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Annual SignalFlow Sound Festival has Another Successful Run

Mills College Weekly

Mills College’s Music and Intermedia Festival, SignalFlow, celebrated both experimental and traditional forms of music last week. Fine art graduate students hosted the five-day festival that attracted students, parents and music lovers.

SignalFlow’s vision is to challenge Mills students to be true to their own vision “in spite of the impressive weight of the past.”

The festival, billed as “Installations of Sound,” was exactly that. SignalFlow’s Web site boasts that these events have a “thirst for sonic adventure and a willingness to take risks.”

Joe Chapen, completing half of his masters thesis with his concert, The Mills Invitational, on Sunday in the Mills Chapel, said that he was using electronic music in a different way.

“When I go to see electronic shows there is typically one sound from one person and it lasts about an hour,” Chapen said. He felt that with computers being so easy to use, he could do something new.

For this concert, Chapen commissioned three other musicians, Luis Maurette, Greg Kowalsky and Ben Bracken. Each sits in the middle of the chapel in front of his own computer controlling his portion of the performance. The sounds reverberate off of the wooden walls of the chapel.

“The idea was to have a typical electronic music performance. The difference is that more than one performer will perform. Not all at once, but tag-team style,” Chapen explained.

The musicians worked like a well-oiled machine giving each other knowing looks and practiced hand signals to communicate throughout the performance.

A small crowd gathered for the performance of organic and industrial sounds mixed in a melodic and somewhat hypnotizing way. Members of the audience closed their eyes and seemed to let the sounds take them away.

It was obvious that the music was performing and not the musicians; it was not a visually stimulating performance.

Kiku Day’s concert the night before added visual art with instrumentation. Day played her own composition, Herba Viva, on the Shakuhachi, a type of flute made of bamboo and used for zen Buddhist meditation as well as for classical, jazz, and traditional Japanese folk music.

Day, who built her own Shakuhachi, incorporated 3-D images of jellyfish and bamboo that were projected into the air and onto the walls.

Kowalsky, who performed with Chapen, performed his innovative, Tendrils in Vigna. First, the piece was performed in electronic composition and then repeated with live instrumentation that mimicked the electronic sounds.

There were also more traditional instrumental performances during the festival, which one graduate student said was unusual for the Mills music department, known for its encouragement of experimental music forms.

SignalFlow has become an annual sound festival and has enjoyed continued success.