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The Electroacoustic Barn Dance features artists like UMW professor Johanna Beaver playing innovative music.
BY RYAN BROSMER
FOR THE FREE LANCE-STAR
Mark Snyder, a music professor at the University of Mary Washington, has been putting on music festivals since his days as a graduate student at the University of Memphis. But he started with funding from a technology grant, not an arts grant.
That's because Snyder's festivals showcase the world of electroacoustic music, a multimedia genre that blends analog and digital sounds, oftentimes with video, performed by musicians who use computers as control stations while playing traditional instruments like harp, clarinet or tuba.
Snyder describes the genre as "a catch-all for a bunch of stuff."
The festival, known as the Electroacoustic Barn Dance, is in its second year here in Fredericksburg. While he was in Mississippi getting his Ph.D, Snyder held a similar festival called the Electroacoustic Juke Joint, which featured one night of performances at a genuine rural Mississippi juke joint. He had hoped to be able to hold some of the barn dance performances in a genuine Fredericksburg-area barn, but things weren't as he remembered them when he returned to town.
"When I was a younger man here there were a lot more barns," said Snyder, a Stafford County native.
Instead, the main performances--all free and open to the public--will be held in Pollard Hall on the university's campus over the weekend of Nov. 8-10. The concerts will be similar in format to a classical music recital, just with pounding bass and swirling visual aids.
Snyder, a multidiscipline musician and composer, has most recently been seen around town with his indie rock band Nature Boy Explorer. He will participate in the festival with an original composition, one inspired by the kind of emotions and angst commonly associated with rock 'n' roll. But he used a harp (digitally processed almost beyond recognition) along with other sounds--mostly spoken dialogue from analog tape recordings--manipulated to become a musical accompaniment.
Something like the Electroacoustic Barn Dance takes a lot of work to put on and run, and there's a lot of pressure to make sure it goes right. Many of the participants are at the top of their fields, not just in the electroacoustic genre, but in the classical and popular music scenes. There need to be enough cables, computers, speakers, seats, power outlets, screens, sound mixers, and myriad other technical details.
The management of all of this is typically left to an experienced professional, but Snyder likes to make this part of the learning experience, so he makes one of his students the technical director for his festival. This year that student is Becky Brown, a music and computer science major at UMW. Brown has collaborated with Snyder many times in the past, including with Nature Boy Explorer, and the two have developed a helpful rapport.
"We just really gelled together," Snyder said of his musical partnership with Brown, a harpist since age 8.
Brown is a mix of gratitude and understandable nerves as she prepares for the festival.
"Working with so much gear is its own thing. It's more pressure each time I run through it all," she said. "But it's an experience I would never get in a classroom."
She also has to become familiar with the nearly 70 performers and composers, likening it to a scene with Anne Hathaway in the movie "The Devil Wears Prada."
"I have to memorize all of these names, who they are and what they do," she said. "It's learning how to be professional with this many professors."
Snyder hopes working with these composers and performers, luminaries in the field, will benefit his students--Brown in particular--by opening doors.
"I don't think there's any other concert like this one," Brown said, trying to decide whether that made her more nervous or proud.
Ryan Brosmer loves barns and dancing, in that order.