The Sideband Laptop Ensemble will perform at the College of the Holy Cross on Sunday, Nov. 2 at 3 p.m. in Brooks Concert Hall. Sideband is a professional laptop ensemble based in New York created by former members of PLOrk, the Princeton Laptop Ensemble, which was the first group of its kind in the United States. Using specially designed, custom made hemispherical speakers and a fleet of laptops, Sideband turns each member of its ensemble into an island of sound, returning a sense of acoustics and space to the normally flat world of electronic music. Ranging from solos and duos to sextets and beyond, Sideband is an evolving project that inspires composers, performers and audience members to reevaluate the role of computers in music. This event is co-sponsored by Arts Transcending Borders and the music department.
This new medium of music is also thriving within the Holy Cross campus. Opening for Sideband will be Holy Cross’ own H-CLEf (Holy Cross Laptop Ensemble). H-CLEf which is comprised of 10 students is the brain child of Chris Arrell, assistant professor of music at the College. H-CLEf is the creative application of a new course he designed at the College titled Composing with Computers. “The class is interested in solving the problem of how laptops can be used in unconventional ways to create a collaborative chamber music ensemble,” explains Arrell. “Through the use of algorithmic programming languages, sound synthesis, game controllers, and real-time coding, students from a variety of majors combine their interest in music with other fields (computer science, mathematics, acoustics, film) to explore through innovative means the possibilities for music making and live performance that personal computers have only recently made possible.”
The students that take Arrell’s class and are members of H-CLEf have a variety of musical and academic backgrounds but all share similar enthusiasm for this class and the opportunity be a part of H-CLEf. Michele Doherty ’15, a mathematics major with a physics minor at Holy Cross shares, “I am very interested in applying my background in math and physics to music, something I love. It’s really interesting to be able to work with MAX/MSP to build algorithms that tell our computers how to process and create sound, especially when we program and incorporate our Gametrak controllers to work with the software as well. These controllers manipulate the output sounds by registering our movements which change the input data, rather than us directly changing the input data in the software.”
Anthony Belmonte ’15, a music major and in the premedical program, who has been playing drums since he was young, was asked how the transition from using traditional instruments to this new medium involving technology was unique, Belmonte says, “As a music major I found the transition to this style to be surprisingly fluid. At the end of the day, music is a complex language similar to the one we speak, and the one we use in the course is just another means of expressing creativity and ideas with others. It is all related one way or another and it has been a great experience to delve into this growing world of laptop music.”
Arrell not only teaches this technology but utilized MAX software to compose his own piece titled “Of Three Minds” and was recently awarded the distinguished Ettelson Composer Award for this contribution. Arrell was one of two winners chosen from more than 200 applicants. “Of Three Minds” is a trio scored for vocalist, pianist, and laptop operator who, during a live performance, alters and augments the timbres, rhythms, and notes of the musicians with the aid of an interactive computer application. Arrell has also received a special invitation to perform in November at Alte Schmiede in Vienna, Austria.
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