Over the previous weekend, the Boston Music Tech Fest took up residence at the Microsoft NERD center and showcased the incredible possibilities afforded by the intersection of technology and music. I was only able to attend the Boston MTF for part of one of its three days – yet what I saw in that brief time blew me away.  The presentations ranged from what happens when a DJ joins a live orchestra, to the highly technical like a software program that transcribes a sample of the sound of rain on leaves into sheet music, and even to the value of mashup culture in the age of YouTube. Read on for details on the first talk:

Anthony de Ritis – Northeastern University – Devolution

Anthony de Ritis’ talk pushed the audience to rethink the traditional boundaries and relationships between classical music and modern day DJs. I walked down a stairway that would fit right in at a lavish modern home (a rather grand stairway for being located on the 11th and 10th floor of a building) and found his talk was already underway. Though he wasn’t talking – rather, he was playing some songs off of his iTunes. It seemed simple enough until I realized what was playing was a strange combination of live classical music and electronic elements meshed together.

This fusion of music the audience was listening to was called “Devolution” and with the collaborating artist the relatively well-known DJ Spooky. de Ritis explained that Devolution (a CD he released in 2012) is his best attempt to meld orchestral and DJ-based music together.

The CD includes post-production, as would be expected, but De Ritis’ focus was on its live counterpart. In a live setting DJ Spooky mixes on top of the symphony and adds whatever he sees fit including, apparently, famous drum solos – a strange combination, but one that works surprisingly well. De Ritis uses techniques to make the music sources ambiguous to the ears of the listener by using a speaker blend (when different speakers around the venue play music from the orchestra while others play the DJ – but the listener can’t discern which is which) as it lends to the total meshing of the two relatively disparate styles of music.

The name “Devolution” drew many questions from the crowd, who were curious to understand the meaning behind it. It turns out De Ritis actually hadn’t put much thought into the name and prefers people to apply their own meanings – some thought it meant he had devolved  the two styles of music to create something new, like taking one step back to take two forward while others who partially balked at the notion of electronic elements in classical music, felt he had simply devolved the genre. No matter the opinion of de Ritis’ work, he has created something groundbreaking that has fantastic possibilities especially in a live setting.

Check out part 2 of the Boston Music Tech Fest series to learn about Aaron Einbond and how he morphs the real world into sheet music. You may even learn how to play your cat’s litter box.

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