Journalist Daniel Pearl ’85 honored with music… and iPhones

Oct. 1, 2010, 3:00 a.m.
Journalist Daniel Pearl '85 honored with music... and iPhones
Daniel Pearl '85. (Courtesy of the Daniel Pearl Foundation)

For the past month, soprano Lydia Zodda ’11 and alto Deborah McDevitt, a member of the Stanford Chamber Chorale, have been rehearsing the vocals and choreography for their performance in next week’s Daniel Pearl World Music Days Concert. Zodda and McDevitt aren’t learning dance moves, though. They’ve been learning the gestures to play iPhones.

The singers will perform a hybrid electro-choral piece in Thursday’s concert at Memorial Church, singing a collaborative work composed by graduate students Spencer Salazar and Jeffrey Smith. The original work is just one act in the Oct. 7 Lively Arts- and Music at Stanford-sponsored “Harmony for Humanity,” a free concert honoring the late journalist, musician and alumnus Daniel Pearl. Pearl, who graduated from Stanford in 1985, was kidnapped and murdered in Pakistan in 2002 while on assignment for the Wall Street Journal.

On Thursday, Zodda and McDevitt will have the complicated task of singing the soprano and alto parts while simultaneously “playing” the iPhones that take up the customary organ and bass parts. Each of the singers’ movements and rotations will be tracked by the iPhone’s gyroscope, which will then send signals to the computer powering the speakers in the church.

“There are thousands of ways one could conceivably play an iPhone,” Salazar said. “You could tap the screen. You could shake it. You could blow into it. As a composer and instrument builder you have to figure out how one might use it with knowledge of what things look good, what things are easy or hard to do for a performer.”

The iPhone piece was composed specifically for the Daniel Pearl memorial, with Smith writing most of the traditional score and Salazar designing the iPhone movements to be both expressive and executable for the novice iPhone user.

“The text is taken specifically from Psalm 123,” Smith said. “It’s reflective of some of the experiences we all went through after 9/11 and when Daniel was murdered.” Smith noted that while the performers will be working iPhones, it is very much a vocal piece.

Smith hopes that the modern and experimental composition may open the way for more collaboration between computer music – considered the domain of the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics – and more conventional art forms.

“I hope that this is a general technique that any composer could then use and begin to think about more opportunities to cooperate with the school of dance where you have music that’s more integrated with choreography,” he said. Smith will play an original work for piano.

Other participants include the Stanford Chamber Chorale, performing a composition by Stanford music Prof. Jonathan Berger, the St. Lawrence String Quartet, playing Marcus Goddard’s “Allaqi,” and cellist Christopher Constanza, performing J.S. Bach’s “Allemande.”

“Harmony for Humanity” begins at 8:00 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 7 at Memorial Church. Admission to the event is free.

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