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Signal Flow Music Festival

The stoic darkness of the Littlefield Concert Hall was lightened up this weekend as the musicians of Mills’ Music Department enlightened audiences. Instrumentalists collaborated with composers and brought their music to life.

Signal Flow was there. It was a music festival hosted by the Mills College Music Graduate Program in the Littlefield Concert Hall and the Chapel from Thursday, March 8 to Sunday, March 11.

The electro-acoustic sounds, a combination of acoustic instruments with computer music, blasted out of the speakers while the audience sat back and immersed themselves in a new sound that is unique to the graduate students of the Music Program at Mills.

This showcase was a student-run event that stared the second-year graduate students in the music program every year. It featured experimental music like electronic, electro-acoustic, computer music, installation based sound art, improvised sound art, improvised music, multi-media performance, instrument building and idiomatic instrumental.

Brandon Rolle, a second-year graduate student responsible for organizing the festival, performed one of his own pieces.

Signal Flow and the graduate music department are a really important part of the history of Mills College and of contemporary and experimental music in the United States,” Rolle said.

Rolle, who is earning his MA in music composition, performed in an acoustic ensemble with six instrumentalists and a computer. He drew inspiration for his piece, Listen, fromthe novel Slaughterhouse Five. The science fiction nature of the novel is translated into his music through the piano, vibraphone, guitar, drums and a recitation of an excerpt from the novel by his colleague.

Nick Kanozik, a fellow performer and student, guided the audience through the time traveling life of Billy Pilgrim, the main character in the novel.

“Performing on [Rolle’s] piece, it’s a great document of me as a narrator,” Kanozik said, “It’s good for me as a performer to be able to expand my own prowess helping a friend and also making my work happen too.”

In Littlefield Concert Hall, a graduate student performs his piece on stage. (All photos by Jen Ramos.)

Each student worked on their own pieces as well  as performed  in each other’s pieces. Not only were these students responsible for performing their “thesis pieces,” according to Rolle, but they also worked behind the scenes by getting the word out about Signal Flow.

“Every student gives their fullest possible attention to this festival, whether it’s helping others or themselves. Often times, we can’t do this by ourselves. We need help. It’s like a give and take thing, we help each other. If I’m performing in someone’s piece, then they’re mutually going to help me,” Kanozik said.

His colleague, Ryan Ross Smith, performed alongside him as well as performing a piece of his own. He ran electronics and piano for Rolle.

His own piece, however, was a multi-media performance with his notations projected on screen featuring 15 percussionists and electronics as he also played the piano on his laptop. A series of metronomes played on screen while the percussionists stood at the bottom of the stage. Each percussionist played according to their corresponding metronome.

Kanozik’s piece was a play with three acts. The play  was a “synesthetic drama” that featured book art, visual art and theatrical gestures. His piece was an installation based sound art, which means that his music interacted with the space.

Every student comes from a different musical background, whether they’re coming to Mills with computer savvy or  just an interest in multimedia music. The variety of students play a major role in how students collaborate.

“We’re all here for the same thing,” Kanozik said, “we all have different tools.”

Emily Wingren, a senior whose majoring in music, came to gain some inspiration for her senior show.

“I just love the experimental music that comes out of Mills. It’s one of the things that brought me here,” Wingren said, “there were some staging things that were so great. [Benjamin Tinker’s piece] was so exquisite. It just lulled me into this, tragic, dream realm and then just POW with that bass.”