When people ask me what Performing Arts Technology is, I sometimes struggle to find the precise definition. For such a specific department, the vastness of its contents is pretty overwhelming, even for someone in the major. Everyone in the program has a different passion and a different area of the field that they’re pursuing, some of which may not even exist yet.
The PAT Showcase this past Saturday gave audiences a glimpse into the expansive cross-section of technology and art.
The showcase took place over two separate sections, one in the Chip Davis Technology Studio and one in Macintosh Theatre. Each event had its own unique performances and presentations that felt original and creative.
In the Davis Studio, live performances constituted many of the performances, however, many acts were pre-recorded and produced pieces that students composed. The Davis Studio boasts a unique listening environment, complete with a plethora of state-of-the-art speakers to create an immersive listening environment for audiences. The presentation of these electronic compositions was really interesting, and although it seemed like something you wouldn’t typically see at an SMTD concert, they still seemed to be treated as such, with light dimming before they were performed and audiences applauding after.
A lot of times in a conservatory environment, electronically produced music is seen as inferior to traditionally composed music. At the showcase, this notion seemed to be completely abandoned: Each unique piece was given attention and respect. The differences in each piece were celebrated by the audience and the students alike. These strictly electronic pieces brought nuance to a musical climate that often feels void of emotion and creativity. Many are against the implementation of more electronics in music, but how could you be against a movement that encourages creativity?
As a PAT student within SMTD, I have constantly been encouraged to engage in collaborative projects with other members of the school in both conventional and experimental ways. This desire to collaborate, with other PAT majors and with other artists, was made abundantly apparent at the showcase. Many works involved students playing a variety of instruments in a variety of genres, and using technology to alter their timbre or to accompany them.
One of my favorite pieces from the night was “War Machines Dance to Piano Music” by Matias Vilaplana and Joey Panlertkitsakul. The piece involved Matias, a graduate student in the program, using electronics to alter Joey’s piano playing. By miking the piano, Matias was able to alter the sounds with delays, filters and reverberation in live performance, as well as alter videos of machines being projected on screen. The music felt very minimalistic, however, in conjunction with live signal processing. The piece evolved into something completely different and more expansive over time.
Some other performances included saxophonists from the jazz department and a solo double bass piece by Spencer Haney from their upcoming senior thesis. There was no shortage of variety at the showcase.
Things also took a turn towards a more commercial direction. Artists like Clem Turneri and Aliyah Marie Smith shared songs off of their upcoming and recently released albums. Borrowing from R&B, pop and even experimental influences, the artists sang their own songs in addition to performing live looping, mixing and projecting. The performances showed a completely different side to PAT than many other performances in the department. Although many had modern influences, these two specifically felt more independent and void of a need to be groundbreaking. These performances showcased the songwriting talents PAT majors are capable of.
The one thing that cannot be emphasized enough here is just how diverse this showcase, and the PAT department itself, actually is. While students generally take the same classes during their first year of study, they eventually break out and start to take classes that interest them and the areas they want to focus on, and this was especially apparent by just how many different types of performances there were.
Another detail to note is just how involved the department is. Not only are PAT majors involved in all sorts of different productions across campus, but younger members of the community are just as involved as the seniors. Seeing a large representation of the newer members of the department was really inspiring to me. Technology in art is moving at a rapid pace, and it’s nice to know that the new generation of PAT majors is just as motivated to advance this world as the past.
This year’s PAT showcase was one of the best the department has ever had. Not only were members of the community able to showcase the bridge between art and technology in a variety of different ways, but students were able to express themselves through technology. Many may argue that music and art, in general, feel more artificial with the increased implementation of new technology. But with the passion that the performers displayed on Saturday night, I’m not sure if I can give this argument much credibility.