Faculty members create music with iPads, Wii remotes

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The use of technology is not unusual when paired with music, but when iPads and Nintendo Wii remotes enter the mix, things change.

Dixie State University’s music department held the first faculty New Music Concert at the Eccles Concert Hall Friday night. The program included six pieces. Some were composed as far back as the mid-‘70s, while others were the recent works of Robert Matheson, an adjunct professor of music. His work included the more unique use of the Wii remote and iPad with the app called Touch OSC.

“It was great to hear what different people can do with technology,” said Laura Alley, a junior music major from Bountiful. “I love that they’re trying to get this out in the community more.”

Matheson’s “Prelude for iPad Ensemble” opened the show. Random audience members recorded their voices on a microphone as they arrived. 

Matheson put the sounds into a computer, and they were then transferred to iPads held by faculty members Glenn Webb, music department chair; Timothy Francis, an assistant professor of music; and Gary Caldwell, an associate professor of music, as they walked around the music hall. 

Using the iPads, they took the sounds, added effects, and changed the speed and pitch at random. Which ever way the face of the iPad tilted determined where in the room the sound came from. 

Matheson created something different and technologically-focused, but by having performers control the sound, he maintained the live music aspect.

“Really, what I liked about it was the spontaneity,” Caldwell said. “You could just push these buttons and make sounds — it was fun … and it’s not a melodic tune in the traditional sense, but I always try to tell students that music is a combination of sound and silence, and we had that.”

Students who attended the concert shared mutual feelings with Caldwell.

“I really enjoyed it,” said Jeff Chapman, a freshman music major from Ivins. “It’s kind of different from what most people think of as music.”

Webb performed a solo percussion piece titled “Dividing Time,” composed by Steven Ricks of Brigham Young University, who was present for the concert.

“I first did it in 2002, then put it away,” Webb said. “We started talking about this concert, and Dr. Ricks happened to email me out of the blue and said, ‘Remember this piece? Would you like to do it again?’ That was around Thanksgiving. November, December, January, I was hitting it just about every day for an hour at least.”

The complicated piece kept the crowd captivated and many feet tapping throughout its duration.

“The percussion was so cool,” Alley said. “I don’t know how people can move their hands that quickly.”

Caldwell not only rehearsed a piece on trumpet put together by Matheson, but also handled the Wii remote that was strapped to the instrument with rubber bands.

“The risky thing about this is hoping all the technology works,” Caldwell said on stage. “We’ve rehearsed it about 10 times, and I don’t think we’ve gotten it right once.” 

He jokingly told the audience it probably wouldn’t know the difference anyway.

The same principles of direction and movement were applied to the Wii remote as in the prelude.

“You’re not hearing the acoustic sound of the trumpet; you’re hearing the mic sound that goes through the computer and into the surround sound,” Matheson said. “There’s live looping, (and) there’s live panning and mixing. It’s a fun piece.”

During Caldwell’s trumpet performance, he tilted the instrument forward and moved it around with a swinging motion, creating a literal surround sound that moved from one part of the room to another and enveloped the audience in a deep, reverberating loop from the push of a button.

Technology is a mystery sometimes, but in an effort to evolve music to another level, it worked in Matheson’s favor.