Sound technology

The scholarship of composer Ketty Nez '87 ranges as vastly as the field of music itself. Nez has written a multi-media opera; studied traditional Japanese instruments such as the koto, biwa and sho; and keeps a full piano performance schedule.

Last year, Nez was a composer-in-residence at the Ecole Nationale de Musique in Montbeliard, France, where she worked with faculty performers of the clarinet, harp, percussion, and saxophone. "Their students started to get interested in the weird noises we were making in the electronic studios," Nez says. Eventually, she was running several projects simultaneously. "Performers would come into the studio, and I would mike them, take their sound, and process it in a variety of ways I changed at will-thus I also 'improvised,' " she says. "Then I would send this treated sound out the speakers, and in reaction the performer would modify his or her own sound." Eight speakers in the studio-housed in the castle wine cellars of a 400-year-old building-allowed her to experiment with spatialization, when sound is sent selectively from speaker to speaker.

The residency culminated with "A Devolutionary Opera: A Drama in 540 Seconds," a collaboration of seven composers, which premiered in the A*Devantgarde Festival in Munich in June 2003. The performance integrated video, slides, film, opera singers and an orchestra to tell the story of two scientists, safe in a bunker, studying the effects of a viral epidemic among humans. Each composer was charged with examining an aspect of the viral episode. In Nez's contribution, the virus makes humans act like animals. She incorporated "ideas of Batman and Catwoman, the Pink Panther, and intensive musical and textual quotations and citations" including Elvis, Madonna, Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde," Weill's "Three Penny Opera," Mozart's "Don Giovanni," and the 1933 film score from King Kong.

"I think a person must show some initiative when approaching contemporary music, whether as an audience member, performer, composer, or collaborator," Nez says. "It's not immediately accessible in the way pop music or pop culture is."

Electronic music, Nez explains, uses technology and ranges from programming the construction of algorithms to designate pitch and rhythm-which can be performed by acoustic instruments-to manipulating recorded samples of sound through various techniques such as time stretching, when the tempo of a piece of music changes while the original pitch is retained. The latest development in electronic music is computer music, which uses software to refine and replace what had been done by several types of hardware.

After obtaining a bachelor's degree in piano performance from the Curtis Institute of Music, Nez fleshed out her liberal arts background by studying psychology at Bryn Mawr. "Psychology plays into everything I do," Nez says, "especially when it comes to improvisational theater and how personalities play off each other on stage in dramatic as well as musical ways." Nez holds a master's degree in composition from the Eastman School of Music and a PhD in composition from the University of California at Berkeley. She taught for two years at San Francisco State University. From 1996-1997, she studied in Amsterdam with Louis Andriessen, a major figure in contemporary Dutch composition. "There is a tremendous amount of musical and artistic activity in such a small place," she says of Amsterdam. A composers' collective she helped start there is now a popular concert series.

Nez's music has been played at festivals in the United States, including the Aspen Music Festival and at Tanglewood Music Center, as well as in countries such as Bulgaria, England, and Finland. In 2001, she was visiting composer at Stanford's Center for Computer Research in Music. Among her orchestral works, the Dutch orchestra Insomnio premiered "Machaut Mirrored," the Tokyo City Philharmonic Orchestra premiered "Afterimages," and the 1993 Women's Philharmonic New Music Reading Session premiered "Multi-Masking." The Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group commissioned and premiered "Pir-Ondine," which the New York New Music Ensemble also performed at the 1998 June in Buffalo Festival.

Currently, Nez is a visiting assistant professor at The University of Iowa School of Music and writing for various chamber ensembles.

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