ElectroAcoustic Composition Laboratory

Jean-Paul Perrotte

University of Nevada, Reno students will soon be able to expand their musical horizons with a brand-new ElectroAcoustic Composition Laboratory (EAC Lab). It will be a key feature in the new University Arts Building.

The EAC Lab will be the first of its kind in the state of Nevada and will provide University faculty and students with a completely soundproof, surround-sound environment to compose electroacoustic music through the union of technologies and equipment.

Electroacoustic music, a recognized genre of composition since the 1940s, is generated by analog equipment and computer software, often blending traditional musical instruments with digital sounds.

Jean-Paul Perrotte, assistant professor of composition and coordinator of music theory in the Department of Music, has been the driving force behind the new lab.

Perrotte, an accomplished electroacoustic composer who has performed his work internationally, as well as within the United States, worked closely with the architects of the new building to ensure the lab would be acoustically sound and fit for electroacoustic composition purposes from the beginning.

Students who enroll in Perrotte's composition class, MUS 409/609, Section 1002 Electronic Music Composition, will be able to learn and use the lab's software and hardware. Students can then use the lab in their own time to create their electroacoustic compositions.

It enables students to work in a completely quiet environment without receiving interference from outside noises and without causing disturbances to classrooms next door if they want to work at loud volumes.

Also, the new lab is built with complete surround-sound capabilities. The composer will sit at a workstation in the center of the room that is surrounded by speaker arrays.

"In this environment, we can go ahead and place sound anywhere around the room - as it happens in real life," Perrotte said. "Sound does not always come at you from the front; it happens all around."

The combination of soundproof walls, surround sound, and other architectural features like corner bass traps, which dampen bass frequencies, will create the perfect working environment for creating sound in a vacuum, he said. Otherwise, the room could negatively affect music compositions.

"If you do create a work in a space with acoustic anomalies," he said. "You will get things you did not want because the room affected the way you produced the sound. So, you want something that's going to be flat. If I want an echo, I will run it through an echo machine. I do not want the room to give me that."

Although the new EAC lab will feature the latest in music studio design, construction, and computer software, Perrotte stresses that you do not need to be an expert in the technology or even a music student to take his class.

"I would encourage anyone who's interested in this to give it a shot," Perrotte said. "They don't have to know anything about the software, hardware, anything like that. The class is meant to teach people how to do it. As long as they are curious and interested in trying to make it a go, it is a success."

Perrotte has taught students from across disciplines from journalism to computer science, and even those are interested in composing electronic dance music or who currently work at the University radio station, Wolf Pack Radio. For Perrotte, what defines a student's success in his classroom is an interest to learn and the willingness to think outside of the box.

"The number one thing is to think about music differently," he said.

In his classes, Perrotte draws from his extensive background in music composition to inspire his students to think beyond the traditional confines of what defines a musical instrument. Moreover, Perrotte has much experience in pushing the boundaries of electroacoustic playback.

One of his most recent projects involves a partnership with Gideon Caplovitz, associate professor in psychology and director of the University of Nevada, Reno cognitive and brain sciences program, to turn an EEG brain wave activity reader into a musical instrument that Perrotte performs with onstage.

"It has evolved, but the basic idea is that I, as the performer, put this instrument on my head," Perrotte said. "I then transmit via Bluetooth brainwave activity to my computer. In my computer, I have taken those live streams of data, and I parcel them so that I can assign them musical triggers when certain areas of brain wave activity are peaking."

During these performances, Perrotte explores the varieties of human emotions - boredom, frustration, happiness - which control the rise and fall of rhythmic activity through the EEG reader.

Perrotte has also experimented with video game components and their role in musical compositions, such as programming motion sensing technology like Wii Remotes into instruments that produce and bend notes based on the user's motions. In the future, he plans to experiment with the Xbox Kinect and its potential to produce music based on a dancer's movements.

His students have shown the same propensity for redefining the traditional parameters of what makes a musical instrument. Perrotte recalls a recent graduate, Elizabeth Phillips, who created and performed a musical composition based on solving a Rubik's Cube.

"She took a photograph of each step of solving the problem and then was able to map the musical notes for those steps," Perrotte said. "One surface would generate musical ideas based off of the color and their positioning. It started pretty chaotic, but as it gets closer to being solved, it becomes more consonant because it is all red or all green."
Perrotte hopes the new lab will not only provide an ideal working environment to create electroacoustic compositions but inspire his students to combine old and new technologies to push the boundaries of music composition further.

Architect Design Principle

The integration of technology into music education allows musicians to collaborate with disciplines like video production, visual arts and engineering and strengthen the program. This space is designed as a flexible classroom that is deeply embedded with technology and infrastructure to allow a wide array of digital music composition, playback and collaboration. The window into the corridor gives students a chance to see the process live without being in the room - furthering our principle of exposing the arts.

- Dennis Bree, senior associate with DLR Group

The University Arts Building includes a 287-seat recital hall, a new museum of art, a fabrication lab, an electroacoustic lab, soundproof rehearsal spaces, music practice rooms, faculty office spaces and a recording studio.

The College of Liberal Arts and the School of the Arts are expanding their roles and footprint on the campus and community as they enhance the quality of art and music facilities for students, faculty and the public.