New Music + Technology Festival showcases faculty and student innovation at the Cube | VTx

The School of Performing Arts, the Moss Arts Center, and the Institute of Creativity, Arts, and Technology are collaborating for the New Music + Technology Festival Dec. 5-7 at the Cube. The three-night concert series showcases experimental music from students, faculty, and guest performers across artistic and technological mediums.

Kyle Hutchins, a School of Performing Arts faculty member, will perform in addition to acting as the festival’s director. “As the director of the festival, I’m learning about, curating, and organizing performances for many kinds of settings beyond my primary instrument,” Hutchins said. “This work is interesting to me because it gives me new ideas and enables me to make new connections with composers and performers that I may collaborate with in the future.”

The piece in which he is involved will be performed on the first night of the festival and is “a large-scale work by Virginia Tech composition faculty member Tiffany M. Skidmore called “The William Blake Cycle: Unseen, Unbodièd, Unknown.” This 70-minute piece is an experimental electro acoustic instrumental opera that prominently features the saxophone, 134.2-channel spatial audio, 360-degree video projections, theatrical staging, and costumes, with thematic concepts of “nonbinary gender identity, sexual politics, and gender stereotypes,” Hutchins said.

It will be directed by School of Performing Arts’ faculty member Amanda J. Nelson.

The second night of the festival features the student group L2Ork, the Linux laptop orchestra directed by Ivica Ico Bukvic, director of Creativity + Innovation transdisciplinary community and the individualized Ph.D. program in human-centered design at the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology and a professor of music.

Tyler Johnson, a performer and computer science major, said L2Ork uses “software and external devices on Linux to generate sound. This means we can control the sounds by moving our arms or typing.”

The student musicians will perform a piece in conjunction with an Argentinian cohort by telematic communication, which is a computational technology that allows the two physically distant groups to transmit and receive musical information. What makes this collaboration particularly challenging is the precise beat that needs to be performed in sync across two locations thousands of miles apart. For this purpose, the ensemble will use its own custom software named L2Ork Tweeter.

“What our combined groups have managed to create is something really special, and I’m glad that we can present it in-person in the Cube along with our collaborators, who will be performing their parts remotely from Argentina. … Their contributions to the piece have been invaluable, and the collaborative process has gone pretty smoothly, other than a few time-zone mishaps,” said Jacob Alan Smith, a junior studying music technology and music composition.

The piece itself, called “Transcontinental Grapevine,” a riff on “Grapevine,” a popular ambient house music track by musical groups Lane 8 and Elderbrook.

“In today’s digital world, technology has become an ever-present force in our lives, so I think it’s only natural to try to harness its power for artistic purposes,” Smith said. “I myself am particularly interested in how technology can enhance modern music composition and performance practice, including creating performing ensembles like L2Ork that work exclusively with digital sound, or enhancing acoustic instrumental composition by using Max patches and real-time audio manipulation.”

The second night of the festival also will feature the Virginia Tech Percussion Ensemble performing “A Man With A Gun Lives Here” by Steven Snowden and a world premiere of Juhi Bansal‘s “Grief,” commissioned for the Jessie S. Yee Memorial Commission and performed by the Virginia Tech Faculty Chamber Ensemble featuring Elizabeth Lantz, Hutchins, Yevgeny Dokshansky, John Irrera, Molly Wilkens-Reed, Alan Weinstein, Annie Stevens, Ariana Wyatt, Charles Nichols, and Derek ShapiroTed Moore, also a School of Performing Arts faculty member, will perform a piece he wrote titled “still motion.”

The third evening of the festival will feature award-winning violinist Sarah Plum performing a number of solo pieces. Praised as “both an intrepid new music champion and a violin virtuoso” by Textura music magazine, Plum has had a prolific career advocating for new music, commissioning composers, and bringing contemporary music to a wider audience. 

Of the festival as a whole, Hutchins said he feels “very fortunate at Virginia Tech to have access to the unique performance space for the festival in the Cube. There are very few spaces that can rival this room in its technological capabilities, and many of the pieces we are presenting at the festival are made specifically for this venue and are at the cutting edge of what is possible in musical performance.”

Find information about the festival, including links for free reservations, here. All performances are at the Cube at the Moss Arts Center. All events are free and open to the public. Seating is limited. 

If you are an individual with a disability and desire an accommodation, please contact Susan Sanders at least 10 days prior to the event.

Written by Liz Gray, a graduate student in arts leadership in the School of Performing Arts