Visiting artist – Curtis Roads

Curtis Roads performing in LASALLE
Curtis Roads performing in LASALLE

A visiting artist by the name of Curtis Roads came to my school last week to give a talk and perform a concert. He is an electronic music artist, being the first to implement granular sound processing in the digital domain, a method described as treating music like little grains of rice and composing with these grains of rice. It was the first time I was exposed to this kind of sound. The accompanying visuals by his partner Brian O’Reilly were also one of a kind – sort of like a visual stream of consciousness, a cacophony of haphazard patterns, or a whirl of jumpy randomness that loosely followed the sounds, somewhat MTV like.

Personally I could not understand nor appreciate his kind of music but someone from the music technology department explained to me how difficult and time consuming a process granular synthesis was, and that it was a unique approach to sound.

More interesting to me however, was the genre of electronic music itself. Curtis Roads was apparently once a student of Iannis Xenakis, a Greek composer, and architect-engineer who collaborated with Le Corbusier for the Philips pavilion at Expo 58. He was very influential in musical thought in the 20th century, applying mathematics, physics and statistics to music composition.

And then there is Edgard Varese, the composer of the famous Poeme Electronique which premiered at the Expo 58. The Wikipedia entry describes him thus

Varèse’s music emphasizes timbre and rhythm. He was the inventor of the term “organized sound”, a phrase meaning that certain timbres and rhythms can be grouped together, sublimating into a whole new definition of music. Although his complete surviving works only last about three hours, he has been recognised as an influence by several major composers of the late 20th century. His use of new instruments and electronic resources led to his being known as the “Father of Electronic Music” while Henry Miller described him as “The stratospheric Colossus of Sound”.

Edgard Varese was an influence on Iannis Xenakis and many other artists like Frank Zappa. I like how all these electronic artists push the boundaries of the perception of music. One feature of good art, in my opinion, is that it is able to innovate existing forms of expression and create new ones.

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