All-nighter: UVA’s TechnoSonics festival returns for 16th year

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Composer and shakuhachi player Kojiro Umezaki is one of the guest artists who will collaborate at TechnoSonics XVI, a weeklong festival of sound at UVA. Photo: David O’Connor Composer and shakuhachi player Kojiro Umezaki is one of the guest artists who will collaborate at TechnoSonics XVI, a weeklong festival of sound at UVA. Photo: David O’Connor

The connection between music and many people’s sense of their spiritual nature is one of the essential engines driving our mad (yet perfectly reasonable) devotion to music,” says Ted Coffey, associate professor in composition and computer technologies at UVA’s McIntire Department of Music.

Each year, CCT faculty members lead the process of selecting a theme and curating the annual TechnoSonics festival, which brings cutting-edge computer music composers, performers and experts to town. Originally launched by Judith Shatin, founder of the Virginia Center for Computer Music, and current McIntire department chair Matthew Burtner, TechnoSonics focuses on pushing boundaries within the field of computer music, with an emphasis on intermedia—or interdisciplinary—works.

The program creates countless opportunities for collaboration between faculty and students as well as concerts and installations that are open to the public. This year’s gathering kicks off on October 14, and Coffey is leading the planning efforts and bringing his own devotion to music as a performer, composer and teacher. He has been involved with TechnoSonics since he moved to Charlottesville in 2005 and is well-acquainted with its boundary-pushing schedule.

For TechnoSonics XVI, Coffey selected the theme of Music and Contemplation, but it’s important to note that the event takes more than a solo effort. Faculty, staff and students from the music department work together to select guest composers and the performances and installations. As the technical director of the VCCM, Travis Thatcher supports the event as stage manager, sound engineer and pre-production coordinator. “This year’s theme is very open to interpretation,” says Thatcher. “I’ve always been interested in contemplative and meditative forms of music and how the experience of listening to music can allow your body to gain a different understanding of your surroundings.”

A series of roundtable discussions launches the weeklong festival, addressing topics such as music, contemplation and the brain and music and trust. “Contemplation can accommodate a lot of different activities and situations,” says Coffey. “We can contemplate complex musical objects, the political dimensions of musical practices and the sound of dentists’ drills. We can also contemplate past experiences, reflect on them.”

Audio installations will also be part of the festival, featuring work by Thatcher and UVA graduate students Eli Stine and Max Tfirn, among others. A formal concert will be held on October 16 in Old Cabell Hall, featuring Shatin and Burtner along with guest performers Brenda Hutchinson and Kojiro Umezaki and UVA Ph.D. student Paul Turowski.

Following the more traditional event, TechnoSonics XVI will try something new: a 24-hour concert. Beginning at 11:59pm on Friday, this concert will continue overnight and all day on Saturday, showcasing live acoustic and eight-channel electronic music in the UVA chapel. “The 24-hour concert provides a very different setting and allows for the performance of long-form pieces that wouldn’t really work in a concert hall setting,” says Thatcher.

The combination of venue and format creates new possibilities for the audience, encouraging a self-guided experience of any or all of the performances over a period of time. “We’re going to create a space where the musical offerings are brilliant and bountiful, while the social conventions of a formal concert have been relaxed. People can wander in and out, walk around, take a little nap,” says Coffey.

Over the course of the week, the festival will feature a variety of performances by UVA faculty and students, as well as Coffey and Thatcher. Indeed, many of the programs throughout the week are the result of extensive collaborations. “I think TechnoSonics has grown more ambitious over time, and we’re more interested in community-building, both within UVA and with the arts communities in Charlottesville and beyond,” says Coffey.

An examination of the work by guests Dylan Bolles, Michelle Lou, Hutchinson and Umezaki reveals some of the key juxtapositions and explorations within TechnoSonics. For example, Lou is a double bass player and guitarist who increasingly incorporates analog and D.I.Y. electronics into her compositions and performances. Umezaki plays the shakuhachi, a traditional Japanese bamboo flute, in addition to composing electro-acoustic work. Hutchinson is an artist who composes work based on social improvisations and recently created an app that allows users to explore sounds through the act of drawing. Bolles builds compositions, performances, shared listening experiences and installations, as well as new musical instruments. The common thread among all is an experimental approach to a multi- disciplinary exploration of sound and music—an area in which the McIntire Department of Music excels.

TechnoSonics XVI takes place at Old Cabell Hall, the UVA chapel, OpenGrounds and surrounding areas through October 20. All performances are free and open to the public. A detailed schedule for the event is available at music.virginia.edu.