Imagine a musical concert where the guest artists are a computer, a synthesizer, some colored lights and a laser beam.
That's the case when Helge Skjeveland performs "Switched-on Classics," featuring computer-controlled synthesizers playing from the information on floppy disks. Kjeveland merely needs to insert a disk and push the space bar to get music. The disk has stored on it the pitch, intensity, note value and placement of each note. The sound that results on the synthesizer may be like a single harpsicord or an entire orchestra.Skjeveland, seated next to candelabra and wearing a formal tux, assumes the role of conductor, telling the computer how, when, what and how loud to play. Skilled lighting technicians provide the visuals, changing footlights on the large white screen as the music changes. The temperamental laser may or may not be cooperating.
At any rate, it's an interesting presentation - and even educational, if you get there early enough.
Skjeveland put on his third concert in the Provo-Orem area last week, prefacing the program with a lecture/demonstration of moving laser-light patterns, which would form on the screen according to pitches and intervals played on the synthesizer.
For instance, a major second interval looks like a rotating cylinder. Other combinations of notes don't make such a tidy picture. He described a dissonant, atonal section of Hindemith's "Ludus Tonalis" as looking "like a cat playing inside a ball of yarn." Some smooth piano passages came out looking like neat squiggles.
The composer/inventor explained that it's literally done with mirrors. The laser beam is transferred to the screen in various patterns after being reflected off two mirrors attached inside the stereo's tweeters.
Mechanical problems prevented its use during the first part of the program, which featured synthesized versions of "Peer Gynt" and a seldom-heard piece by J.S. Bach, along with three original compositions by Skjeveland. Following intermission, the small laser worked during the first one-third of the Hindemith piece, then died out - much to the disappointment of the audience in the Provo Tabernacle.
Skjeveland likes to put Grieg's "Peer Gynt Suite" on the program, not only because he is a native of Norway, but because the piece is not often played in the traditional symphony orchestra program. One of his aims with his unusual concerts is to introduce people to music that is new to them. Skjeveland currently has about 100 hours of music he's recorded on floppy disks and is simply waiting for an opportunity to perform them publicly.
His employer, WordPerfect, provided the opportunity this time around by sponsoring the concert with a grant. Company president Alan Ashton was one of the pioneers in developing techniques for computer control of musical instruments. Students from Karl Pope's stage lighting class at BYU added the visual element.
And the laser did what it wanted.