With a synthesizer, MIDI keyboard and electronic drum set scattered about, the Electronic Music Performance Lab, located in Old Main, does not resemble other music classrooms at Wayne State.
WSU’s Electronic Music Ensemble has been in operation since the music technology program was launched almost 20 years ago, said Joo Won Park, assistant professor of music technology and electric music ensemble maestro. Students in the class learn to incorporate electronic musical instruments as part of a larger electronic ensemble.
“In terms of music, (electronic) is a relatively new genre,” Park said. “There are bands that incorporate keyboards or electronic instruments, but to have a large group of people concentrating to play an electronic instrument is a very rare thing.”
This class gives students a hands-on opportunity to experience the history of electronic music, Park said.
“There is no specific instrument that they are aiming to learn,” said Park. “Anything that has some kind of an electronic part could be an instrument. It can be as familiar of an instrument as a synthesizer, or something that they may have never heard of, or vintage gear that is rare to find in the market.”
WSU’s Electronic Music Ensemble is one of the few electronic ensembles in Michigan that offers course credit, Park said.
“In terms of how long it has been running and what we offer, it’s a very unique thing,” Park said. “Not only in Michigan, but in the Midwest as well.”
The class puts students who would typically work offstage at center stage, which is what sets it apart from other music technology courses, Park said.
“What’s unique about this ensemble is that these music technology majors that are usually working behind the scenes — or off the stage — have a chance to work on stage and get an opportunity to meet their audience,” Park said.
Experience in the class ranges, with some students participating in the ensemble for the first time and others taking the class for multiple semesters.
Enrollment in the class is high this semester, Park said. While the class normally seats 16 students, this semester 26 students are enrolled. Park splits the group between veteran members of the ensemble and beginners to fairly divide rehearsal time.
Justin Carrier, a sophomore music technology major, is enrolled in Electronic Music Ensemble for the first time. He said he has sung in choirs from elementary through high school.
“I took this course to learn how to make music and learn all the tools to produce music,” Carrier said.
This is junior music technology student SJ Sprague’s fourth semester in the course. He said he comes from a musical family so music has always been part of his life.
“This ensemble is a lot different than others,” Sprague said. “It’s a completely different approach to music. We don’t use sheet music.”
He said he looks forward to recording some original pieces of music later in the semester.
“I think the music we make is best experienced live,” Park said. “We are so used to experiencing music in a recorded format, but the music we present is something that you have to be there to experience fully.”
The ensemble will perform live several times later in the semester around Detroit and at different universities, Park said. The ensemble’s next performance is at 7:30 p.m. on March 7 in the Schaver Recital Hall.
Ken Narita is The South End's general assignment reporter. He can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Cover photo by Ken Narita.