Being in Time – Backstory

World Premiere of Being in Time, with the UVA Wind Ensemble, conducted by William Pease

I originally imaged Being in Time as a piece scored for wind ensemble, gesture-controlled interactive electronics and interactive video. The blend of different media seemed wonderfully appealing, building on the timbral worlds and musical experiences that electroacoustic music affords. This is the story of that project and of my ultimate decision to simplify it, keeping the electronic music and wind ensemble, but dropping the interactive elements.

With a $21,000 grant from UVA’s Arts in Action program, this project involved a wonderful team. It started with my discussing the idea with my colleague William Pease, our director of bands. I had an idea that I thought would be exciting: to create a piece for wind ensemble with electronics, whose shape would be controlled by the conductor’s hand gestures, and a video which would interactively reflect the level and intensity of the live performance. This involved new elements on all fronts: I had never worked with this type of gestural control or with interactive video. Further, I wanted to create an organic system, in which I would make the electronic music from recordings of student performers and use the performers as the source of the video flow as well.

I put together a team, including the following in addition to Bill:  Ellen Bass, who has since become a professor at Drexel University, but at the time at UVA; Dave Topper, then Technical Director of the Virginia Center for Computer Music;  Joe Adkins and Paul Turowski, both then graduate students in our program, expert technologists and outstanding composers in their own right; Nathan Grantham, a graduate student in engineering; and Monica Khot, one of our terrific undergraduates.

We decided to use the Kinect controller for gesture capture, and to use mics for capturing amplitude and other elements of the ensemble performance. The interactive programming for the kinect controller that reads the conductor’s gestures and the programming for the interactive visuals were developed by Paul Turowski in consultation with me, while I worked on the background video with composer and animator Joe Adkins. The images came from photos of Charlottesville and its night skies taken by Ms. Beaton and of the night sky and blue ridge area round Charlottesville by filmmaker Alex Reshnikov.

After the premiere, it became clear to me that my vision for the level of interactivity was well in advance of reliable gestural technology! I therefore recast the piece for wind ensemble and electronics, with electronic cues triggered by a sound operator. This keeps the piece focused on the music. And, the conductor still has control over the entry of multiple cues, offering flexibility of musical pacing.

The UVA Wind Ensemble, directed by Bill Pease, premiered  Being in Time on 4/26/2015. It has also been performed by the University of Texas Wind Ensemble conducted by Jerry Junkin.

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