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Oct. 27, 2004

 

U-M pond becomes scene of sculpture

ANN ARBOR, MICH.—Eleven years of cross-discipline work and experimentation comes to fruition when Stephen Rush and the University of Michigan's Digital Music Ensemble bring Gypsy Pond Music to U-M's North Campus Nov. 5-11.

This free, computerized concert at the School of Music Pond, at the corner of Bonisteel and Murfin streets on U-M's North Campus, runs from 10 a.m.-10 p.m. each day.

Students from music, art, engineering and dance make up the Digital Music Ensemble (DME) directed by Rush, an associate professor in the School of Music and a composer holding a position that includes music composition, technology, dance and art. Rush's students work to collaborate in the creation of new work, performing innovative music/art works from the past, which have been largely ignored by mainstream academe.

This year's concert of music and a floating sculpture on the pond includes an audio installation involving algorithmically conceived/articulated computer music. It is based on the element of confusion and error found in labyrinths such as in the Chartres Cathedral labyrinth, full of "double-backs" and "dead ends" meant to inform the penitent soul searching for guidance to "let go and let God."

"The students were impressed with the fact that while the 'goal' may be perfectly obvious, our distractions keep us from the pursuit of even the most obvious objectives,” Rush said. “They were also impressed with the 'Straight Path' in Islam, and even the 'One Way' in Christianity. There is a goal. We just have to go through the maze to get to it, accept the distractions, and focus on the goal."

Rush's students are encouraged to realize their artistic goals by often utilizing unconventional means. Students in the Digital Music Ensemble have used:

• Touch sensors (with dancers triggering sound and light).
• Light sensors (using sticks that glow to play music).
• Alternative controllers (the Nintendo Power Glove rewired to play music or infra-red garage door openers rigged to make sound.
• Dancer-played mercury switches (triggering music).
• New sculptures playing music ("Wrenchophones", with PVC plumbing, wrenches, doorbells and microcontrollers).

The DME has given performances of varying content and approach and has achieved a remarkable reputation in just over a decade, performing at neighboring institutions, festivals and abroad. One of the high watermarks in DME's short career came in 1999 with performances in Berlin's experimental café, the Schmalzwald, as well as presentations/performances and exhibits at the Aurreale Festival in Baitz, Germany.

The DME recently premiered works by legendary composers Philip Glass and LaMonte Young, performed with Pauline Oliveros and recorded with "Blue" Gene Tyranny.

Rush uses an open-ended approach with his students, starting with meaning—or inherent meaning when challenged—leading to unpredictable outcomes, usually with high-end technology as a means to accomplish the artistic aims. The risk of failure is extremely high, especially working with unproven technology.

Yet, Rush said, "the students are rewarded with a deeper search for truth and beauty than is most commonly afforded them in ‘content-laden’ coursework."

This process of learning is an apprentice model, with students working side-by-side with a teacher to find the beauty and meaning in an artwork. "This process, if anything is what has made DME a successful class and experience for students in art, music, dance and engineering at U-M," Rush said.

For more information:
http://www.music.umich.edu//resources/ensembles/dme/index.html

Contact: Joanne Nesbit
Phone: (734) 647-4418
E-mail: mjnesbit@umich.edu