Jacob Elliott played French horn throughout high school. He excelled at the instrument, performing in numerous chamber ensemble concerts around Indianapolis.
Traditionally, he was seated next to other brass players, but as a senior studying music and arts technology at IUPUI, Elliott – and his horn – sits next to an electric guitarist, a harpist and an electric piano player while digital samples pipe over a sound system in the lower level of the Informatics and Communications Technology Complex. The eclectic instrumentation fuels another rehearsal of Electro-Acoustic Ensemble, one of the Department of Music and Arts Technology’s performing groups.
“That’s one of the main aspects of Electro-Acoustic: to fit in all of these instruments you would normally not see together,” Elliott explained, “and make them work together in a heavily technologically experimental-based setting.”
Description of the following video:
Transcript for Electro-Acoustic Ensemble
[Video: Close-up looking through the strings of a harp, panning out to show student musicians practicing]
[Title appears in upper-left corner: IUPUI presents]
[Robin Cox appears onscreen. Title appears: Robin Cox, Assistant professor of music and arts technology]
[Cox speaks: Almost all the content we ever do is created – composed – by student or faculty members of IUPUI. So, in total, that makes us a fairly unique group and gives for an awful lot of problem-solving and logistical challenges to learn from.]
[Video: A guitarist picks a few notes.]
[Student Cameron Wilson appears on screen, sitting at a piano. Title appears: Cameron Wilson, Freshman, music and arts technology]
[Wilson speaks: There’s much more of a technological aspect to it when compared to big band performances and especially within this ensemble it’s a whole new world for me. So, when speaking of performance, I definitely would have to … it’s a new atmosphere, really.]
[Video: A male student plays the French horn at practice; the camera pans over to a female student plucking a harp.]
[Trevor Rood appears on screen. Title appears: Trevor Rood, Graduate student, media arts and science]
[Rood speaks: I’ve never been in an ensemble that does these kinds of experimental pieces like this. And it gives you something that’s really cool to play and feels cool to perform, because you know the audience is going to really enjoy something new.]
[Video: A female student plays the flute and Rood plays the keyboard; shot pans out to reveal another female student as she begins singing and then tightens to a close-up on her.]
[Video: Screen fades to black as the music continues]
[Title appears: IUPUI, Fulfilling the promise, iupui.edu]
[End of transcript]
The blending of traditional acoustic instruments like the horn, harp and flute is manipulated through sound engineering. Effects are added through microphones on each instrument. It’s a mix of musical performance prowess with the possibilities of studio and live board mixing. The sound engineer behind the board is another part of the band. Almost all of the pieces performed are composed in class, too.
Electro-Acoustic Ensemble will play at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 19, in Room 450 in the Campus Center. The show is free.
Electro-Acoustic’s concerts also feature dramatic lighting and video elements. The original works are moody and, at times, experimental. The end result is a feast for the senses.
“In the last year, I’ve done a lot more writing for the group than playing, but they usually try to fit me in somewhere,” Elliott said. “Usually, they’ll record me and digitally process my sound with delay or distortion through it.
“I really like this kind of music. My instrument might not fit sometimes, but the way I write and what I do merges well with it.”
Robin Cox, an assistant professor of music and arts technology, said all the musicians are learning their way with mixing boards and other modern technologies of audio production, both for live settings and the studio. Students are responsible for the lighting and video design at Electro-Acoustic concerts as well.
“It gives us a lot of problem-solving and logistical challenges to learn from,” said Cox, who will have two of his works performed Tuesday.
Many of those challenges come on show night, but Cox wouldn’t have it any other way. Many of his students will work at live performance venues after graduation.
“It’s dealing with those day-of-show stresses of making sure every one of those mic lines, every one of those speakers, and every one of those lights and video projectors are all working in sync with each other under the pressure of the show being only a few hours away,” Cox said. “It’s the professionalism to do all of this under time constraints. They need the maturity and the knowledge base to apply in the moment and to get it right.
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“It’s the entire audience witnessing what does – or doesn’t – work that night.”
The music and arts technology ensembles are part of classes. The Electro-Acoustic course and ensemble is unique in academia, with its combination of electronic and acoustic instruments in the context of notated music by the department’s own students and faculty, amplification, digital processing, bone-conduction earphone monitoring, integrated video, and theatrical lighting design, Cox said.
Vocals are a newer addition to the Electro-Acoustic Ensemble. Coming from a choir background, Savannah Craven, a junior in music and arts technology, lends her soaring voice to most of the pieces. Craven’s vocals are often manipulated by the sound engineer with reverb or even distortion to fit the song.
“They almost don’t know what to do with me just yet,” Craven said with a smile. “It’s very different, and I’m excited about it. It incorporates modern music that is so affected by technology. It’s interesting to see it happening in a live setting.”