Duke New Music Ensemble explores possibilities for musical performances on Zoom and beyond

Duke New Music Ensemble — also known as [dnme] – has always been rooted in innovation, but never more so than this semester.

Established over a decade ago, [dnme] focuses on the interpretation of music from the late 1900s and 2000s, as well as original pieces by Duke student composers. Although the ensemble does not renounce classical notation, the group’s repertoire encompasses a wide variety of genres and instruments and is open to musical experimentation.

This semester, the ensemble will be led by Dr. Verena Mösenbichler-Bryant, Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Music. In a typical year, the ensemble is led by a graduate student in the music program, but the department decided to put Mösenbichler-Bryant — who also directs the Duke University Wind Symphony — in charge of the spring season. Since the ensemble was inactive during the fall semester, this will be their first attempt at remote programming.

“I think it’s important to find creative ways to make music virtually. We all miss the in-person interaction of music making…so much and none of the virtual projects can replace it. We tried so many different things last semester and since the onset of COVID, we find that what students miss the most is making music with each other,” said Mösenbichler-Bryan. “It’s not only a creative outlet for them, but it’s also really a way to connect with other peers. It will be a small group of students who will participate in [dnme] but every voice will have a chance to be heard.

The main programming for the semester will involve ensemble members meeting virtually once a week to explore the possibilities of remote online performances.

“There is a huge lagging issue with Zoom and it has to do with internet connectivity and just how Zoom processes incoming information,” Mösenbichler-Bryant said. “The…problem really impacts how we can play together. It just doesn’t work.

Mösenbichler-Bryant’s intention for the ensemble’s virtual dating season is to work around these technological challenges. She intends to explore virtual gathering platforms that could allow the group to avoid the problem of delays altogether, but she also intends to have the members play tracks that she has collected and which were written specifically with the notorious delay in mind.

“Anyone with some kind of performing ability can join this set. The flexibility of the [dnme] is beautiful because we are really looking for parts that work for the whole,” said Mösenbichler-Bryant. “It will depend on who you can have on Zoom. The goal is really to explore with the Zoom platform and see how we can make this delay work for us.

Additionally, the ensemble will collaborate with major figures from across the Duke Arts world, such as Duke Performances and Vice Provost for Arts John Brown, on what Mösenbichler-Bryant called a “play-along” performance.

For this performance, a rendition of Steven Bryant’s 2017 piece “The Low Arc of the Sun” will become a virtual community gathering. John Brown and the Ciompi Quartet, who took part in Duke Performance’s fall season, pre-recorded a track playing the parts of their instruments in Bryant’s piece. In March, Mösenbichler-Bryant intends to issue a call to the general community – anyone interested in performing with Brown and Ciompi Quartet can do so by submitting a video of themselves performing the piece on their instruments.

The project will also include a Q&A session with composer Steven Bryant and a virtual rehearsal before the submissions shoot.

“At the beginning of March, we will take all the submissions we have received and put them on top of the Ciompi Quartet and John Brown track, and then we will have essentially created a full string orchestra,” said Mösenbichler-Bryant. . “It’s a project that will then be shared as part of a [dnme] concert.”

Every semester, Mösenbichler-Bryant explained, what [dnme] fact is a bit different because the whole thing takes on the unique identities of those who run it and participate in it, and then it never looks the same again. While using this semester’s particularly unique virtual circumstances for creative exploration, she also hopes this will be the only semester where ensemble members will have to work remotely.

“I think such an important part of our ensembles is our connection with the students. Making music is about communication, it’s about interaction, it’s about listening to each other. And all of those things unfortunately cannot be replaced,” Mösenbichler-Bryant said. “I think they are grateful that we are trying to create opportunities for them. But everyone understands that it is not the same thing. And it can’t be the same.

For now, however, Mösenbichler-Bryant thinks joining [dnme] is a great opportunity for all students interested in exploring “what is possible and how we can be creative together in this virtual space”.

“You know, sometimes things just don’t work out,” Mösenbichler-Bryant said. “We’re just going to use it and move forward.”

To learn more about [dnme], contact verena.m@duke.edu. All instruments and all levels are welcome.