Mara Helmuth composes music often involving the computer, and creates multimedia and software for composition and improvisation. She is Professor of Composition at the College-Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati. She holds a D.M.A. from Columbia University, and earlier degrees from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
Her piece Water Birds for clarinet and electronics will be performed by Andrea Vos-Rochefort on our April 11 Solo Soundbox Concert at 21c Museum Hotel.
CSB: Could you tell us a little about your work as a composer?
MH: I am interested in sound, and music that springs from unique or innovative approaches to working with sound. Often this involves technology, and I’ve used programming to expand my range of possibilities for sounds and structures. I love collaborating with artists (and sometimes scientists), as something can be created that neither of us could have created alone. A focus of my work concerns environmental issues, and many pieces are created from natural sound.
CSB: What is the background to your piece for this concert, Water Birds?
MH: Rebecca Danard met with me some years ago when she was working on her doctorate in clarinet at CCM. She was interested in diving into electronic music, and we decided to create a piece together using sensors. Then there was a long-running collaboration between the computer music studio and the Computer Science department on wireless sensor networks and music. We used infra-red sensors to send data into my laptop that indicated her location on stage. Later, we stopped using the sensors and I performed the sound triggers instead, but the logic of the piece remained the same. We composed the piece together. She was responsible for most of the clarinet material, and an order of playing those sounds, plus her movement on stage. I programmed a MaxMSP patch to generate spectral delays based on buffers of material recorded live. We performed the piece at the Society of Electroacoustic Music in the US, the Deep Listening Conference 2014, and other festivals. Several other performers have played the piece, based on the original version in Beijing and the International Computer Music Conference in Slovenia. Andrea and I have created a new version of the piece, with a new strategy for sound initiation involving movement, and different sound materials.
CSB: How have you seen the environment for new music in Cincinnati change throughout your time here?
MH: I think there is more openness to and interest in new music overall in Cincinnati and elsewhere. While there have always been those who had strong interest in new music, you find new music popping up in many venues that might not have hosted it before.
CSB: What are some of the upcoming projects and performances on your radar?
MH: Several projects are in the works now. One is a collaboration with an architect from Austria who is currently teaching at DAAP at the University of Cincinnati, Christoph Klemmt. We are creating an installation, and also a virtual reality version of this work, Syreo. A project I’ve been involved with for a couple of years is Let Freedom Sing! an opera/musical theater project based on the book of the same name by author Vivian Kline. I am also working with CCM students on an Internet 2 performance will will present during the Network Music Conference at Stony Brook University April 19, at 9:00pm. I will be at Stony Brook with the laptop ensemble Synth Beats, and Zhixin Xu and others at CCM here will send and receive sound for an improvisation called “Endangered Sound.”