Within the Music and Technology program at Stevens Institute of Technology, students can take many different paths, using technology as their art to realize their individual creative goals.
Every year, there is a contingent of students in the program who are composers and typically complete their senior thesis with a large orchestral work that highlights their skills as both musicians and technicians.
Brian Voyer, who will graduate this spring with a M.E. in Computer Engineering in addition to completing a dual bachelor’s degree in Music and Technology and Electrical Engineering last spring, intends on pursuing graduate study in music composition ideally at The Juilliard School. Mikkel Christensen, a senior Music and Technology major, hopes to attend graduate school for music composition as well. The two future composers ran into a road block as they began to prepare for this next step.
“Usually part of a graduate school portfolio is a live recording of a live orchestra performing the student’s piece,” said Andy Brick, director of the Music and Technology program in the College of Arts and Letters. Brick is the resident composer on campus, and students interested in composing tend to gravitate towards him for their senior thesis.
“In a traditional music conservatory school, the students would be able to utilize the campus’s student orchestra, but at Stevens we needed to find a creative work-around for Brian and Mikkel to record their pieces.”
Brick explained that hiring an orchestra can be an incredibly costly experience, with most orchestras charging around $100 per hour per player. For a student needing to record for three hours with an 80-person orchestra, along with hiring a technical staff, the price tag could climb upwards of $30,000.
But for Voyer and Christensen, the option to record their scores using performance software wasn’t cutting it either. “Even with the technology we have on campus, a digital recreation of the same piece that I’ve spent hours working on can only come so close to the real thing,” Christensen said.
Because of Brick’s industry connections around the world, he thought of an interesting cost-saving solution: the Budapest Film Orchestra, whom Brick has worked extensively with, could record Voyer and Christensen’s orchestral portfolio pieces at a fraction of the cost they would incur in the U.S.
“Not only was it a more affordable option for them, but the concept of being a musician in Eastern and Central Europe is really different than it is here,” Brick said. “People are engaged in the activity of being a musician in a different way than we are here, so I thought it would be important for these students to get this multicultural perspective on musicianship.”
However, getting Voyer and Christensen all the way over to Budapest during the semester posed as a problem. Since neither of the students could make the travel, they employed a software called Source-Connect, where they could monitor Brick and the Budapest Film Orchestra playing their pieces in real time high-definition audio and video. The feed went straight into the CAL Music Studio, giving Voyer and Christensen the ability to directly talk back to Brick and the orchestra.
“I had no reservations about the technology,” said Christensen. “Initially I had assumed that I would be handing off my score to Professor Brick and he would work with a group of musicians and conductor that he trusted, so I trusted them. But, being able to hear and see them in real time and offer live feedback due to Source-Connect was fantastic. Despite being over four thousand miles away from the studio, it felt as if I was in the control room.”
Brick has been recording internationally for around 30 years but this experience, let alone it being virtually remote, was brand new for Voyer and Christensen. From finishing the score to the actual recording session was a large and detailed undertaking.
“I was a bit concerned with the remote monitoring system,” Voyer admitted. “But we did a test run and heard the audio fine, and I trusted Professor Brick to advise me on what he thought was necessary to get a good recording. It was nerve-wracking to have so many musicians playing my music, but exhilarating as well.”
Brick said both he and the Budapest Film Orchestra are looking forward to recording like this again, with the orchestra putting a great emphasis on their anticipation to work with more promising young composers like Voyer and Christensen.