Visiting Artist: David Jensenius

written by Carol Ayoob

The Intermedia MFA Program shook hands once again, recently, with experimental music composer David Jensenius, who presently splits his time between Kitchener, ON and Brooklyn, NY. Many of the program’s grads met Jensenius a year ago at a polish restaurant while on a class trip to New York. Since it was a clattery, noisy venue to actually hear his works, we could tell that he had some interesting collaborations and performances going on. We invited him to visit us, back at the University of Maine, to do a concert and talk more about his work. With a generous grant from the University’s Cultural Affairs and Distinguished Lecture Series, he flew in and prepared musicians and the like, for a collaborative experiment called “Suggestion Machine (alpha)” and give a lecture (“Notes on Accumulation”). Professor of Music Anatole Wieck and several students from both the Music and Intermedia Programs, and a community member (former music major) came together to create a ‘sound collage’ with David and his artificial intelligence machine.

Jensenius earned his B.S. degree in 2001, in Computer Science, from Millersville University, and in 2008, his M.A in Music Composition from Wesleyan University where he studied under Alvin Lucier, Anthony Braxton, and Ron Kuivila. He has a list of compositions and their rule-sets, complete with sound bites on his website,

David sent scores to the three musicians before his arrival, Jean Roberts, (bassoon), Anatole Wieck, (violin), and Ryu Mitsuhashi, (violin) and met with them to explain the notations and rehearse their parts prior to the concert. Another piece was performed using three students, Justin Taylor, Kyle Hussey, and Carol Ayoob. The students wore headphones with a prerecorded sound-piece of seagulls coming and going by the Cuyahoga River, playing on mp3 players; they played along to the soundscape with instruments of their choice. (Guitar, finger piano, bells, and a tack-hammer banjo).

For the concert, David acted as a conductor. He was given instructions from his computer which told him when to tell students to begin and stop playing, in addition to starting and stopping field recordings and other electronic works. The computer was trying to build what it thought was an interesting collage, however David could (and did) disagree with the computer at which time the computer either reconstructed the collage or told him he had to stick with what he was doing. This indeterminacy meant there was a possibility that any number of the pieces might not be played.

Though it was a stormy night and attendance was scant, the participants found the piece to be about ‘chance operations’ as they stepped out of the box to allow for what happened in the moment.  The piece was filmed by Oren Darling and photographed by Amy Pierce, both student in the Intermedia MFA Program.