When you think composer, do you think dead, white, male, with scary hair? Well, think again. Colby has fostered a number of composers who are neither dead, nor exclusively white or male. The use the meduim of music in a variety of ways to express their artistic ideas, and they want you to listen.

By Rebecca Green | Photos by Fred Field

Levering earned another master's in composition, studying with renowned composer Bernard Rands at Boston University. Ultimately he decided not to pursue a university career, and now he is a rare breed: a full-time composer who doesn't need a day job to make ends meet. He has received numerous commissions for his music and a string of awards.

Associate Professor of Music Jonathan Hallstrom and Allison Dunn '07 discuss Dunn's work in Hallstrom's Introduction to Music course. An English major, Dunn sees her work as creative writing with sounds.
Photo by Fred Field
Yet even as a successful composer, Levering is frustrated. "Audiences are so rarely exposed to contemporary classical music, it's no wonder they have anxiety about going to hear it,— he said.

Hallstrom already had music in his head when he took a mandatory course in electronic music as a graduate student at the University of Iowa. But it was after hearing a performance of music by John Chowning, a major figure in the computer music scene at Stanford, that the sparks began to fly.

Hallstrom received a grant to spend three weeks at Chowning's lab in the mid-1980s, which he refers to as the "wild west days of computer music.— The electronic music studio was in an abandoned phone company office where a bunch of computer nerds basically camped out, waiting eight hours for the mainframe computer to process about 10 seconds of music.

Told he'd never get anywhere in just three weeks, Hallstrom was determined. With little more than a manual and an account on the system, he too started spending days and nights in the studio, teaching himself how to get sounds out of the computer. When he inadvertently typed in the wrong commands and "blew up— the system, a cascade of unexpected but intriguing sounds came tumbling out of the speaker.

Chowning, who happened to be walking by, was impressed. Serendipity? Perhaps. Hallstrom was given a grant to spend two years at Stanford's Center for Computer Research in Music and, essentially, a permanent membership in an exclusive club for computer composers.

#bells#left#70%#Today Hallstrom, like his predecessor Peter Ré, conducts the Colby Symphony Orchestra as well as the Colby Sinfonietta, a smaller group devoted to contemporary music. Unlike Ré, Hallstrom's keyboard is the data entry device for a cutting edge of computer-generated art—a portal to "intermedia,— the intersection of interactive and multimedia technology.

Enter Hallstrom's computer music studio in the Bixler Art and Music Center and you'll find racks of synthesizers, a very powerful computer, and the electronic keyboard a.k.a. data entry device. There are no conventional musical instruments, no sheafs of staff paper. The occasional violin strain floating in from the adjoining practice room is the only reminder of the traditional acoustic world out there.

A lot of what Hallstrom does is experimental. "You start with a vision. Can I do this? How can I do this? You're making sounds and you can massage them. The most inspiring things come from mistakes,— a lesson learned early, he said, in Chowning's lab at Stanford.

At Colby he started in a closet with a custom-made synthesizer and a Kay-Pro computer that had 64K of memory. Now the studio has powerful processors and sophisticated software that can generate in nearly real time what used to take many hours to process.