"Experimentation is the DNA of UCSD's Department of Music," it states on the department's website. And lately they've had some prime DNA on display.
On May 20, to celebrate the completion of his three years as Composer in Residence for Calit2, an institute designed to bring together great minds and cutting-edge technologies, Distinguished Professor Roger Reynolds put on a show in the black-box theater of the Atkinson engineering building.
"An Evening with Roger Reynolds and Friends" was a multimedia, multisensory experience, combining live and recorded music, spoken word, visual images and high-tech expertise.
It was not, as Reynolds said at the start of the two-hour performance, a linear structure, but "a compilation of elements that interfere with each other, support one another, and go backward and forward in time."
The evening began with the 75-year-old composer telling stories from his life in the world of music and the arts. Recorded voices joined in with contrapuntal stories, bits of anecdotes about Aaron Copland, John Cage, choreographer Merce Cunningham and composer/architect Iannis Xenakis that gently vied for attention, each briefly catching the ear, creating a narrative fugue in surround sound.
Video excerpts from a recent production of Reynolds' "Seasons: Cycle 1" in Washington D.C.'s National Gallery were impressive, but even more striking were the live performances of his young friends, all UCSD graduate students working toward Ph.D.s in music.
A highlight was percussionist Brian Archinal's marimba solo, first in a series of fragments, and then in its entirety, of Reynolds' "Autumn Island." "Sublime," Reynolds murmured at the end, and it was.
"I've been playing it over a year now, here and in Europe," Archinal said afterward. "I think working with Roger has been absolutely the best music lesson I've ever had, possibly the pinnacle of my musical career."
The evening concluded with Pablo Gomez Cano and Jaime Oliver performing an excerpt from "Versions/Stages," Reynolds' duet for guitar and computer that will premiere in Venezuela next month. It was fascinating to hear and see Oliver improvising on his laptop, riffing off the sounds of the guitar in a happy marriage of art and technology, clearly sensitive to what Reynolds described as "the way an instrument looks, feels, and seems."
"We make a technical score that doesn't exactly explain how to do it," Reynolds said in the Q&A that followed. "We work out presets for the cues, but it always goes somewhere different. It's like theater — the actual working out of the script is what theater's all about."
A week later, another special event took place in the black-box theater of the Conrad Prebys Music Center. The West Coast premiere of "To Be Sung," a chamber opera by contemporary French composer Pascal Dusapin with text by Gertrude Stein, was directed by music professor Susan Narucki, who sang one of the soprano roles at the opera's Paris premiere in 1993.
The hourlong piece was an unusual sound, movement, and light show, joining the talents of the new grad-student vocal ensemble, Kallisti; the narrative voice of renowned bass-baritone Philip Larson; the wind and string instruments of the experimental chamber group Palimpsest, led by Julian Pellicano; the expressive hands of two ASL signers, Billianne McClellan and Amy Hart; and the dramatic lighting design of Nick Patin to form a captivating whole.
The UCSD music department's performances will resume in the fall. Sign up for e-mail notices of coming events at