Last Thursday night was an unusual one at Schaver Music Recital Hall. There were no violins or pianos, no sopranos belting at the top of their range; this night was reserved for music seldom heard: a joint concert between the Schoolcraft College Synthesizer Ensemble and the Wayne State University Electronic Music Ensemble.
These ensembles are truly special.
Because it is a two-year institution, many of Schoolcraft’s music technology students finish their degrees at WSU. This being said, these performers did not give even the slightest hint of musical immaturity. Playing both original and arranged compositions, the ensemble had an overt understanding of each other.
Led by Barton Polot, it comprises synthesizers, a drum set as well as more eclectic electronic instruments. The ensemble had a sound that is not normally heard in classical recital halls. The group’s most exceptional performance was an arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s theme from “The Nutcracker.” Giving new light to this ever-popular tune, the group wouldn’t allow for boredom, changing rhythm and modulating at every turn. This was a superior performance.
Wayne State’s Electronic Music Ensemble, led by Thomas Court, is set up somewhat differently than Schoolcraft’s. With much more emphasis on computer technology than synthesizers, they created a much more organic sound. While live input was prevalent, the control over looping tracks added to the overall electronic sound.
Also of note, they used a completely original program that included only works written by members of the ensemble. While this led to some tense lulls in the harmonic sound, the overall effect was authentic and raw. The Electronic Music Ensemble also allowed no space between pieces, with artfully orchestrated transitions between each.
Projections of the titles and composers on the wall behind the ensemble guided the audience through each individual work. The result was cohesion between the works and a nonstop musical performance. The WSU Electronic Music Ensemble should be proud of creating imaginative music without the crutch of simple arrangements.
With only four university-level ensembles in Michigan, electronic music groups are just beginning their history. The Schoolcraft College Synthesizer Ensemble and the Wayne State University Electronic Music Ensemble are both strong examples of alternate views on the style of the ensemble, but both illustrate electronic music done right. While one uses classical roots with new inspiration, the other starts fresh.
These groups are a prime example of music’s never-ending evolution. There is no doubt that, with performances like this, ensembles will continue to gain more footing in the world of music.