Symphony, EarthQuaker invent new sounds with effects pedals, instruments

Saturday night’s “EarthQuaker Symphony” program at EJ Thomas Hall will be about creating a confluence of different sounds and bringing together seemingly different worlds.

The world premiere of the commissioned work “Confluence,” the centerpiece of the program, is a collaboration between the Akron Symphony Orchestra and the company Akron EarthQuaker Devices to create a new musical work fusing electronic effects pedals with traditional acoustic instruments. The resulting “Confluence,” a concerto for orchestra and EarthQuaker Devices, will be performed live by the orchestra and co-composers Jon Sonnenberg and Jake Gunnar Walsh, who will serve as guest performers.

Six orchestra members will perform solos through EarthQuaker’s homemade effects pedals while Sonnenberg, on the center stage of a mixing station, electronically processes the sound by manipulating the pedals as the DJ of “Confluence “. Orchestral instruments that will be featured with live pedal effects include violin, cello, clarinet, horn, piccolo and timpani.

Walsh, a composer and musician based in Ithaca, New York, will also be featured on oboe with effects pedals as well as a brand new instrument: the “confluence harp”. Sonnenberg invented the latter just for this new concerto because he needed an instrument that creates extra notes, or microtonal sounds with tones between those you would hear from adjacent notes on the piano.

The new instrument features aluminum chimes suspended from piano wire that are struck with mallets. The way the new instrument is designed, the chimes sound both the strings and the strings sound the chimes.

“Confluence”, which means fusion, became the perfect name for the two-year collaboration between the orchestra and EarthQuaker Devices to create new worlds of sound.

The project has also become a fusion between co-composers who come from different musical backgrounds. Sonnenberg, who lives in Medina, is an electrical engineer, musician and composer who is a favorite of EarthQuaker, having helped founder Jamie Stillman create the Afterneath Pedal. Walsh, whom the symphony brought, is a master of orchestral writing and oboe who also has experience with electronics and extensive effects, music director Christopher Wilkins said by phone Feb. 23.

“He’s young and hip and I just knew he would get what we were looking for immediately, and he did,” Wilkins said.

Medina's Jon Sonnenberg is co-composer of the new
Jake Gunnar Walsh from New York is co-composer of "Confluence," a commission in partnership with Akron Symphony and EarthQuaker Devices.

The co-composers started with material from Sonnenberg’s electronic and synthesizer-based works for video games and films, which Walsh scored for orchestral musicians, and they ended up co-composing more orchestral parts together.

In another confluence of worlds, the musical premiere is expected to bring together fans of the orchestra and EarthQuaker Devices made by Akron, a local success story founded by guitarist/drummer Stillman in 2004 with global sales.

“Few Akron Symphony customers will know what an effects pedal is, and few people who play these effects pedals extensively will never have been to the Akron Symphony in their lives,” said conductor Wilkins. “That’s what I love about it. We push boundaries – both organizations are.”

Wilkins pointed out that the orchestra’s collaboration with EarthQuaker is about blending the musical terrain and changing the landscape, like earthquakes do.

“It’s just a wonderfully Akron project. It’s innovation,” he said. “It’s rock ‘n’ roll, in a way. We tap into the roots of Akron in a lot of ways, and it’s very much a community project. These are two organizations coming together from completely different sides.

“They have a lot of fans and we have a lot of fans. But I promise you there’s almost no overlap between these two, so I think that’s pretty cool,” Wilkins said.

Akron Symphony and EarthQuaker devices create new worlds of sound by combining electronic effects with traditional instruments in the new "Confluence."

The audience will hear the orchestra acoustically and the effects pedals through the amplification system. These effects will include vibrato, distortions, pitch and timbre modulations, echoes and reverbs.

In fact, five of the six movements in “Confluence” are named after EarthQuaker effects pedals. These are “The Depths”, “Afterneath”, “Dunes”, “Aqueduct” and “Astral Destiny”. The last movement, “Terrae Motus”, is Latin for EarthQuaker.

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The two organizations already had strong ties. Julie Robbins, CEO of EarthQuaker and wife of Stillman, sits on Symphony’s board of directors. And orchestral cellist Erica Snowden-Rodriguez’s partner, Samantha Wandtke, works at EarthQuaker, where she’s known as the in-house “pedal doodler” for her designs that she inserts into the pedal packaging.

“EarthQuaker Devices is proud to present this groundbreaking collaboration with the Akron Symphony Orchestra. The ASO is such an important cultural institution for Akron, and we are thrilled with the creativity this performance will demonstrate,” Robbins said in a statement. .

As the collaboration with the Akron Symphony evolved, the folks at EarthQuaker created a video documentary about the creation of “Confluence”. The musicians had the score in advance, but no one heard the new piece live until the first rehearsal of “Confluence” on Wednesday.

As the composers worked together on the piece, they created a world where the ensemble mimics pedal effects and the pedals mimic the sounds of the orchestra itself.

In each short movement, a different pedal effect is displayed one at a time. For the final move, they all come together.

“It’s a very colorful experience of all of this coming together. It’s kind of cathartic in the way they crafted it, a certain euphoria under this idea of ​​confluence,” Wilkins said.

Art and restoration writer Kerry Clawson can be reached at 330-996-3527 or [email protected]


Concert: EarthQuaker Symphony

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Or: EJ Thomas Hall, 198 Hill St., University of Akron

Program: “Earthquake” by Haydn from “The Seven Last Words of Christ”, “The Creatures of Prometheus: Overture” by Beethoven and “The Ruins of Athens: Turkish March”, “Confluence” by Sonnenberg/Walsh, “Negro Folk Symphony” by Dawson

On the scene: Akron Symphony Orchestra, conductor Christopher Wilkins, co-composers/performers Jon Sonnenberg and Jake Gunnar Walsh

Cost: $15 to $60

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