in: News & Features

April 7, 2013

What’s a Bleep Blop?

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bleep-003According to their manifesto, Bleep Blop, a Boston-based electroacoustic new music ensemble, “collaborates with sound designers, artists and composers to develop new music and visual arts, and is committed to the merging of acoustic performers and live electronics, resulting in an overhaul of the concert experience.” They also promote interactions with their audiences.

Their 8:00 event on April 13th at MIT’s Killian Hall will feature works by Ramon Castillo, Deepak Gopinath, Ryan Meyer and PoChun Wang for electronically manipulated piano (Pei-yeh Tsai), analog synthesis, the Kronos Quartet Drum Machine, dynamically looped mbira, live video, including Six Six for solo piano and dynamic loopers, Two for soloist performing 8 simultaneous film scores, Bounce and Wonderland for synthesizer and the Kronos Quartet Drum Machine, Artifice for solo piano and iPad controlled effects.

The other day BMInt talked with Ramon Castillo and PoChun Wang, the founding members of Bleep Blop about the group and its upcoming concerts at M.I.T. and UMASS Lowell. An extended excerpt follows:

Joe Morgan: What is the purpose of Bleep Blop?

Ramon: We want to make the process of writing electronic music accessible to younger composers or any composers really who may only know how to approach music from an orchestrational or acoustic point of view. They may know how to write for traditional instruments, but they may not have any kind of electronic experience, so we wanted to make it possible for anyone who wants to write music to do so in this manner.

So Bleep Blop is an ensemble?

Ramon: It’s an ensemble, but it’s very ad hoc. For instance, in one of the concerts we had a laptop ensemble that was put together just for that one concert, and that was it. They went on their own separate ways thereafter.

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PoChun with Klaudia and Rebecca from Trio Lumiere

Ramon: The strange thing about the history of the group is that we weren’t really thinking about becoming an ensemble. We just had a concert that we needed to program so we decided to do electroacoustic music for solo piano, and Pei-yeh Tsai was the pianist. The concert was so successful and so much fun that we just decided to keep it going. Bleep Blop was the name of the concert.

PoChun: We soon found interest at Berklee in the Electronic Production and Design department and the Composition department. Since then, we’ve become a bit of a cross-over group between those two departments, at least in terms of student interest.

Who are the standing members of Bleep Blop?

Ramon: Well there is PoChun and myself. She is the director and I am the artistic director. Pei-Yeh Tsai (piano) is the manager and Jean Huang (violin) is the Concert coordinator.

Are you interested in being approached by composers or performers?

Ramon: Anyone. Performers, composers, sound designers, video artists. We haven’t gotten into it yet, but dancers possibly too. Anything.

PoChun: We do have a permanent open call on our website [here] looking for collaboration.

Do you have specific criteria that you are looking for when you screen people’s submissions?

PoChun: We’re looking for creativity above all else, but a high degree of artistic maturity is also important. They [the submitting composer/artist] need to be able to describe accurately what they want us to do. We want them to think in terms of our limitations instead of any set of [musical/stylistic] rules.

From where have you received submissions?

Ramon: While we’ve received submissions from across the country and Europe, we are a local ensemble. Part of our difficulty is the signal to noise ratio isn’t as good as we want it to be. We want the open call to reach people on our wavelength, sorry for all the electronic music metaphors. It helps if submitters get somewhat familiar with our work before pitching a proposal – being in the audience can really help.

What do you offer a composer interested in electronic music?

Ramon: We’ve had a number of composers simply submit scores, and we did the [electronic] programming. We’ve also had composers who provided the performers, the instruments and the technology and we just integrated them into our concert.

PoChun: We also have had collaborators who have sent us, for example, a pre-existing patch, or something that they have already written. They have described how it should be performed, and we have the freedom to interpret their vision. We really enjoy providing performance opportunities for composers of electroacoustic music and educational opportunities for composers who are interested but possibly inexperienced.

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Alfonso Peduto and Yoo-Jin Jun performing Sequence/Loop II at Berklee

Ramon: Most of the concerts we’ve had so far were in the David Friend Recital Hall at Berklee. We’ve also performed in Church of Saint John the Evangelist and at the Lily Pad in Cambridge. Now we are branching out a little bit, to do a concert at M.I.T.’s Killian Hall and the concert hall at UMASS Lowell. Ultimately, we don’t care—it could be virtually anywhere— a bar, a coffee shop, etc.

So you are actively seeking alternative performance spaces?

PoChun: Yes, and we have been growing and working on collaborating with other Boston area ensembles with similar interests. One of the most innovative things about our ensemble is that we can entirely self-produce our shows. If a venue or space doesn’t have the equipment we need, we can bring it ourselves.

Is Bleep Blop Chamber music?

Ramon: Okay, we’ve done three things. We’ve done electroacoustic music with solos, duos, trios, quartets, we’ve done purely acoustic chamber music and we’ve done purely electronic music with someone running a computer or synthesizer.

What is the role of improvisation for the ensemble?

Ramon: It is somewhat new. I think the first concert was written out pretty explicitly or programmed—almost fixed media. Obviously interpretive things could happen but the notes and rhythms were there. Slowly more and more pieces on each program are becoming improvised where either PoChun or I improvise on one of the electronic instruments/effects. The most recent work is Mbira Loops, which features Ryan Myer on mbira and me reacting through the electronics to his mbira playing. Ryan does some reacting to me as well. Nothing was planned in advance except the structure of the piece. We worked out the duration of each section, and it turns out differently every time.

What is the role of the visual component in your concerts?

Ramon: We want to offer more in the way of live visuals, and that is something that we all need to learn more about. In one recent piece by Brian Baumbusch a sonogram of the live music is shown as it occurs. We stole the idea from him, and now use it for any piece we perform that doesn’t have a video component specifically written for it.

What is Bleep Blop’s place in Boston’s contemporary music scene?

I’m not sure we will fit in to anything that’s already out there, but that is the charm. We are trying to get the wheels moving and to expose more people to electronic music composition.

PoChun: It’s not the same, it is a totally different approach altogether. I feel that our goal is not to create concert music. We create music. If it is good, if it represents a unique sound or voice, that’s great.

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NonDuo (Loudon and Raleigh), Pei Yeh, Ramon and PoChun in front of their misspelled poster after the first Bleep Blop concert

Ramon: It’s a quadruple bill – the groups performing are Bleep Blop, Cloud Ludum (think Jazzified Stockhausen), NonDuo (Electric guitar and experimental video), and Ensemble Robot (via their flagship Heliphon—an automaton glockenspiel). We’ll be in Durgin Hall at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell.

PoChun: We wanted to collaborate with a bunch of exciting groups. We’ve had an ongoing relationship with NonDuo and Cloud Ludum. Ramon and I have both worked with Ensemble Robot—prior to the existence of Bleep Blop. This concert will feature everything from “third stream” free improvised experimental music to acoustic piano with a twist.

Finally, why did you choose the name “Bleep Blop?”

We thought it was funny. It’s an onomatopoeic description of electronic music. It wasn’t supposed to be serious. We don’t want anyone to expect us showing up in tuxedos.

PoChun: It might be funny if someone wears a tuxedo…

Ramon: Maybe.

Bleep Blop will be appearing on Saturday, April 13, 2013, 8 PM EST in Killian Hall MIT and on April 20, 2013 in Durgin Hall at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. Both concerts are free and open to the public. They will also be streamed here.

See related review here.

Joseph E. Morgan is a PhD graduate of Brandeis University, where he studied early German romantic opera. He lives and teaches in the Boston area.

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