Concert to feature unconventional musicians

Francie Johnson

From Wagner with the tuba to Beethoven with the piano to Jimi Hendrix with the electric guitar, musicians have been using technology to push boundaries and redefine music for as long as it has existed.

Composer, improviser and electronic artist Holland Hopson said these individuals are part of what inspires him to push boundaries himself.

“I want to embrace new technologies and find a way to make my own work with them and have my own voice be heard through them,” Hopson said. “I look back to people who did that before me, and I like what they did.”

Hopson and fellow composer and performer Justin Peake will be performing tonight in The University of Alabama’s Sonic Frontiers concert series, created by Andrew Raffo Dewar.

The Sonic Frontiers concert series, which premiered in fall 2011, features performances by experimental and unconventional musicians.

“I hope to get people excited about expanding their ideas about music and to support artists who think outside the box and try something innovative,” Dewar, an assistant New College professor and the assistant director of Creative Campus, said.

For Hopson, that “something innovative” is a computer.

“I’m interested in working with the computer as a creative partner,” Hopson said. “I write computer programs that listen to what I play and respond to what I do. Every time I perform a piece of music, the computer gives me something back that’s a little different from the last time.”

Hopson, originally from Huntsville, Ala., is in the middle of his second semester as an assistant professor in New College. He teaches a creativity seminar as well as a seminar on producing digital media.

Hopson said he hopes the audience will relate to his 2011 project “Post & Beam,” in which he reinterprets folk music through electronic and experimental methods.

“My hope is that people listening to my music would be able to hear the roots of it,” Hopson said. “Especially my work with the banjo really comes out of Appalachian folk traditions, and so that might give them a way to identify with the way that I’m transforming it and moving it in another direction.”

Post & Beam features three of Hopson’s original songs integrated with his own interpretations of four classic folk tunes.

“A lot of my work with the banjo and the computer together is motivated by my love for these traditional old time songs and fiddle tunes,” Hopson said. “A lot of times, the material, in a way, is already given to me. It’s part of the folk tradition; my job is just to continue that tradition and perform it my way.”

Tradition plays a strong role in ‘Post & Beam,’ not only in the song choices and instrumentation, but also in the perspective through which Hopson approaches the concept of music itself, he said.

“When people ask me to describe the other work that I do, I usually say that it’s abstract and has more emphasis on the quality of the sound and not so much on the melody and rhythm,” Hopson said. “[Post & Beam] is kind of the mirror side of my musical personality. For the most part, these pieces have a steady rhythm, and they have a relatively traditional song form.”

Hopson will perform songs from ‘Post & Beam’ at the Sonic Frontiers event Thursday, as well as some of his not-yet-released material.

Sonic Frontiers has been described as an adventurous concert series, and to Dewar, this means exposing oneself to all different types of music, including those that don’t fit within the conventional boundaries of what music is.

“I often use the analogy of going outside on a dark, clear night to look at the stars,” Dewar said. “How many of us only look at one corner of the sky? Why would you want to limit your view of something as infinite as the universe – or music?”

The Sonic Frontiers concert will take place Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the Greensboro Room of the Bama Theatre. Admission is free and open to the public.

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