A first year student in Darmouth’s Digital Musics master’s program, Phillip Hermans’ graduate research focuses on the compositional structure of music and the auditory elements of computer programing. While this research is a slight departure from the undergraduate work that Phil conducted on voice-controlled synthesizers at Tulane, all of his work at Dartmouth blends elements of traditional music theory with concepts from the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) disciplines. Also, during his year as a member of the Dartmouth community, Phil has planned and hosted a number of musical events through his involvement with Green Orpheus, a GSC-recognized student group that started as a music and philosophy reading group.
“All of the events that I plan with Green Orpheus help introduce students to different musical styles and different types of performance. While some of these events are designed to just be plain-old musical fun, many of our performances expose graduate and undergraduate students to new compositional structures in a formal setting,” explains Phil. “For example, some of our events mirror the chamber performances that were in vogue in Europe through the 19th century, except that ours’ blend digital technologies with scores composed for traditional instruments. It’s a lot of fun.”
Examples of events hosted by Green Orpheus include this spring’s “Sustainable, Civic-Minded Minstreling”—an event hosted at Tom Dent cabin where participants engaged in musical games, collaborative compositions, and rhythmic music making—and this fall’s “Night of Noise”—a concert held in Collis that showcased Avant-garde pieces composed by Digital Musics graduate students that featured static, feedback, and free-form structures.
“If I had to categorize the music we played at ‘Night of Noise,’ I guess I would call it ‘Noise Rock,’” says Phil. “Most of the composers I’ve talked to find it powerful and dynamic, but I could see how the casual listener might be confused by its loose structure.”
Phil is currently composing a series of pieces on a digital platform that are intended to be played on traditional instruments. While, for the Digital Musics department, writing compositions that do not incorporate digital technologies in their performance is a bit of an abnormality, Phil is particularly excited about this body of compositions. While the body of work remains untitled, these compositions are written for a quartet comprised of a piano, cello, violin, and viola.
“Right now I’m having a lot of fun using digital interfaces for compositional purposes, but using instruments for actual performance. In using technology as a tool for writing, I think that I’m able to pen pieces that are a little different than what I would compose if I was writing with an instrument.”
Phil began song writing around the age of twelve, and by the time he was fourteen or fifteen he was composing his own music. Throughout high school, Phil played in both Temple’s concert and jazz band, and in his free time, wrote progressive compositions on the guitar.
“In high school I was listening to a lot of Frank Zappa and Duke Ellington, and when I wasn’t writing music of my own, I was playing with different Jazz combos. In addition to the show I played with both of my high school’s bands, I also played at a few jazz festivals in Texas with these combos.”
Phil’s current graduate research combines musical composition with multi-agent networks and dynamical systems. In addition to the required courses that he takes with the other Digital Musics master’s students, Phil also takes graduate courses at the Thayer School of Engineering; most recently, Phil took Networked, Multi Agent Systems with Reza Olfati-Saber, an Assistant Professor at Dartmouth who was awarded a Presidential Early-Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) by President Obama 2010. While Phil has not yet proposed his thesis topic, he expects that it will examine the role of music within video games design.
“Right now, there are a number of music-based video games—like Guitar Hero and Rock Band—but I think there is more that can be done with the auditory elements of electronic games. The design firms that create most of today’s high budget releases are primarily interested in high-resolution graphics and the game’s playability. While both of these elements are important, I think more can be done with the audio components of these games. In the future, I hope that my graduate research allows for a degree of user interactivity with the auditory streams of these games.”
If you’d like to hear some of the compositions of Phil and other members of Green Orpheus, Digital Musics plans on hosting an outdoor concert this spring that will sync the department’s digital compositions with an original score that will be played on the bells of Baker Berry.
by Wesley Whitaker