Beyond the Machine: Originality, Creativity, Exploration

Though Juilliard’s Beyond the Machine festival focuses on merging music and technology, it is also about so much more. The festival, which is hosted by the Music Technology Center, celebrates its 11th year with performances from March 24 through 27. At its heart are multidisciplinary collaboration, opportunities for state-of-the-art mixed media performances, and the desire to foster in students and recent alums a love for originality, creativity, and exploration.

The 11th edition of the Beyond the Machine festival opens with two performance of Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat.

(Photo by Ryan Hartley)


Faculty member Edward Bilous, the director of both the Music Technology Center and Beyond the Machine, said in a recent interview that the center and festival are designed to give “young artists an opportunity to really become themselves. In other words, I don’t necessarily try to impose a creative vision on an individual program. But I try to find creative young talent and spirit and give them an opportunity to become who they want to be.” This environment of discovery has led to many student- and recent alumni-driven works, which Bilous describes as “key to the success of the program.” This year the festival will present two programs over the course of four days that highlight works imagined and performed by students and recent alumni.

The first program (March 24-25) features a multimedia staging of Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat, directed and conceived by Yara Travieso (B.F.A. ’09, dance). Bilous describes Travieso’s setting, which includes film, stage design, and choreography, as “absolutely extraordinary. Visually, it is stunning.” It will be performed by students and alumni from the Music, Drama, and Dance divisions.

Bilous said he has received some quizzical comments from musicians and colleagues about the theatricality of B.T.M.’s upcoming performance of Histoire. “My response has always been that Stravinsky’s real home was in the theater. He spent more time working with choreographers and directors than he did with musicians,” Bilous explained. “He was a collaborative artist—so many of his great works, whether they were the ballets or operas, involved collaborations with other art forms. I think to a great degree we are really honoring the spirit of the piece by making it a multimedia event.”

The other B.T.M. program (March 26-27) centers on Nightmaze by alumnus Sebastian Currier (M.M. ’87, D.M.A. ’92,composition). This multimedia work is scored for live instrumental ensemble, spoken voice, digitally processed sound, and film. The music, narration, and animation are tightly intertwined to evoke a dark and enormous interstate as found in the nightmare of a sleep-deprived college student. Calling Nightmaze a “very powerful multimedia piece,” Bilous also explained that it is one of great artistic merit. While some electro-acoustic works sacrifice musical integrity in favor of flashy technology, Nightmaze is not one of them. “It’s a very demanding work for the ensemble to play,” he said. “It takes a great day of skill and time to pull it together technically.”

Also featured with Nightmaze will be two works created by Juilliard students in collaboration with professional video and digital artists from the Streaming Museum, a new hybrid museum that presents multimedia exhibitions in cyberspace and in public spaces around the world. “Inventing Wonderland” is based on a digital text visualization called “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland Text-Arc” by artist W. Bradford Paley, with original music by Michelle Ross for string quartet with electronics and dramatic interpretation. “HD Traffic” is based on an installation of the same name by artist John Simon, with original music by John Chin for jazz quartet with interactive electronics. There will also be several video montages by Streaming Museum artists.

As Bilous also pointed out, these are the first Beyond the Machine concerts in recent years to include conducted events. George Stelluto, Juilliard’s resident conductor, will perform on both programs, leading Histoire and Nightmaze. Bilous says that having a conductor is significant because “it places the musical environment into another level of performance category. Also, it is symbolically acknowledging that technology is really mainstream now. It’s not just unique to a few players that know how to get themselves plugged in. It’s indicated in the written scores, and conductors now have to interpret that and sculpt the sound world with that knowledge in mind.”

Stelluto hopes the impact will reach far beyond just the festival. “It’s exciting to do two innovative works, and I wish more concerts incorporated technology in such creative ways,” he said. “The Stravinsky will be reborn. The sophisticated mix of drama, choreography, and technology with music in the Currier is an inspiring realization of what Wagner imagined so long ago about the ‘artwork of the future.’ Hopefully, it will spark a renaissance in programming possibilities that go way beyond the normal concert experience.”

Though Bilous has seen the Music Technology Center at Juilliard grow from a Macintosh computer and a DX7 synthesizer in the early 1990s to the sleek facility of today, the goal has remained the same—to foster a community of students and faculty who are excited by the prospects, opportunities, and possibilities that technology presents for their music- and art-making. Since its inaugural concert in 2001 in Juilliard’s Room 309, Beyond the Machine has gained momentum and popularity, performing sold-out concerts at such venues as the Miller Theater at Columbia University, Jazz at Lincoln Center, and the Clark Theater in Zurich.

Now that Beyond the Machine has found a home in the Rosemary and Meredith Willson Theater (this will be its second year there), Juilliard’s creative artists can discover and enjoy the newest and greatest technology available. Bilous noted, “Equipment at Juilliard is cutting edge, as is the application of that software and processes in creative work. There are very, very few places in the world that give students the kind of opportunities that they have here to do this work. It’s just been a joy for our students to develop pieces.” 

But it’s not only about self-discovery for the artists—audience members will also be experiencing something unique and extraordinary. “What you walk away with is the sense that you’re not seeing traditional collaborations the way you would in a ballet or an opera, where one art form supports another,” Bilous said. “But what you’re really seeing is a true merger and an equal partnership between the two art forms made possible through technology that didn’t exist even a few years ago. I think that ultimately where this is leading us is to a complete redefining of what the concert experience is.”


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