Innovative Ensemble Combines Traditional Instruments with Electronic Music

H-CLEF, the Holy Cross Laptop Ensemble Federation, uses laptops, game controllers and other technology to create unique computerized sounds
July 14th, 2017 by 

A student repurposes a video game controller joystick to create electronic sounds as part of H-CLEF.
A student repurposes a video game controller joystick to create electronic sounds as part of H-CLEF. Photo by Tom Rettig

Sitting with perfect posture in Brooks Concert Hall, Marena Ella Minelli ’17 lifted a violin to her chin and began to play, releasing beautiful streams of music with her bow.

Moments later, she placed the string instrument on a chair, picked up a video game controller and toggled the joystick  producing an entirely different, but equally riveting, sound.

Minelli is a member of the Holy Cross Laptop Ensemble Federation, or H-CLEF, an unusual chamber group that juxtaposes everything classical and computerized. Laptops are propped on stands in place of sheet music. Hacked game controllers, like the one Minelli used, sit on amps. And electronic, other-worldly sounds float by stained-glass windows and echo through the high ceilings of the concert hall.

What exactly is going on?

Electronic Music and Sound Design

“Students are studying electronic music and sound design in an experiential environment,” says Chris Arrell, associate professor of music and associate chair of the music department. He started H-CLEF two years ago as the performance part of a coding music class. “They learn the science behind digital synthesis, or sound creation, and they code their own electronic synthesizers. They build the software, then they build the hardware to trigger the sound.”

 Members of H-CLEF work on a score for the 1920 German silent horror movie, “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” a chilling story of an insane hypnotist.

Members of H-CLEF work on a score for the 1920 German silent horror movie, “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” a chilling story of an insane hypnotist. Photo by Tom Rettig

That’s where the keyboards, cell phones and game controllers come in. Students “play” the sounds they have engineered in real time by tapping keys, pushing joysticks and otherwise instructing their devices when and how to emit sound. Together, they compose musical scores and perform, as Arrell suggests, a “natural extension of chamber music.”

“They’re not simply cuing up a track and hitting play,” he says. “Just like plucking a guitar string, these sounds are synthesized by human touch. They have to listen to each other while they’re playing, and they work together to write compositions. It’s kind of like a co-authored paper.”

Complementing — Not Replicating — Traditional Instruments

And while Arrell’s ensemble includes some classical instruments like the violin, an electric guitar and a banjo, the goal is not to replicate those sounds with electronic devices.

“A synthetic violin will never sound as good a real violin,” he says. “I don’t want to imitate acoustic instruments, because they already do what they do really well. My intent is to expand on the colors and the possibilities.”

 Student plays guitar during H-CLEF performance

The electronic sounds that the members of H-CLEF create are often paired with traditional instruments, like a guitar or violin, in the group’s performances. Photo by Tom Rettig

That’s exactly what drew the attention of Ben MacDougald ’19, a history major.

“Using the Macs, you can go beyond what a single instrument is capable of,” he says.

It’s also a way to enjoy the fun of making music without spending years learning how to play a classical instrument,” adds Bill Hamilton ’17, a biology major. While students without a music background still have to learn the fundamentals, there is an element of “instant gratification,” he says.

“I took the class because I’m thinking of double majoring in computer science and music,” says Zhiran Xu ’19. “It’s a combination I didn’t expect.”

This past spring, students wrote and performed the musical score for a 1920 German silent horror movie, called “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” a chilling story of an insane hypnotist.

“This (the film score) is a great representation of how computers are recognized as legitimate sources of music,” says James Tatar III ’17, a political science major. “It’s just another step of what’s possible in the evolution of music.”

Written by Rebecca Fater for the Summer 2017 issue of Holy Cross Magazine.


About Holy Cross Magazine

Holy Cross Magazine (HCM) is the quarterly alumni publication of the College of the Holy Cross. The award-winning publication is mailed to alumni and friends of the College and includes intriguing profiles, make-you-think features, alumni news, exclusive photos and more. Visit magazine.holycross.edu/about to contact HCM, submit alumni class notes, milestones, or letters to the editor.

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OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
11/18/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Hogan Center 320
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Holy Cross Student Investment Fund
11/18/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
Hogan Center 519
Members of HC SIF gain technical skills, experience and knowledge in the fields of...
See More >>


The Agency Club Meeting
11/18/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
STEIN 216
The Agency educates students interested in learning about the fields of public relations,...
See More >>


Philosophy Phriends Meeting
11/18/2019
Philosophy
SMITH 501
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Multicultural Peer Educators Meeting
11/18/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Hogan Center 320
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art Of Nepal
11/18/2019
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


Ciocca Center: Finance Club Meetings
11/19/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
STEIN 212
The Finance Club focuses on all facets of Wall Street, including sales and trading and investment...
See More >>


Student Integrity and Community Standards Open Forum
11/19/2019
Student Affairs
Hogan Center Ballroom & 328
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


RA Mentoring Program
11/19/2019
Residence Life & Housing
Hogan Center 408(09)
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art Of Nepal
11/19/2019
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
11/20/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Hogan Center 401
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Sales Club Meetings
11/20/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
STEIN 212
The Holy Cross Sales Group explore the sales and management industries of business and the...
See More >>


RHA Weekly Meeting
11/20/2019
Residence Life & Housing
Hogan Center 406(08)
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Women in Business Club Meeting
11/20/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
STEIN 216
The annual Holy Cross Women in Business Conference (11/2/19) is expanding to create a year-round...
See More >>


Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art Of Nepal
11/20/2019
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


Real Estate Club Meetings
11/21/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
STEIN 216
The Real Estate Club exposes students to a broad range of topics including residential, commercial,...
See More >>


HCSIF: TMT Sector Meeting
11/21/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
Hogan Center 405
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


HC Student Investment Fund Meeting
11/21/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
Hogan Center 405
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art Of Nepal
11/21/2019
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


MID Club
11/22/2019
Classics
FENW 420
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art Of Nepal
11/22/2019
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art of Nepal
11/23/2019
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art of Nepal
11/24/2019
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


Holy Cross Student Investment Fund
11/25/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
Hogan Center 519
Members of HC SIF gain technical skills, experience and knowledge in the fields of...
See More >>


The Agency Club Meeting
11/25/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
STEIN 216
The Agency educates students interested in learning about the fields of public relations,...
See More >>


Philosophy Phriends Meeting
11/25/2019
Philosophy
SMITH 501
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art Of Nepal
11/25/2019
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


Ciocca Center: Finance Club Meetings
11/26/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
STEIN 212
The Finance Club focuses on all facets of Wall Street, including sales and trading and investment...
See More >>


RA Mentoring Program
11/26/2019
Residence Life & Housing
Hogan Center 408(09)
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art Of Nepal
11/26/2019
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


Women in Business Club Meeting
11/27/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
STEIN 216
The annual Holy Cross Women in Business Conference (11/2/19) is expanding to create a year-round...
See More >>


Real Estate Club Meetings
11/28/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
STEIN 216
The Real Estate Club exposes students to a broad range of topics including residential, commercial,...
See More >>


Holy Cross Student Investment Fund
12/2/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
Hogan Center 519
Members of HC SIF gain technical skills, experience and knowledge in the fields of...
See More >>


The Agency Club Meeting
12/2/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
STEIN 216
The Agency educates students interested in learning about the fields of public relations,...
See More >>


Philosophy Phriends Meeting
12/2/2019
Philosophy
SMITH 501
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Multicultural Peer Educators Meeting
12/2/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Hogan Center 320
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art Of Nepal
12/2/2019
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


Ciocca Center: Finance Club Meetings
12/3/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
STEIN 212
The Finance Club focuses on all facets of Wall Street, including sales and trading and investment...
See More >>


CBL Dialogue Session
12/3/2019
J.D. Power Center for Liberal Arts in the World
Hogan Center 320
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


RA Mentoring Program
12/3/2019
Residence Life & Housing
Hogan Center 408(09)
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art Of Nepal
12/3/2019
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


Sales Club Meetings
12/4/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
STEIN 212
The Holy Cross Sales Group explore the sales and management industries of business and the...
See More >>


Women in Business Club Meeting
12/4/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
STEIN 216
The annual Holy Cross Women in Business Conference (11/2/19) is expanding to create a year-round...
See More >>


RHA Weekly Meeting
12/4/2019
Residence Life & Housing
Hogan Center 406(08)
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Venezuelan theologian Rafael Luciani on Pope Francis's vision for Latin America
12/4/2019
McFarland Center for Religion
SMITH Rehm Lib
Rafael Luciani, a leading Latin American theologian and associate professor of the practice...
See More >>


English Honors Midwinter Celebration
12/4/2019
English
Hogan Center Suite B/C - 4th Fl
Senior thesis writers in the English Department will present works-in-progress...
See More >>


Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art Of Nepal
12/4/2019
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


Real Estate Club Meetings
12/5/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
STEIN 216
The Real Estate Club exposes students to a broad range of topics including residential, commercial,...
See More >>


HCSIF: TMT Sector Meeting
12/5/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
Hogan Center 405
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


HC Student Investment Fund Meeting
12/5/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
Hogan Center 404
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art Of Nepal
12/5/2019
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


MID Club
12/6/2019
Classics
FENW 420
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art Of Nepal
12/6/2019
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art of Nepal
12/7/2019
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


Holy Cross Wind Ensemble Winter Concert
12/8/2019
Music
Hogan Center Ballroom & 328

See More >>


Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art of Nepal
12/8/2019
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


Holy Cross Student Investment Fund
12/9/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
Hogan Center 519
Members of HC SIF gain technical skills, experience and knowledge in the fields of...
See More >>


The Agency Club Meeting
12/9/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
STEIN 216
The Agency educates students interested in learning about the fields of public relations,...
See More >>


Philosophy Phriends Meeting
12/9/2019
Philosophy
SMITH 501
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art Of Nepal
12/9/2019
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


Ciocca Center: Finance Club Meetings
12/10/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
STEIN 212
The Finance Club focuses on all facets of Wall Street, including sales and trading and investment...
See More >>


RA Mentoring Program
12/10/2019
Residence Life & Housing
Hogan Center 408(09)
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art Of Nepal
12/10/2019
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


Women in Business Club Meeting
12/11/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
STEIN 216
The annual Holy Cross Women in Business Conference (11/2/19) is expanding to create a year-round...
See More >>


Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art Of Nepal
12/11/2019
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


Advent Festival of Lessons & Carols
12/12/2019
Featured
St Joseph Chapel St Joseph Chapel
Advent Festival of Lessons & Carols Holy Cross College Choir...
See More >>


Real Estate Club Meetings
12/12/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
STEIN 216
The Real Estate Club exposes students to a broad range of topics including residential, commercial,...
See More >>


HCSIF: TMT Sector Meeting
12/12/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
Hogan Center 405
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


HC Student Investment Fund Meeting
12/12/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
Hogan Center 404
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art Of Nepal
12/12/2019
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


MID Club
12/13/2019
Classics
FENW 420
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art Of Nepal
12/13/2019
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art of Nepal
12/14/2019
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


Philosophy Phriends Meeting
12/16/2019
Philosophy
SMITH 501
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
1/27/2020
Office of Multicultural Education
Hogan Center 401
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Multicultural Peer Educators Meeting
1/27/2020
Office of Multicultural Education
Hogan Center 320
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
1/29/2020
Office of Multicultural Education
Hogan Center 410
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Cabaret
1/30/2020
Featured
OKANE Fenwick Theatre
"Cabaret"Book by Joe MasteroffMusic by John KanderLyrics by Fred EbbThis celebrated...
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
2/3/2020
Office of Multicultural Education
Hogan Center 401
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
2/5/2020
Office of Multicultural Education
Hogan Center 401
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
2/10/2020
Office of Multicultural Education
Hogan Center 401
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Multicultural Peer Educators Meeting
2/10/2020
Office of Multicultural Education
Hogan Center 320
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
2/12/2020
Office of Multicultural Education
Hogan Center 401
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Manuscripts Hack-A-Thon
2/15/2020
Classics
Hogan Center 401
A one-day workshop for secondary school teachers and students to learn how to read...
See More >>


Manuscripts Hack-A-Thon
2/15/2020
Classics
Hogan Center 406(09)
A one-day workshop for secondary school teachers and students to learn how to read...
See More >>


Manuscripts Hack-A-Thon
2/15/2020
Classics
Hogan Center Suite B/C - 4th Fl
A one-day workshop for secondary school teachers and students to learn...
See More >>


Manuscripts Hack-A-Thon
2/15/2020
Classics
Hogan Center 402(03)
A one-day workshop for secondary school teachers and students to learn how to read...
See More >>


Manuscripts Hack-A-Thon
2/15/2020
Classics
Hogan Center 320
A one-day workshop for secondary school teachers and students to learn how to read...
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
2/17/2020
Office of Multicultural Education
Hogan Center 401
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
2/19/2020
Office of Multicultural Education
Hogan Center 401
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
2/24/2020
Office of Multicultural Education
Hogan Center 401
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Multicultural Peer Educators Meeting
2/24/2020
Office of Multicultural Education
Hogan Center 320
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


National Eating Disorder Awareness Screening Day
2/25/2020
Counseling Center
Hogan Center Lobby Table 2
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


National Eating Disorder Awareness Screening Day
2/25/2020
Counseling Center
Hogan Center Lobby Table 3
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


National Eating Disorder Awareness Screening Day
2/25/2020
Counseling Center
Hogan Center Lobby Table 4
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


National Eating Disorder Awareness Screening Day
2/25/2020
Counseling Center
Hogan Center Lobby Table 5
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
2/26/2020
Office of Multicultural Education
Hogan Center 401
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
3/9/2020
Office of Multicultural Education
Hogan Center 401
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Multicultural Peer Educators Meeting
3/9/2020
Office of Multicultural Education
Hogan Center 320
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
3/11/2020
Office of Multicultural Education
Hogan Center 401
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Night of the Living Museum Exhibit
3/23/2020
Office of Multicultural Education
Hogan Center Suite B/C - 4th Fl

See More >>


Lecture: Homeric Scholar Emily Wilson on War , Homecoming, Heroism, Truth
3/24/2020
McFarland Center for Religion
Kimball Hall Seelos Theater
Emily Wilson, the first woman to write an English translation of the Odyssey,...
See More >>


Women in Science Conference
3/28/2020
Biology
SMITHLABS 154
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Women in Science Conference
3/28/2020
Biology
SMITHLABS 155
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Women in Science Conference
3/28/2020
Biology
SMITHLABS SPILLANE
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Women in Science Conference
3/28/2020
Biology
SWORD Swords Atrium
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Classics Homerathon
4/20/2020
Classics
Hogan Center Outdoor Oval

See More >>


Holy Cross Concert Band Spring Concert
4/26/2020
Music
Hogan Center Ballroom & 328

See More >>

See All