New technology meets ancient instruments in ‘Audible Numbers’

The Korean National Gugak Center’s Creative Traditional Orchestra performs ‘Audible Numbers,’ a new piece composed by music department chair Edmond Campion. (UC Berkeley video by Roxanne Makasdjian and Stephen McNally; footage courtesy of Cal Performances)

“My work has always been interested in how emerging technology influences the way music is made,” said Edmond Campion, the director of the Center for New Music and Audio Technologies and chair of UC Berkeley’s Department of Music, during an interview with California magazine.

Campion’s latest piece, “Audible Numbers,” inspired by and written for instruments that were already ancient when China started building the Great Wall, made its debut Saturday (Oct. 28) in a performance by the Korean National Gugak Center’s Creative Traditional Orchestra in Zellerbach Hall as part of the orchestra’s two-concert Cal Performances residency.

UC Berkeley’s traditional drumming group, EGO, joined the National Gugak Center of Korea’s Creative Traditional Orchestra and the Monterey Percussion Ensemble, to parade across the campus to Zellerbach Hall before the evening performance. (UC Berkeley video produced by Roxanne Makasdjian and Stephen McNally; footage courtesy of Cal Performances)

“When the offer came to work with the Gugak musicians, I saw immediate connections between these ancient instruments and some of the proto-electronic controllers I’ve used,” said Campion. “They both have strange limitations or challenges to the way music is conceived as a thing which in some way changes the rules as a way to explore new ground.”

Campion, who composed the piece using software based on Pythagorean ratios, said he approached the piece thinking of sound as numeric relationships. “It’s a different way to enter into a relationship with these instruments, not as cultural homage, but as a space of exploration and possibility.”

Read more about the inspiration behind “Audible Numbers” in California magazine.