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.

| More

Comments are closed.

12/04/18 Holy Cross Religious Studies Professor Is Sought-After Expert on New Religious Movements
11/30/18 Holy Cross Earns High Marks for Dining Services
11/30/18 Holy Cross Classics Professor Discusses Evolving Military Rations With HISTORY
11/20/18 Holy Cross Professor’s Caffeine Research Highlighted in the Media
See All

The Newar Craftsmen of Kathmandu Valley: Objects of Devotion from Nepal
12/10/2018
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery
James A. Giambrone, an independent scholar and long-time resident of...
See More >>


The Newar Craftsmen of Kathmandu Valley: Objects of Devotion from Nepal
12/11/2018
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery
James A. Giambrone, an independent scholar and long-time resident of...
See More >>


The Newar Craftsmen of Kathmandu Valley: Objects of Devotion from Nepal
12/12/2018
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery
James A. Giambrone, an independent scholar and long-time resident of...
See More >>


The Newar Craftsmen of Kathmandu Valley: Objects of Devotion from Nepal
12/13/2018
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery
James A. Giambrone, an independent scholar and long-time resident of...
See More >>


The Newar Craftsmen of Kathmandu Valley: Objects of Devotion from Nepal
12/14/2018
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery
James A. Giambrone, an independent scholar and long-time resident of...
See More >>


The Newar Craftsmen of Kathmandu Valley: Objects of Devotion from Nepal
12/15/2018
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery
James A. Giambrone, an independent scholar and long-time resident of...
See More >>


Multi-faith Community Prayer Day
1/21/2019
Featured
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 2
Multi-Faith Prayer Service, Tuesday, January 22, 2019 at...
See More >>


MPE Meeting
1/28/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 406(08)
Open to the Public
See More >>


MLK Book Read: Session 1
1/28/2019
Office of Diversity and Inclusion
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Suite A - 4th Fl
We are excited to announce the fourth annual MLK Winter...
See More >>


Crusader Internship Fund Orientation Session
1/28/2019
Center for Career Development
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 409
Come to the Crusader Internship Fund Orientation to learn all the details...
See More >>


Little Women: The Musical
1/28/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
LOBBY TABLE - Little WomenBook by Allan Knee, based on the...
See More >>


Little Women: The Musical
1/29/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
LOBBY TABLE - Little WomenBook by Allan Knee, based on the...
See More >>


MLK Book Read: Session 2
1/29/2019
Office of Diversity and Inclusion
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Suite A - 4th Fl
We are excited to announce the fourth annual MLK Winter...
See More >>


MLK Book Read: Session 3
1/30/2019
Office of Diversity and Inclusion
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Suite A - 4th Fl
We are excited to announce the fourth annual MLK Winter...
See More >>


Crusader Internship Fund Wait List Info Session
1/30/2019
Center for Career Development
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 401
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Little Women: The Musical
1/30/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
LOBBY TABLE - Little WomenBook by Allan Knee, based on the...
See More >>


Little Women
1/31/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Little Women Book by Allan Knee, based on the novel by Louisa May AlcottMusic...
See More >>


Lecture: Speaker - Jill Lepore
1/31/2019
McFarland Center for Religion
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Ballroom & 328
Jill Lepore is the David Woods Kemper ’41...
See More >>


Little Women: The Musical
1/31/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
LOBBY TABLE - Little WomenBook by Allan Knee, based on the...
See More >>


Little Women
2/1/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Little Women Book by Allan Knee, based on the novel by Louisa May AlcottMusic...
See More >>


Little Women
2/2/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Little Women Book by Allan Knee, based on the novel by Louisa May AlcottMusic...
See More >>


Little Women
2/3/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Little WomenBook by Allan Knee, based on the novel by Louisa May AlcottMusic...
See More >>


MLK Book Read: Session 4
2/4/2019
Office of Diversity and Inclusion
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Suite A - 4th Fl
We are excited to announce the fourth annual MLK Winter...
See More >>


Little Women: The Musical
2/4/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
LOBBY TABLE - Little WomenBook by Allan Knee, based on the...
See More >>


Little Women: The Musical
2/5/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
LOBBY TABLE - Little WomenBook by Allan Knee, based on the...
See More >>


Crusader Internship Fund Orientation Session
2/5/2019
Center for Career Development
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 403
Come to the Crusader Internship Fund Orientation to learn all the details...
See More >>


Little Women: The Musical
2/6/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
LOBBY TABLE - Little WomenBook by Allan Knee, based on the...
See More >>


Little Women
2/7/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Little Women Book by Allan Knee, based on the novel by Louisa May AlcottMusic...
See More >>


Little Women: The Musical
2/7/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
LOBBY TABLE - Little WomenBook by Allan Knee, based on the...
See More >>


Little Women
2/8/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Little Women Book by Allan Knee, based on the novel by Louisa May AlcottMusic...
See More >>


Little Women: The Musical
2/8/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
LOBBY TABLE - Little WomenBook by Allan Knee, based on the...
See More >>


Little Women
2/9/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Little Women Book by Allan Knee, based on the novel by Louisa May AlcottMusic...
See More >>


Little Women
2/10/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Little WomenBook by Allan Knee, based on the novel by Louisa May AlcottMusic...
See More >>


MPE Meeting
2/11/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 406(08)
Open to the Public
See More >>


Faculty Conversation Series-175th Anniversary
2/13/2019
175th Anniversary
Dinand Library Faculty Room
Subject: Mentoring: Spiritual Director as Model/MetaphorFaculty Conversation...
See More >>


Mimecast Info Table
2/19/2019
Center for Career Development Open to Campus Community Only Categories: Center for Career Development
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 5
Stop by the Mimecast Info Table speak to representatives...
See More >>


MPE Meeting
2/25/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 402(03)
Open to the Public
See More >>


Lecture: Samuel Moyn on the Christian Invention of Human Dignity
2/26/2019
McFarland Center for Religion
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
Samuel Moyn, professor of law and history at Yale University,...
See More >>


MPE Meeting
3/11/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 304(05)
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


MPE Meeting
3/11/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Suite B/C - 4th Fl
Open to the Public
See More >>


The Living Museum Exhibit
3/12/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Suite B/C - 4th Fl
Open to the Public
See More >>


Faculty Conversation Series-175th Anniversary
3/14/2019
175th Anniversary
Dinand Library Faculty Room
Subject: EloquenceFaculty Conversation Series on Ignatian Pedagogy. The...
See More >>


Holy Cross College Choir Concert
3/15/2019
Music
St Joseph Memorial Chapel St Joseph Chapel
The Holy Cross Choirs are back from their tour down the East...
See More >>


Organ concert - Benjamin Alard
3/17/2019
Music
St Joseph Memorial Chapel St Joseph Chapel
Benjamin Alard, OrganistChurch: Saint-Louis-en-Île,...
See More >>


MPE Meeting
3/25/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 304(05)
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


MPE Meeting
3/25/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Suite B/C - 4th Fl
Open to the Public
See More >>


175th Jesuits and Music Concert
3/29/2019
Music
St Joseph Memorial Chapel St Joseph Chapel
Many Holy Cross musical ensembles and performers will join...
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/1/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
See More >>


53rd Annual Hanify-Howland Lecture
4/2/2019
Hanify-Howland Memorial Lecture
Holy Cross Campus
The 53rd annual Hanify-Howland Memorial Lecture will be held April 2, 2019 in the...
See More >>


Science Engineering & Technology Networking Night
4/2/2019
Mathematics and Computer Science
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 406
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/2/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/3/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/4/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Once in a Lifetime By George S. Kaufman and Moss HartApril 4-6 &...
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/4/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/5/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Once in a Lifetime By George S. Kaufman and Moss HartApril 4-6 &...
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/5/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/6/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Once in a Lifetime By George S. Kaufman and Moss HartApril 4-6 &...
See More >>


COPE Well Week
4/8/2019
Counseling Center
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 402(03)
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


MPE Meeting
4/8/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 304(05)
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


MPE Meeting
4/8/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Suite B/C - 4th Fl
Open to the Public
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/8/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 2
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
See More >>


COPE Well Week
4/9/2019
Counseling Center
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 402(03)
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/9/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 2
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
See More >>


COPE Well Week
4/10/2019
Counseling Center
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 401
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/10/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 2
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/11/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Once in a Lifetime By George S. Kaufman and Moss HartApril 4-6 &...
See More >>


COPE Well Week
4/11/2019
Counseling Center
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 304(05)
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/11/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 2
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/12/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Once in a Lifetime By George S. Kaufman and Moss HartApril 4-6 &...
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/12/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 2
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/13/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Once in a Lifetime By George S. Kaufman and Moss HartApril 4-6 &...
See More >>


Academic Conference
4/24/2019
Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs
O'Neil Hall 112
Open to the Public
See More >>


Academic Conference
4/24/2019
Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs
Smith Laboratories 154
Open to the Public
See More >>


Academic Conference
4/24/2019
Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs
Haberlin Hall 219
Open to the Public
See More >>


Academic Conference
4/24/2019
Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs
Smith Laboratories 155
Open to the Public
See More >>


Holy Cross College Choir Concert
4/27/2019
Music
St Joseph Memorial Chapel St Joseph Chapel
Giacomo Carissimi was the first great composer of oratorios,...
See More >>


Chapel Artist Series Organ Concert - Pavel Kohout
4/28/2019
Music
St Joseph Memorial Chapel St Joseph Chapel
Pavel Kohout, OrganistInternational Concert Organist, Prague,...
See More >>


MPE Meeting
4/29/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 406(09)
Open to the Public
See More >>


Dance Concert
5/1/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Dance ConcertMay 1 at 7:00 PM and 9:00 PMFenwick Theatre – 2nd...
See More >>


175th Anniversary Scavenger Hunt
5/17/2019
Featured Employee
Outdoor starting at Hogan
This Scavenger Hunt is being put on by the Mission and Identity Subcommittee...
See More >>

See All