Archives: September 2008
Tue Sep 09, 2008
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Sat Sep 06, 2008
RAVE MAGAZINE INTERVIEW: INDIA, JULY 2008
By Vijayan Almeida
Jeffrey Krieger: classical tradition, digital expression!
Jeffrey Krieger has been the principal cellist of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra (Connecticut-USA), since 1980. He is among the new generation of classical soloists who have incorporated technology: the computer, midi controllers, video - as well as an electronic cello in performance. Rave’s Vijayan Almeida caught up with Jeffrey during his concert tour of India to discover how digital technology is revolutionizing contemporary classical music.
I thought I knew what to expect from a solo cello recital by an artist with more than 20 years of experience in one of America’s leading orchestras - but I was in for more than a surprise. For starters, the solid body, blonde maple wood E-cello, shaped like an anchor looked like something right out of a heavy metal concert; wired as it was through MIDI (musical instrument digital interface) foot pedals into a computer connected to a sound console like a modern rock guitar.
Soon its dark powerful tone enveloped the audience teasing us as it played hide and seek between the left and right channels of the stereo mix. Jeffrey chiseled at his sonic sculpture right before our eyes, with a deft modulation of delay time here, a swirl of a phaser there, spoken voice samples triggered from the computer etc., all controlled in real time with MIDI pedals. When he suddenly increased the reverb levels on a single long haunting note during the piece ‘landmine’, I could feel a chill go down my spine, palms sweaty and goose bumps all over.
This was modern music at its best: completely liberated from strictures and norms, where even non-musical sounds can be used to express musical ideas, surreal and abstract at one level while touching the heart and transforming the soul at another, gently prompting us to ponder over those eternal mysteries of our existence.
Jeffrey Krieger has earned a reputation of being a specialist in the works of ‘modern’ composers. His style and technique epitomizes the spirit and soul of the composers he plays. Most of the music he plays is specially written for him and his E-Cello by renowned composers like Donald Erb who has been described by the Philadelphia Inquirer as a composer who can create great music with just about anything and has been commissioned by major American orchestras to compose for them. “I am very excited about Erb’s composition, a work titled SUDDENLY IT'S EVENING. The composer was in his 70's when I asked him to compose the piece and he was commissioned by the Fromm Foundation of the University of Harvard to do it. Shortly after, he had two major surgeries. In the second, his heart stopped beating and they thought he would not be revived. Like a miracle, he did come back. He was very frail for a long time and said he didn't think he was going to be able to compose my piece but he eventually did. The piece is quite haunting as I must hum throughout.”
Watching Erb’s composition brought to life by Jeffrey and his E-cello was a miraculous, musical experience. As I left the auditorium that day, I knew that I would never be the same again!
VIJAYAN: What was that one defining moment that inspired you to take a plunge into the world of electronic music despite having an established classical career?
JEFFREY: The defining moment for me was when I first played on an E-Cello. It opened my creative potential and I could envision so many possibilities. I have always been interested in combining contemporary classical music and technology and it continues to be my biggest challenge. I experimented using a contact microphone on my acoustic Cello with very unsatisfactory results leading to the design of the E-Cello which is silent when played unamplified and by using a computer and software, its sound can be completely transformed. When I collaborate with a composer or a video artist I design my own software programs to suit every nuance of the music, much like preparing a sitar or sarangi which requires a great deal of tuning and adjustments before a performance. I am an amateur sarangi player and its resonance has influenced my E-Cello playing.
VIJAYAN: We’d like to know more about the instrument you play.
JEFFREY: My E-Cello was hand crafted and custom made by craftsman, Tucker Barrett from the state of Vermont. It was made to my specifications and feels just like an acoustic cello when played though being of solid wood it is much heavier.
VIJAYAN: What about the pick-ups, amplification and other components of your rig?
JEFFREY: There are four pick ups built into the bridge, one under each string. The output of the cello is connected to the input of a digital audio interface through a fire wire connection to an APPLE laptop. The programmable software MAX/MSP is the key to modulating the instruments sound. I have begun to experiment with an electric bow with a contact microphone connected to the hair which adds a whole new world of possibilities. The cello’s pickups are specially designed piezo electric devices.
I use two continuous controller MIDI pedals that can modulate the sound of the E-Cello in real time. I can target specific parameters like the reverb mix in the software. The pedals can also trigger sound samples on the computer. I also have a pedal to turn pages of the musical scores on the computer screen.
VIJAYAN: Are the use of effects instinctive improvisations, or are they written into the score by the composer?
JEFFREY: Most of the times I make suggestions to composers as to how to use effects in their music. It is impossible for them to know about the limitless ever evolving possibilities of the E-cello.
VIJAYAN: What is this whole video-cello multimedia concept?
JEFFREY: Recently I collaborated with media artist Gene Gort and composer Ken Steen on a work commissioned by the Museum of American Art, New Britain, Connecticut to celebrate the museums new galleries. We collected video and sound directly from the construction site which inspired a work titled ‘Reliquary of Labor’. I performed a single channel video version of this work on my current tour with concerts at Mumbai, Bilaspur and Rajnandgaon. The online premier can be found at www.reliquaryoflabor.net The final version grew into a multi-media work for E-cello, percussion, multiple video screens and sound. It also included an interactive daily Podcast.
VIJAYAN: how has the audience reaction been towards the E-Cello in India?
JEFFREY: The audience in India come to performances with fresh unprejudiced ears and are intrigued with the music and sounds coupled with the use of cutting edge technology.
VIJAYAN: What is the future of digital technology in music? Is there a danger that it may one day wipe out the live performer?
JEFFREY: I see digital technology continually enhancing the production of music, but it is the human connection that ultimately constitutes the artistic experience and that’s why the live musician will always have a very special role to play in the way the world experiences music.
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