2014 Spring Newsletter

Mustang Band in San FranciscoRSVP XIX: Vox Balaena

The Sound Design Program will once again raise its spring trans-media RSVP concert. Audience members have come to expect the unexpected from this concert series, but this year — its 19th — there will be some special new twists. Reflecting on the great size, life, plight and vocal literature of humpbacks (and other baleen whales), the production will attempt to bring the look and feel of the ocean to the concert stage. A fixed ensemble will offer musical, spoken, visual, sonic and projected reflections on how whales have been viewed and treated by humankind, and posit how whales might view humankind. The production, under the artistic direction of Professor Antonio (Greg) Barata, combines efforts from students from a broad array of majors and performance interests. Barata says, "We are moving away from the musical theatre approach that has been typical of recent productions. This will be a much more organic show in terms of its flow and breadth and subject matter. We know quite a bit about whale song, but not very much about how they actually sing. Clearly, they do not expel air, move lips, or many of the things we associate with the mechanics of human singing. Still, there is no doubt that these are in fact songs, not just sonic communication, common among many terrestrial species." The production will feature moving sounds, moving lighting effects, and even moving stagecraft. A wide array of musical styles will convey the notably unusual inspiration for the concert. "There will be clouds of atmospheric sound and avant-garde electroacoustic music, as well as traditional music," says Barata. Frolicking, dance-evoking compositions; serious, contemplative works; chant; and hard-driving music will weave together with poetry and staging in a thoughtful celebration of cross-species respect. Barata, a whale song fan for decades, has gathered information and media resources from some of the most prestigious humpback whale researchers, including whale song recordings by Roger Payne, photographs by Iain Kerr — both of Ocean Alliance — and video footage from Nan Hauser of Whale Research. The shows will be at 8 p.m June 3 and 5, in the Performing Arts Center Pavilion.