A modest crowd showed up on Nov. 22 at the Smith Recital Hall for the Electronic Music Marathon. The School of Music and Dance concert showcased a variety of music and video put together by students of two San Diego State classes, Intro to Electro-Acoustic Music and Electro-Acoustic Music Compositions II. Broken into three sections, the three-hour show gave a unique preview to what aspiring music students have been up to this winter semester.
The intro to Electro-Acoustic Music students covered the first two sections of the marathon, each section lasting approximately an hour long. The first was dedicated to video clips and the second brought up musicians to the stage to perform their respective pieces. Finally, the last third presented works by students from Electro-Acoustic Music Compositions II. A couple of performances opened up the final section while video works screened until the end of the concert.
The show title might suggest a relay of synthesizers and GarageBand-produced beats for some. And sure enough, laptops and MIDI controllers were used by a few students to either provide effects or trigger saved sounds. Compositions II student Brendan Prednis recreated an edgy drum-and-bass beat using his MIDI controller, twiddling the knobs as the production went on.
However, the concert represented a broader scope of electronic music than the popular perception of the field. Of course, acoustic instruments such as guitars, drums and saxophone also played key to the pieces. Intro student Griffin Powdrell improvised with his sax while Curtis Dorsey drummed a clean beat. And some ventured outside of traditional beat music. Joe O’ Quinn warped his guitar riffs to weave a slick, psychedelic rock. Appropriately, he brought a lava lamp with his setup to put on the right mood.
Electronic music gets a rep as mood music as well, often tucked in the background to provoke a specific feeling in the viewer. So what better to showcase its evocative qualities than a video production? Videos emphasized the atmospheric aspects of their pieces by syncing them with scenic visuals or dramatic shorts. An acoustic guitar recording was set to a pastoral view out of a train window for one production, and an enticing score tracked a montage of changing phases of nature in another.
A well-executed combination of unique arrangements and a thrilling form of delivery made the best moments of the Electronic Music Marathon. One complaint of electronic music is that the form comes across too impersonal and synthetic. Whether performance or video, the standout works livened up electro-acoustic music as an organic and spontaneous work of art. The dramatic presentations certainly impressed, but the more memorable pieces played with humor and chance.
It’s also great to be reminded that the interesting music are created by actual people — the talented music students of SDSU. Before every presentation, the host read a short description pertaining to the piece as explained by the artists themselves. Some shared how the piece came out, while others invited the audience to have its own interpretation. From the personal music to the lively performers, the Electronic Music Marathon was everything but faceless.
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