccato explored the heights of altissimo in Robert Seaback’s fragments/frames (2011 SEAMUS/ASCAP Student Commission Competition Winner). Violinist Samantha George stood out in a number of performances, most notably in Timothy Harenda’s Absence. Julia Kay Jamieson curled around her harp during David Taddie’s Convergences, exhibiting great power and zeal. Pianist Keith Kirchoff and clarinetist David Wetzel split an entire concert of works, consistently offering commanding performances. Cellist Craig Hultgren also offered multiple performances at the conference that proved quite memorable.

Erin Lesser lived up to her reputation as a stellar flutist of modern repertoire. She was captivating in a number of performances, including the rousing, notable work Among Fireflies by Elainie Lillios. The group Due East (Greg Beyer, percussion, and Lesser, flute), performed Chet Udell’s Capoeirista, which summoned inspiration from Afro-Brazilian martial arts, executed by blending flute, percussion, and berimbau with the electroacoustic world. Conference attendees were treated to an impressive performance by Lawrence Conservatory sophomore trumpeter Marshall P. Yoes. His performance of Eli Fieldsteel’s Fractus I (2012 SEAMUS/ASCAP Student Commission Competition Winner) conjured the abilities of performers far older and more experienced.

At the close of the conference, the audience was clearly in awe of countertenor Paul J. Botelho’s vocal virtuosity as he joined Jon Appleton for a performance of the composer’s Die Herrlichkeit Loch in der Bundelung Bord. The event concluded in the Memorial Chapel with a multichannel work by George Lewis, 2012 SEAMUS Award Winner, entitled Ego Grew Lies. Those unable to attend this year’s conference can anticipate the forthcoming release from the SEAMUS CD Series. Representative content, selected by the conference attendees, will be included on this recording. Next year’s event will be hosted by J. Anthony Allen at the McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul, Minnesota.