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arts music

NOTUS ensemble to feature premiere works by Jacobs faculty, students March 31

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IU’s contemporary vocal ensemble, NOTUS, will present their final concert of the semester at 8 p.m. on Friday, March 31, in Auer Hall. 

The program will feature world premieres of original compositions by Chi Wang, an assistant professor of music at the Jacobs School of Music, entitled “Dynamic Equilibrium.” The chorus will also perform works by the student winners of the 2023 NOTUS Composition Contest- Kian Ravaei, Christian Courage Barda, Thejas Mirle, and Hunter T. Johnson. 

The NOTUS Composition Contest is an annual competition open to all current undergraduate and graduate students studying composition at the Jacobs School of Music. Winners will have their work premiered and recorded with NOTUS. 

Wang has wanted to work with NOTUS since 2019 when she saw Dominick DiOrio, professor of music at the Jacobs School of Music and conductor of NOTUS, conduct Steve Rice’s “Desert Music.” Specializing in electronic composition, Wang decided DiOrio’s choral group would be the perfect ensemble to bring “Dynamic Equilibrium” to life. 

The composition is a blend of artificially manipulated sound and the live voices of NOTUS, combining advanced electronic equipment to produce a sound unlike any other. As a classically trained musician, Wang wanted to combine her skills in electrical engineering and music to create something new. 

“Everybody is trying to merge the two worlds of music and art together,” Wang said. “We’re always searching for possibilities to make use of the new technology and use it for musicians or art to create new expressions.” 

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To bring the score to life, Wang developed four new electronic controllers, which respond to LED lights held by NOTUS members. The controllers will be manipulated by four performers to control the sound and music in real time. Wang explained that she wanted to combine the classic instrument of the voice with the modern instrument of the digital controller to reflect the passage of time. 

“The most important thing for me is this idea of having the voice — the most ancient and vivid live tool — with this new controller, this new technology,” Wang said. “As a representation of lives on earth from now to the future, every note and every flash of the LED lights could be a vibration of life.” 

Also featured in the concert will be IU freshman Barda’s original composition, “So Much Depends,” which won second prize in 2023 for the composition contest held yearly by NOTUS. Inspired by the poem “The Red Wheelbarrow” by William Carlos William, Barda’s piece is a reflection on a stressful life with an appreciation for small impacts. 

“Even if I don’t feel like I’m significant, I am positively affecting somebody, and I wanted that to be heard by the students of Jacobs,” Barda said. “It’s comforting and applicable to so many different things — how the little things are important.” 

IU master’s student Johnson will also have a composition performed, winning third prize in the contest. Johnson’s work, “Beati Qui Esuriunt,” was inspired by his recovery from an eating disorder, as it represents spiritual and literal hunger as means of fulfillment. Johnson said he hopes people will listen to the piece and let it sit with them. 

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“When we put materials that are controversial or really impactful or serious to people in a really exposed place, it gives an opportunity to really talk about what’s going on,” Johnson said. “People get to internalize it, think about it and process it on their own in the concert hall.” 

Johnson felt optimistic about such serious pieces being performed more often, seeing the rise in contemporary arts as a new beginning for the performative arts world. 

“Contemporary music is making performance and composition more honest and open; the field itself is changing to be about the people involved rather than just the music produced,” he said.

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