Virtual reality in music
Composer personifies life in sound
by Marcy Day
Burtner shows off one of the masks to be used in The
By Jane Ford
Burtner calls himself a sound artist. He is part composer, performer,
inventor, conductor, director, researcher, anthropologist, environmentalist
a modern-day explorer, Burtners landscape is music. Using
computer technology, he creates technosonic music
that taps the unlimited possibilities of sound. I am exploring
and making a map at the same time, said Burtner, assistant
professor of music and associate director of the Virginia
Center for Computer Music at U.Va. The score is a link
between the imagination of the composer and the performer who
will bring that process alive.
scores dont look like those of Mozart or Beethoven. They
include notations that indicate sounds of the environment as well
as traditional music notation. They visually evoke the terrain
of the composition. On one score, the indication for the sound
of wind, played by drums, looks like air currents skipping across
the page. The scores are a combination of specifics and suggestions,
and are a lot like what the audience is listening to, said Burtner.
in the audience is listening to something different because their
perceptions are different.
need to forget what they think they know about music and just
listen, he said.
that is required to understand Burtners music is an open
mind and a sense of adventure.
latest work, Ukiuq Tulugaq (The Winter Raven), will
premiere at 8:15 p.m. in Old Cabell Hall on Friday, March 28.
Based on an Inuit creation story in which the world is created
by a raven, the piece also evokes the environmental change from
fall to winter.
describes the piece as bringing the outdoors in.
by the McIntire Department of Music
University of Virginia
8:15 p.m., March 28, Old Cabell Hall, $10, $5, 5ARTS$
Michael Slon, conductor
Sage Blaska, dance choreography
Ainseh Khan, video choreography
U.Va. Multimedia Production Class, staging, movemtn
choreography, dance, constumes and production
grew up in Alaska and was surrounded by people who lived close
The inspiration of nature is not new to music, said
Burtner. Debussys music was often inspired by nature.
Burtner approached the project from an anthropological point of
view, using nature in an impressionistic way. He uses computer
technology to help relate a dream-like memory of place and time.
production of The Winter Raven includes instrumental
ensembles, voices, electronics, multiple video projection, modern
dance, dance derived from native dance traditions, theater, special
lighting and staging techniques and surround sound.
created masks that represent the sun, ice, wind and the raven
for the storyteller to wear in the production. The character will
have a wireless video camera attached to a staff she carries.
As she dances, moving images of the masks will be sent to a computer,
then combined with visuals of the environmental element that the
mask represents. The new image will be projected on a screen onstage.
masks are based on those used by shamans in religious contexts
and on the cultural tradition of mask-making in general, said
Burtner, who has studied masks since 1995 and conducted extensive
research at the Anchorage Museum of Art.
students from various disciplines around Grounds are involved
in Burtners class, The Multimedia Production: The
Winter Raven. They receive independent study credit for
their efforts. One student group is making a documentary video
of the class and the process of bringing The Winter Raven
to the stage. An art student is creating a sculpture-like circular
screen with wings upon which images will be projected during the
Winter Raven is only a stop along the way on Burtners
journey of discovery. During the summer he will travel by boat
down Alaskas Kvichak River from glacier to sea, visiting
villages along the shore. This project is about the ocean, water,
ecology and fishing, he said. He plans to create a map from a
cultural viewpoint, taking into account the multiple languages
and cultures of the people. The final creation will be an opera.
acoustic ecologywhere environmental elements such as the
tides, moon and low water will be personified, he said.
also is involved in creating new instruments. Since 1997, he has
been working on the Metasaxophone Project, which extends the range
and capabilities of the saxophone beyond its natural acoustic
limits. Fitted with a computer processor and sensors, he investigates
the instruments untapped resonating properties.
passion for sound and music Burtner traces back to early childhood.
He remembers being carried in a backpack by his mother, hearing
the wind howling by his ears and humming to himself.
you are influenced early on by key experiences that stick, and
you spend the rest of your life working on that, he said.