Bruno Ruviaro: Happy New Ear

Bruno introduces the evening's program.Bruno Ruviaro demonstrated some nifty ideas around electroacoustic music and voice performance Friday night, and he also got to show off the Laptop Ensemble that’s going to be the seed for Santa Clara University’s first Laptop Orchestra.

Ruviaro got SCU’s Music Recital Hall to himself for “Happy New Ear,” a program of his music. (See Laptop Music Invades Santa Clara.)

University events can be nice. You get a plush, acoustically pleasing theater and an appreciative crowd — in this case about 70 people including Ruviaro’s students, fellow SCU faculty, and other colleagues, and some curiosity seekers like me.

Two pieces used the stage theatrically, with physical movement adding a dimension of storytelling to the music. “Clippings” started with flautist Rachael Beetz and soprano Jessica Aszodi seated on opposite sides of the stage, backs to one another. Aszodi played a wine glass and made small, almost flute-like whining sounds that Beetz responded to, a blind conversation. (That movement was even called “Whine.”)

Beetz (left) and Aszodi after performing “Clippings.” Yes, it’s blurry. Aszodi later performed “Unspell,” and her Web site says she’s preparing a CD of vocal-plus-electronics pieces like that. That combination is a current passion of hers.

Then Beetz went upstage and Aszodi downstage, still with their backs to each other, for a second movement of rapid-fire monologuing by Aszodi, a phonetic jungle gym that reminded me of Finnegan’s Wake. The final movement had them on opposite sides of the stage again, this time slightly facing one another. The whole effect was like minimalist experimental theater.

Later, Aszodi took to the stage alone for a piece titled “Unspell,” vocalizing against the electronics Ruviaro triggered from the soundboard in the middle of the auditorium. Aszodi rapid-fired through passages of French, English, and possibly something in between, running a gamut of emotions from contented bliss to jilted anger. She’s an accomplished opera performer with a lot of stage presence and a wide range of emoting — her facial expressions alone told the story.

The text itself, inspired by a Roland Barthes book, mostly concerned the narrator waiting for a lover, at different times either voluntarily or by order, and it included the classic scenario of not daring to use the telephone in case the lover should try to call. The electronics lingered in back, setting moods including a rabid buzz, or a series of joyous, bouncing notes, like metallic balloons being released.

Aszodi spent most of “Unspell” standing front-and-center on the bare stage, then sat at the edge of the stage for the conclusion, reading off of a music stand placed there. It was a clever way to end with more of a tête-à-tête setting.

Laptop EnsembleThe six-person laptop ensemble involved Ruviaro conducting the players through cues while leaving them options for their playing — varying different types of waveforms. Each laptop got its own speaker, so that your ears could tie a location to each player, just as with acoustic instruments. That came into play early, as the piece, “Intellectual Improperty 0.6,” started with a continual buzz that turned out to be ratchety clicking coming from each laptop. The nature of the sound became apparent as players dropped out or moved to the next phase, reducing the sum-of-parts to some discernible components. It was a nice effect.

The second half of the piece was dominated by recognizable piano sounds, some sampled from Beethoven’s “Diabelli Variations.” (I’ve mentioned that piece before, in a surprisingly similar context.) It started with high plinks invading the sound one by one, eventually descending into a big rumbling thunder, the evolving back into recognizable piano sounds near the ending.

Laptop music does have that “people checking e-mail” quality, which Ruviaro joked about in the program notes, but this was an enjoyable piece. Being closer to the stage, to better hear the sound separation between players, might have been interesting.

Laptop Ensemble cleanup.
The Laptop Ensemble, disassembling during intermission. Click for big view – those bowl looking speakers *are* Ikea bowls, with car speakers inserted through holes in the sides.

Ruviaro also performed two prerecorded electroacoustic pieces, with speakers around the auditorium playing the sounds in the dark, just like at the San Francisco Tape Music Festival (coming up Jan. 25-27, 2013.)

“Fonepoemas,” which opened the concert, was apparently sampled from different vocalizations of the name “Tania.” I completely did not pick up on that; I was enjoying the sci-fi insect chatter of it all.

The other piece, “Study on Japanese Themes,” was not the zen stillness I expected. In fact, it was lively and driving. I liked it a lot. It drew from sounds by composers Ryoji Ikeda and Keiichiro Shibuya, combining hundreds of tiny bits of sound through a technique called concatenative synthesis.

Overall, a very enjoyable faculty concert, even though I felt sorry to miss the Jay Korber benefit in Berkeley.

Ruviaro isn’t done, of course. In the spring quarter, he’ll offer a class whose members will become the SCU Laptop Orchestra, and they’ll play a concert on the afternoon of Thursday, June 6.
Taken from the "Happy New Ear" program

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