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SERIOUS SYNTHESIZING : Peter Terry and Lucia Unrau Are Bringing Computers in From the Fringe of the Classical Music Scene

May 23, 1991|CHRIS PASLES | Chris Pasles covers music for The Times Orange County edition.

More people than ever have been listening to computer music--whether they know it or not.

"Computer music has infiltrated the pop and film scenes," composer Peter Terry notes. "They're really driven by it. Except for the voice, which they can't synthesize yet, almost everything else is computer music."

But, Terry says, computers remain on the fringes of the classical music scene, their potential largely unfulfilled. That's one reason he and his wife, keyboardist Lucia Unrau, formed the Electro-metamorphosis Ensemble in 1988. The duo plays Sunday ("It is all electronically generated," says Terry, "but it's all live performance stuff") at the Fullerton Museum Center, on a program with the Sterling Consort, an acoustical instrument group.

Computer music took a huge leap forward in the last decade, says Terry, 33.

"The technology was phenomenally primitive until 1983. Instruments were incredibly inexpressive, hard to control and very limited," he says. But then came "a huge technological breakthrough in the way computers and instruments interact."

The breakthrough was the MIDI keyboard controller, which works like this:

"A synthesizer keyboard," Terry explains, "typically only has 60 keys, so it's not the same as a grand piano keyboard. A MIDI controller has 88 keys with weighted action so that it feels like a grand piano keyboard. It's played just like a piano, and it responds like a piano, which is the nice part."

The controller is linked to a computer which can be programmed to "determine which sound or collection of sounds you hear," Terry says. "You can put a different sound on every single key, and put the stereo location of the sounds in different places.

"You can also set it up so that if you play softly, you might get a guitar sound, but as you play louder, you may get brass or percussion sounds instead. So as you play, it totally transforms the sound into something else. It's sort of like having an orchestra at your fingertips.

"In that way, it's a different instrument, a new instrument. Nobody has tapped it well idiomatically so far."

Terry likes experimenting with "the physicality of the sound. We think of stereo being left and right, but it is really this continuum from left to right. So the sound can go from the sides to any space in between. My music really exists in that space, and also front to back. There is a lot of motion of sounds across that space."

Terry holds degrees in trumpet from the University of Michigan and composition from Bowling Green State University in Ohio and the University of Texas at Austin, where he met his wife.

"She likes new music, which makes her the exception among pianists," Terry says. "She was pretty much specializing in normal repertory--late Romantics, et cetera.--and I wrote her a series of pieces--seduction music--when we were first dating."

One of those became a "core piece" for the two. Called "In Measured Being Kindled," it will be on the Sunday program. Generally, Terry says, "I play electronic wind instruments and do all of the sounds and arranging; Lucia plays the piano or the MIDI controller. We collaborate as much as possible."

Terry knows there is still a lot of resistance to computer music among traditional classical audiences. He thinks they have the wrong idea about it.

"When people think of electronic music," he says, "they don't think of ensembles like us that produce things live. People get this image of a very anti-human aesthetic, something very machine-oriented . . . That's diametrically opposed to what we do. We put the performer back in the center."

What: The Electro-metamorphosis Ensemble.

When: Sunday, May 26, at 2 p.m.

Where: Fullerton Museum Center, 301 N. Pomona Ave., Fullerton, on a program with the Sterling Consort.

Whereabouts: Take the Chapman Avenue exit from the Orange (57) Freeway. Drive west to Pomona Avenue (one block past Lemon Street) and turn left.

Wherewithal: $4.

Where to call: (714) 738-6545.

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