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Active Learning and Research
Active Learning and Research
Composer Matt Malsky and his students use computer software both to generate new sounds and to modify those made by traditional instruments.

Knowing the score: turning classical music electronic

Professor Matt Malsky's creative work
Musician and composer Matt Malsky doesn't use his computer just for word processing. He uses it to bend, stretch, speed up and slow down the sounds from the flute. For Malsky and his students, computer software is the ultimate instrument for making electronic music--enabling them to juxtapose new musical sound with traditional instruments.

Some recent student projects:

  • Helen Ann Shea '01 composed an interactive composition for electric bass and computer written in Max/MSP. It will be premiered in May on The Living Room concert, an annual showcase of student composition.
  • Alex Bohr '03 created a musical installation, in Max/MSP, that allows multiple musicians to play MIDI keyboards simultaneously, and interact musically over an Ethernetwork.
  • Working with the studio's digital audio synthesis and processing tools, Colleen Campbell '01 created an original piece of music in the style of musique concréte.
  • Adam Slater '01 is producing a CD anthology of student poetry, still photography and electronic artwork. He is working with Flash to create an interface that includes music, sound, and transitional movies with audio for each section.
  • Pete Cianfrani '01 produced a CD of original blues and pop compositions recorded in the studio's multitrack recording facilities.

The Well of Fancy Dry: Professor Malsky's composition for flute and live computer processing 

  • New ways to make music
  • New definitions of music
  • Professor Malsky's composition
  • How it's done

New ways to make music

Today we live in an environment of sounds--some musical and some not-- created through electronic means. The natural sounds of rain, birds, and wind have been supplemented and obscured by the sounds of  ATM machines, doorbells, touch-tone phones, "muzak," car alarms, CDs, radios and other electronic devices. Matt Malsky and his undergraduates are making new, musical sounds with traditional instruments and computer electronics.

With the invention of the turntable at the end of the 19th century, our expectations and understanding of music began to change. Whereas a previous age imagined music played on “real” instruments (acoustic, mechanical devices like pianos or violins) and listened to "live," most of the music we hear today has been created or delivered via the use of electronics. Today's music, even when played on “old fashioned” instruments, is electronic because we experience it most often in recorded form: captured using microphones, stored on mechanical, magnetic or digital media, and played back on speakers, usually in a time and place different from its creation.

New definitions of music

Along with new ways to produce and experience music have come new definitions of what music is. Phonographs and samplers have been instrumental in the development of popular music such as rap, which uses previously recorded music as a source for new “instruments.” Classical music has also changed with the times. The modern history of electronics in classical music begins at the turn of the twentieth century with composers who included the sounds of the modern age in their concert works—sirens, the noise of airplanes or trains, and invented noise-generating instruments.

This is the setting for Malsky's own compositional work. Trained as a classical composer, he uses both new and old instruments in his music: acoustic instruments such as flute, clarinet, cello and percussion instruments, alone and in combination with live, interactive electronics. He extends the goals and traditions of the classical music, as well as making creative use of new technology.

The composition

The Well of Fancy Dry,Malsky's composition for solo flute with live computer processing, is part of a series of works, each for a single acoustic instrument in conjunction with a specially designed piece of computer software. This series explores the range of possible ways a live musician might interact with electronics, sometimes as accompaniment, at times as musical leader, and all the combinations in between.

How it's done

As the performer plays the flute, the sound is fed into the computer via a microphone. Special software created by Malsky processes the sound and triggers new synthetic sounds as accompaniment. The sounds generated by the computer can vary according to the flute's pitch, the music's phrasing, its dynamic level, and how the flutist "attacks"

the notes. These new sounds are sent through speakers and are heard in real time as accompaniment to the flute. The delay between input and output is miniscule--just a few thousandths of a second.


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Professor Matt Malsky
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Mac-only composition software
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Score for flute. Click to enlarge. The complete score can be viewed as a PDF file.

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