Music professors get in Touch with technology

When Apple announced its new iPad Wednesday, tech junkies around the world clambered over the next generation of the device and its nearly limitless capabilities. Yet tonight, five USF music

professors will use their iPads to compose and cover songs.

USF’s iPad Quintet will perform its multimedia show “Touch” tonight at 7:30 at the School of Music Concert Hall. The quintet will perform original songs, as well as covers of popular artists such as Lady Gaga, using only their five iPads.

David Williams, associate professor for the School of Music and the pioneer behind USF’s touch-screen music group, said the idea originated in 2010 when the first iPad was released. He said the grant to purchase the iPads, awarded by USF’s University College, had two functions.

“The first is an educational function to serve as a model for our music education students as one of the possibilities of what music in the schools might look like in addition to what we presently do,” Williams said. “The second is for a live performance group.”

Along with Williams, the iPad Quintet consists of Clint Randles, Paul Reller, Ciro Scotto and Baljinder Sekhon, all faculty from the School of Music. Tonight’s performance will include iPad covers of “You and I” by Lady Gaga, “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple and “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley.

Williams said “Touch” will also involve USF actors and dancers, as well as the audience. One piece will feature the iPad Quintet playing improvisational music while USF dancers interpret their sound through movement. Another includes a reading of Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are” that will be interpreted by USF actors.

He said one piece will allow any audience member to participate, but another requires a similar Apple device. By downloading the app “Bebot” on their iPhones, iPads or iTouches, audience members will be able to play along with the Quintet during a specific section. The app combines synthesized sounds with a dancing robot cartoon.

Williams emphasized the iPad as more than just a vehicle for different electronic instruments. He said the device is an instrument in itself.

“The iPad as an instrument is no different than any other musical instrument,” Williams said. “Let’s compare it to a trumpet. You can play a trumpet incredibly well, and you can also play a trumpet really badly. The same is true for an iPad – you can play it musically and you can also play the wrong notes, the wrong rhythms.”

Williams said another similarity is developing a technique to play it.

“It takes practice,” he said. “You have to practice playing it like any other “

Randles, assistant professor of music education, said though the iPad sounds nearly identical to physical instruments, playing it takes some getting used to.

“The thing you have to get used to is the interface,” he said. “The bass, you don’t actually pluck the strings, you’re tapping where they are.”

Randles will use six different apps during the performance to create different sounds.

“The sounds are very good, especially this Garage Band application,” he said. “If you don’t know you’re listening to an iPad, you might not be able to tell – it’s that good.”

Scotto, assistant professor of music theory, said his favorite part of playing the iPad is being able to easily switch between instruments.

“I like the versatility,” he said. “I can make it whatever I want it to be. In other performances, I might (switch between instruments), but it’s in the same family. This is completely different stuff.”

Each song in “Touch” will use a variety of sounds generated by different apps on the performers’ iPads. Williams said some pieces force them to switch between apps in the middle of the song. The iPads are connected to amplifying sound equipment, and vocals are the only non-iPad sounds in the show.

“There will be a vocalist there,” Williams said. “The iPad doesn’t make words.”

“Touch” begins at 7:30 p.m. in the School of Music Concert Hall. Tickets are $10 with a student ID and $15 for general admission.