An interview with doctoral music student Oren Boneh

Note: Portions of the following interview were published in a May 11 edition of The Daily Californian.

Music, even in its simplest forms, has always represented deconstruction — of ideas, emotions and concepts into melodies, harmonies and rhythms, and then further into phrases, notes and dynamics. Music is also inherently performative; despite our culture of Spotify and iPhones, both classical and contemporary music are most authentically experienced in a live setting, be it a rock venue or a symphony hall.

For Oren Boneh, a doctoral student in the Department of Music, composition is a means of self-expression rooted in the ability to interact with — or even subvert — the standard cultural perception of music. His most recent piece, “To Form a More Perfect Human,” goes beyond unconventional instrumentation or atypical time signatures — he breaks from the performative expectations of his audience by deliberately hiding players from it.

“I’m very fascinated by the idea of stripping someone of the knowledge of what’s creating the sound,” Boneh said. “I think that’s really interesting — I think it really changes the way we hear the sound.” As an example, he mentioned the violin, an instrument whose sound we can easily identify. “We know that instrument — it’s historically ingrained in our minds,” he said. “But I’m really interested in sounds that we can’t necessarily easily attribute to a particular object.”

To get around those ingrained expectations, his recent composition “To Form a More Perfect Human” calls for two players — a trumpeter and a percussionist — to be placed behind a screen, out of sight from the audience. “The trumpet is able to do a lot of sounds that we cannot easily attribute to the trumpet, especially very quiet, fragile sounds,” explained Boneh, himself a trumpeter. The hidden trumpeter, together with the percussionist — whose toolkit included toys and other atypical instruments —…

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