Thesis Colloquium

Music 239, Winter Quarter 2012
Tuesday, 3:30-4:50 PM
Music and Media Building, Room 316
University of California, Irvine

Professor Christopher Dobrian
211 Music and Media Building
(949) 824-7288

Office hours: by appointment.

Course Description

Music 239 - Thesis Colloquium

Presentation of current research/creative activity. Second-year ICIT students present their thesis work-in-progress for discussion and criticism. Faculty and visiting artists/scholars also present their current work. Students are graded on their presentation and informed participation in critiques.

This colloquium was designed to serve two purposes: 1) to be a forum for presentation of new scholarly and creative work for information, discussion, and critique, and 2) to help second-year Master's students, particularly in ICIT, develop and refine their written Master's thesis, both by critically evaluating the work of others and by receiving critical evaluation of their own work.

Course Syllabus

Winter Quarter 2012

Week 1 - Tuesday, January 10: All 2nd-year ICIT graduate students
Abstracts of Thesis/Capstone Projects

Week 2 - Tuesday, January 17: Vincent Olivieri, professor
Research into Content Control for Multimedia Installations This colloquium session will be held in the REALab, MM 218.

Week 3 - Tuesday, January 24: Kevin Zhang, graduate student
The Chairs: A Chamber Opera (See abstract.)

Week 4 - Tuesday, January 31: Nicole Mitchell, professor
A conceptual and intuitive approach to composition

Week 5 - Tuesday, February 7: Daniel Koppelman and Ruth Neville, guest artists
New works for two pianos. This colloquium session will be held in Winifred Smith Hall.

Week 6 - Tuesday, February 14: Ken Umezaki, guest speaker
Dynamics of the Music Industry: The Emerging Music Business Ecosystem. This colloquium session will be held in the Contemporary Arts Center, Colloquium Room, Room 3201.

Week 7 - Tuesday, February 21: Kelly Moran, graduate student
MFA thesis work in progress (See abstract.)

Week 8 - Tuesday, February 28: Kyle Vinton, graduate student
MFA thesis work in progress (See abstract.)

Week 9 - Tuesday, March 6: Yunxiang Gao, graduate student
Improvisation in Chinese Pipa Music (See abstract.)

Week 10 - Tuesday, March 13: Josh Ottum, graduate student
Smart Dumb: Rethinking Timbral Familiarity Within the Context of the Singer-Songwriter (See abstract.)

Abstracts of Graduate Student Thesis/Capstone Projects

Kevin Zhang

As originally defined by Trahndorff and later famously popularized by Wagner, the principles of the Gesamtkunstwerk as well as its aesthetic ideals were significant components influencing the composition of the major operatic literature at its historical pinnacle. Semiotic Studies scholars B. Hutcheon and L. Hutcheon attempt to address concretely the multiple facets autographic and allographic elements found within the Opera and its production in "Opera: Forever and always Multimodal." Beginning in the early 20th century and beyond, however, many composers have begun to show a tendency of shifting towards projects of inherent difference to the classic Bel Canto opera in scale and medium and venue, but yet still adherent to Gesamtkunstwerk principles, creating what Salzman and Desi define as a "New Music Theater." Many musical artforms - whether explicitly labeled Opera or, as more often the case, not - now show increasingly different and innovative ways through which they interact with other artforms and newer media. Drama, as one example, is an artform that always remain intrinsically linked with the Opera.

Kelly Moran

In the early 20th century, a new style of dance emerged that came to be known as "modern dance." Pioneering choreographers began to break away from the stylistic constraints of ballet in order to create a dance form that conveyed movement derived from one's life experiences and personal creative exploration. In addition to breaking away from the strict technical limitations of ballet, these choreographers also "emancipated" dance from music by using their choreographic material as the starting point instead of music. Up until this point, dance had depended on music for nearly everything, including form, mood, and length. With this role reversal in place, it was now the composer's turn to create music that met the demands of the choreography. A collaborative model emerged wherein a choreographer would create the conceptual and structural basis for the work and then commission a new musical work to fit the dance. This method has been a common basis for collaboration in modern dance throughout the 20th and 21st centuries and my experience as a composer for dance predominantly lies within this particular model. It is my goal with my capstone project to engage in more equitable collaborative methods with my choreographic partner that enable us to shape aspects of each other's work together. Our goal is to create a cohesive performance of music and dance comprised of individual works that are the result of a holistic and equal collaboration. By allowing each other's creative visions to equally shape the progression and development of the work, neither collaborative partner will wield total control in the way that many collaborations require. We will explore different approaches to combining choreography and music based on different kinds of artistic collaboration and starting points. By researching historical developments in modern dance collaboration and conducting interviews with choreographers and composers who currently engage in similar ways of working, I will discover how my work with my choreographic partner fits into the context of various collaborative approaches.

Kyle Vinton

My thesis is a messy combination of 1960's protest song, early industrial music, drone metal, computer music, and Japanese noise. My increasing interest in politics led me to research how other musicians dealt with sociopolitical events over the past fifty years. This research took me from Woodie Guthrie, to Throbbing Gristle, to Merzbow. By comparing their music to the times in which they lived, I feel that I've gained a nascent perspective on how today's political climate came into being and now wish to comment on some of the political events of the previous year. My music will progress in an autobiographical manner, spanning my two years in Irvine: from introversion, to a call to action (protest song), to nihilistic confrontation (early industrial music), to eventual dissolution in Noise. Specifically, the concert begins with my first year compositions performed entirely by myself. Next, guitar, cello, and percussion each perform a partially composed/improvised duet with me before all four of us search for an ending through free improvisation. My thesis features electro-acoustic instruments of my own design: sensor trumpet, vocoded grainular sequencer via xbox controller, and sustained baritone guitar. The concert is almost entirely mediated by technology. Noise plays a large role in my sound and I wish to show the audience how my relationship to it is changing. I'm moving away from an innocent combination of Pierre Schaeffer's Musique Concrete, Iannis Xenakis' massive soundscapes, and Pauline Oliveros' Deep Listening to Noise with a capital N. Part of my research has been trying to define Noise. I've come to realize that there is a parallel connection between it and politics. Early attempts at noise-abatement in New York City and the concert/riot described in Luigi Russolo's Art of Noises show examples in how pre-musique concrete/deep listening Noise are unwanted sound- confrontations founded on sociopolitical underpinnings. Protest song, early industrial music, and the Noise of Merzbow each represent a form of confrontation. Based on these examples I hope to develop my own messy, political Noise.

Yunxiang Gao

Improvisation in Chinese pipa music

Improvisation is an important feature of Chinese pipa music. In my thesis, I am going to make a summary of several impromptu techniques in pipa music and a brief analysis of its implications. It appears that impromptu beauty has something to do with the mode of musical production, with cultural connotations peculiar to China, and with philosophical thought in the Chinese tradition. Generally speaking, the impromptu beauty of Chinese pipa music involves the following five aspects: varieties of tune-patterns, ornamental performance, gradual changes of rhythm, Chinese Score system and improvisation and the Relationship between players and composers.

I. Varieties of tune-patterns
  A. Players can dispose pitch and dynamics in an impromptu way
  B. A play's impromptu treatment of tone color has more features of Chinese Music

II. Ornamental Performance
In pipa music it is different from the other Chinese instruments for its unique fingering and tone color. Each player is therefore required to give a new interpretation of the piece. Ornamentation always apply throughout an entire work.

III. Gradually changing rhythm
Tempo changes between different players can make much difference. A players' impromptu freedom to change tempo is enough for them to compose a new melody, which is different from the players' recomposition in Western music based on their own understanding. That is, when dealing with the same piece, players decide when to speed up the melody or to reach the climax of the piece in light of the progress of the ceremony or event at hand.

IV. Chinese Score system and improvisation
In contrast to the detailed criterion in Western scores, the unclear suggestiveness of the Chinese score displays a keen interest in imagination and changes beyond the score. In the process of reading a score, we can give a free space to impromptu beauty in Chinese music. But actually, "nothing" just means "rich" of impromptu beauty in a Chinese score system. This is the result of oral teaching that inquires true understanding within in Chinese pipa music.

V. Relationship between players and composers
There were no professional musicians in ancient China, so there were no"real composers" or "players". Players played a dominant role in music composition for there were not "composers" in a strict sense. According to the score system, players' impromptu composition is just as important as composers', or even more important.

Josh Ottum

Smart Dumb: Rethinking Timbral Familiarity Within the Context of the Singer-Songwriter

The production values and methods of orchestration associated with the singer-songwriter, as it relates to the movement that emerged out of Los Angeles in the late 60's and early 70's, has particular timbral associations found within specific musical contexts. Some of the most familiar are a consistent, strumming guitar providing a harmonic and rhythmic foundation or a snare drum playing on the second and fourth beats of a 4/4 time signature. By deconstructing archetypal orchestrational devices and utilizing unexpected timbres in familiar musical frameworks, instrumental roles are recontextualized, perspectives shift, and both listener and composer are more immediately engaged. The ensemble will consist of two percussionists playing a variety of orchestral percussion with the intentional exclusion of familiar timbres associated with the drum kit such as the snare, hi hat, ride, and traditional kick drum. Other instruments include the EVI, bass clarinet, trombone, and Jupiter 6. The ensemble will be rounded out by my vocals and electric guitar. Max MSP will function as a guitar effects processor and sound reinforcement will be minimal and localized, with a guitar amplifier, a microphone and speaker for vocals, and a keyboard amplifier. Having opened a correspondence with arranger and composer Van Dyke Parks, access has been granted to scores for singers fully supported by orchestral instruments. There will be additional inquiry into Mr. Parks' process and approach to structural concerns and timbral choices within the genre under discussion. Further fieldwork involves interviewing and investigating the methodology of Minna Choi, an arranger working with San Francisco's Magik*Magik Orchestra. Central to the project is a deep identification with American composers such as Charles Ives and Aaron Copland, and distinctly Californian composers such as Van Dyke Parks and Randy Newman. It is the conceptual aim of this project to explore what it means to be a Californian singer-songwriter in the 21st century.

Christopher Dobrian
This page was last modified February 3, 2012.