Signal Flow is a yearly weekend-long festival for the graduate music students of Mills to showcase their work. In the tradition of Mills’ visionary musical history, this year’s festival was a colorful weekend celebrating the array of talents within the department.
Beginning Thursday night, March 12, the festival continued through to the following Sunday afternoon. Though mostly comprised of live performances, there were also many installations around campus and pieces to showcase sound and visual design work.
Most impressive overall this year was the great amount of energy provided by an enormous group effort. First-year MFA student Zeina Nasr said, “…it’s a beautiful thing, making music with and for each other.”
Every distinctive character pulled together in collaboration for the sake of another’s piece of music, which, she also said, “made me feel a great deal closer to everyone in the department.”
All aspects of the festival were a fascinating look into the minds of all the musicians involved-composers, technicians, and performers alike.
“Each piece communicated the unabashed ‘core’ of each composer,” Nasr said. “Everything seemed to represent the idiosyncratic identity of its creator.”
Friday night’s performances truly represented differing musical thought among the students. The first piece, Pulses by Cole Ingraham, was subtle and reverberant.
As the title implies, Ingraham’s composition explored the movement of interlocking layers as produced by different stringed instruments, including one built by the composer. Ingraham’s pentachord is an instrument of the “long-string” family, employing five long strings to be bowed for colorful, harmonic tones.
To shift the attention to a much different frequency, Chad McKinney presented Galaxy 3C 279, created with SuperCollider synthesis. SuperCollider is a computer programming language that produces very loud, relentless works, apparently. (McKinney’s twin brother, Curtis, also presented a SuperCollider composition, when snake eats its tail, the following evening much in the same style.)
As McKinney’s concert notes explained, the piece was “a galaxy which contains an optically violent variable quasar. This object was the first quasar known to exhibit apparent superluminal motion.”
Whatever that is, the piece certainly was a huge force to be met with.
And then it was time for something completely different: a haunting and poetic performance by first-year MFA Annie Lewandowski. Murder Ballads and Redemption Songs was a set of songs sung by Lewandowski and shrewdly orchestrated with guitar, upright bass and percussion.
Songwriting has not lately been much represented in the music department, and it was a refreshing variation of tone. Lewandowski spoke too of Mills’ collection of musical natures: “It was great being situated in the program where I followed Chad’s loud and intense SuperCollider set and preceded Lana’s beautiful Hit Parade improvisation. Everyone is making such great work!”
Svetlana (“Lana”) Voronina, a spritely first-year MFA, proceeded with a flowing improvisation on the piano, accompanied by her personifications of Elizabeth Taylor, Log Lady and Beulah Baker. As these intriguing characters, Voronina pulled delicate, billowing sounds from the piano.
Wildwoman Alexandra Buschman then turned the tone again in presenting her thesis Matilde, making for the most dramatic set of Signal Flow 2009. Nine segments explored various personality types through stream-of-consciousness and improvisation. At times cautious and spare, other times ridiculous and nonsensical, Buschman’s creativity burst with unabashed energy. Notable was the breakout vocal premiere of Elise Cumberland, an undergraduate electronic music major. It was certainly time she stepped away from the mixing board and into the limelight.
To cap off Friday’s concert, first-year MFA Seth Horvitz presented four Studies for Piano, performed not by Horvitz himself but by a Yamaha Disklavier piano, which he had programmed to play on its own. The Disklavier was rolled onto the stage and a projector soon displayed its keyboard for the audience to watch its performance.
Horvitz explained, “The four pieces presented in this program explore aspects of time, space, scale and musical perception through the systematic transformation of simple motives.” It was indeed an entrancing production.
With great regret, it isn’t possible to represent each piece of Signal Flow 2009. Congratulations to all involved, and in the celebratory words of music department head Fred Frith, “Onwards and upwards!”