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Wind Ensemble’s World Premiere of Echo Chambers

Posted by:
March 14, 2019
By Kate Williams '16

The PLU Wind Ensemble performed the world premiere of Echo Chambers on March 10, 2019.

Echo Chambers came about after a conversation during a national conference in 2017 between Ed Powell, Professor of Music and Director of Bands at PLU, and Peter Van Zandt Lane, Assistant Professor of Composition and Director of the Dance Center for New Music at the University of Georgia. The two were up late one night discussing the idea of using electronic tracks with acoustic players.

“A few months later, Peter contacted me saying that he had been thinking about our conversation and inquired if I might be interested in organizing a commission. After talking some business and options for how the work might be funded, we decided to try a “crowd source” approach by setting a low buy in for institutions and encouraging many. So I went to work to drum up interest. I am proud to say that 50 Universities and High Schools joined this consortium!,” remarked Ed Powell.

“The March 10th premiere concert brought new work that PLU had the honor of bringing to life.  The published work will carry the name of PLU as the premiering body! It was a privilege to work with Peter who helped compose the show.”

About the Premiere

In the most common current usage, an “echo chamber” refers to a system in which beliefs are amplified inside a community where varied or opposing ideas are shut out, and the process of repetition and confirmation-bias lead discourse to become increasingly extreme and polarized. The prevalence of these scenarios is perhaps more pronounced today than it has ever been, in large part through how technology has increasingly fostered these closed systems in media and social networking. The term has its origins in acoustics, describing a hollow enclosure where sound reverberates.

When composing for acoustic instruments and electronics, I’m wary of the meaning that the presence of technology on stage carries in our centuries-old performance traditions. As a result, I’m inclined to connect the use of electronics in live performance to paradigms of technology in our lives, more broadly. Thus, in writing this piece for wind ensemble and electronics, I wanted to find ways that our echo chambers of tribalism might connect with the sonic origins of the term, and how growing presence in our socio-technological lives might be explored through musical storytelling.

In my piece, you will immediately hear two contrasting and opposing themes (the first in the woodwinds and percussion, the second in the brass). The themes are metrically polarized and in harmonically incompatible modes. Whereas a more conventional composition might develop the music by combining the themes, these two are like oil and water, and despite a third, more lyrical theme trying to mediate them, they persist in separate spheres until they are pushed together and thrown into conflict. Throughout, electronic echoes, filters, and resonances expand the sonic palette, extend the upper register of the ensemble, and egg-on our thematic characters. A brief heroic moment of common ground is eventually achieved, but it is fleeting and dissolves before it can be satisfyingly felt as a resolution of two opposing entities.

Echo Chambers was composed for a consortium of fifty wind ensembles, lead by and dedicated to Edwin Powell and the Pacific Lutheran University Wind Ensemble.

~Peter Van Zandt Lane

About the Composer

Peter Van Zandt Lane’s music has been praised by critics for its’ “depth, character, and pleasing complexity” (Boston Musical Intelligencer), and has been recognized for its “appeal to musicians and audiences, no matter their personal musical aesthetic” (Asymmetry Music Magazine). He composes for chamber ensembles, band, orchestra, and often integrates electronics into his concert music. Tapping into a visceral sense of rhythm and momentum, Peter’s works traverse the space between the organic and the mechanical, combining an eclectic range of both classical and vernacular influences with a polyamorous harmonic language.

A recipient of the 2018 Charles Ives Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Peter has received fellowships from Composers Now, Yaddo, MacDowell Colony, the Atlantic Center for the Arts, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. He has been commissioned by American Chamber Winds (Radix Tyrannis, a concerto for Joseph Alessi premiered at the 2017 WASBE International Conference), the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition, The Sydney Conservatorium Wind Symphony, the Composers Conference at Wellesley College, Dinosaur Annex Music Ensemble, Transient Canvas, and the Purchase Percussion Ensemble, among others. His compositions have been performed across the United States and abroad, by acclaimed musicians and ensembles such as the Cleveland Orchestra, the Lydian String Quartet, International Contemporary Ensemble, Triton Brass, Xanthos Ensemble, East Coast Composers Ensemble, Ensemble Signal, NotaRiotous, The Quux Collective, Freon Ensemble (Rome), and the New York Virtuoso Singers. His works for wind ensemble, particularly Hivemind and Astrarium have become widely programmed among college and university wind ensembles. Peter’s work has been recognized by a number of awards and prizes –most recently the American Prize and Lili Boulanger Memorial Prize (finalist)– and has been featured national and international music festivals and conferences including Spark, Original Gravity Concert Series, SEAMUS, SoundNOW, LIPM/IEMS (Buenos Aires), Forecast Music, Firebrand Concert Series, Third Practice, Boston Cyber-Arts, Leonard Bernstein Festival of the Arts, and Festival Miami.

Peter is also an active bassoonist, focusing primarily on the performance of new works in a chamber or electroacoustic setting. He has participated in the premieres of dozens of works by living composers, was featured as a soloist at the world renowned Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, and across the nation at a number of music festivals and concert series, including the New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival, Spark Festival, New Gallery Concert Series, Music: Cognition, Technology and Society at Cornell University, the Festival of Contemporary Music (San Francisco), and 12-Nights Electronic Music and Art, SCI, and the Sound and Music Computing Conference (Copenhagen). Recordings of his music are available on New Focus, PARMA/Navona Records, New Dynamic Records, and Innova Records.

Peter holds composition degrees from Brandeis University and the University of Miami Frost School of Music, and studied composition with Melinda Wagner, Eric Chasalow, David Rakowski, and Lansing McLoskey. He is currently Assistant Professor of Composition and Director of the Roger and Phyllis Dancz Center for New Music at the University of Georgia Hugh Hodgson School of Music, and previously held teaching positions at Brandeis University, Wellesley College, MIT, and Harvard.