Arts & Life

New Music Ensemble performs final concert of fall 2020 despite the challenges of a virtual semester

Bob Cole Conservatory of Music’s New Music Ensemble presented “Self-Titled,” their final performance of the semester live on YouTube on Dec. 12.

The hour long performance featured nine pieces ranging from haunting sounds of violins from “Tragedy of the Commons” by member John Graves to the whimsical, light flute in “Prelude” by member Carlos Martinez Zepada. 

Director and first-year graduate student Cameron Johnston said that while the title for this performance didn’t have any specific meaning, he wanted to give the concert a name out of respect for Alan Shockley, the former director of New Music Ensemble who died in September. Shockley, Johnston said, always named the ensemble’s concerts. 

The themes centering many of the pieces performed at the virtual show touched on the ensemble member’s experiences with creating and performing music amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Johnston explained that the New Music Ensemble has faced this challenge since the transition to virtual learning, citing how performing music via Zoom is met with delays, making it difficult to stay in-time with their peers. 

“Most of the pieces we performed this semester have been improvisation-based with nothing time accurate,” Johnston said.  

Johnston said that the New Music Ensemble has utilized the audio communication service Cleanfeed to make up for the fact that when on Zoom the quality of the audio is reduced. 

Viewers in the YouTube chat complimented and cheered the ensemble on throughout the night, but seemed particularly impressed by Ensemble Mosaics No. 1, calling it an “experience” and “spooky” due to it’s at-times unnerving mix of sounds, from voices of people distorted to unintelligible sounds to a soft chime of a music box playing in the background.

Ryan McGregor, fourth-year music composition major and composer of Ensemble Mosaics No. 1, said in an email that the piece’s original concept centered around sound and how to manipulate sound through tape machines or audio effects.

“The idea was to hand the ensemble a score which comprised of prompts to help guide them in making their own field recordings,” McGregor said, explaining that he included prompts such as having ensemble members find a quiet space to search for a sound or recite a poem.

McGregor said that he took those recordings and arranged them into the final piece, the title of it reflective of his desire to do more ensemble mosaics.

“Almost all of the participants gave me a recording of spoken word, so that became one of the compositional ‘themes,’ and the music box theme sorta bookends the whole thing, though it’s very abstracted in the beginning,” McGregor said. “It’s a fun way of making music, which I plan to keep exploring. I particularly love the idea of getting an ensemble involved and having raw material that reflects each member’s personality and unique experience.”

Johnston said that he originally planned on having one concert this semester, and instead, New Music Ensemble worked to perform three concerts. He added that he was also appreciative of Long Beach State alumni David García Saldaña’s help with streaming and recording the concerts.

“I am so proud of the ensemble this semester,” Johnston said. “It has been a difficult semester for many reasons, but despite that, I think we were still very successful.”

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