Indiana University

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Last modified: Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Ladies and gentlemen, please turn your cell phones ON

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IU’s David Baker set to debut ‘Concertino for Cellular Phones and Orchestra’

Sept. 20, 2006

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- They're intrusive, annoying and, quite often, infuriating.

Whether we like them or not, cellular phones are a fact of life, said Indiana University Distinguished Professor of Music David Baker. Though he stops short of giving them a ringing endorsement, Baker has dreamed up a conciliatory approach toward dealing with cell phones and that moment which many performers have come to dread -- the ring tone interruption.

Baker's new composition, Concertino for Cellular Phones and Orchestra, will incorporate audience members' cell phones in order to create a shared participatory performance experience. It is scheduled to kick off the 20th anniversary season of the Chicago Sinfonietta on Oct. 1 and 2 under the direction of Maestro Paul Freeman.

"This is the first time in my career that I have a piece that's finished, and I have no way of knowing what the results will be. There's just no way to replicate 1,000 cell phones going off at once," Baker said.

The concertino calls for the audience and members of the orchestra's percussion section to utilize their cellular phones at various points throughout the piece. Audience members will be divided into different sections and cued with red and green lights to turn on and off their phones. They will also be encouraged to randomly increase and decrease the volume of their ring tones and try to recognize familiar tune fragments on the ring tones sounding on orchestra members' cell phones, Baker said.

At times during the piece, many cell phones will sound different ring tones simultaneously, producing a chaotic effect. At other times, one of the ring tones will be silenced and the orchestra will pick up on and work with the melody of the remaining ring tone.

By contrasting chaos and structure in a constantly shifting orchestral scheme, Baker hopes to craft a representation of how cellular phones create both order and chaos in our society.

"There's a wonderful balance between [chaos and organization] because that's how our lives are," he said. "Moving from the known to the unknown is very exciting."

Baker also hopes to demonstrate for audience members how certain sounds around them can impact how they hear music and spark the mind. "Cell phones inevitably awaken memories," he said. "It's kind of like a sonic perfume."

A renowned jazz educator and performer, Baker acknowledges the similarities between his new piece and a jazz concert. He has used various jazz ostinatos, or recurring melodies, to provide a rhythmic constant to the piece. Without a model to work from, he can't be sure what to expect when the music starts and the phones start ringing.

"It's like a jazz piece. Once you've established the basic form of the piece and the tempo, then you don't know. I do know that very little happens for me when I'm in a passive environment."

Baker is chair of the Department of Jazz Studies at the IU Jacobs School of Music and artistic and musical director of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, the orchestra-in-residence at the National Museum of American History. A native of Indianapolis, he has been honored with nominations for the Pulitzer Prize and the Grammy Award.

He has more than 2,000 compositions to his credit, including jazz, symphonic and chamber works, but said that this piece was the longest to conceptualize. He admits to approaching the piece with great trepidation, but also with a genuine curiosity about the possibilities it presents. Baker is urging audience members to think about the piece the same way, to listen to it as they might listen to a work by (American composers) Charles Ives or John Cage and, most importantly, to have fun.

He acknowledges the potential for a few comedic moments. But what happens if someone gets a real phone call that they just can't ignore?

Baker laughs, "It's all part of the theater."

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