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AER at AAR: Celebrating the Past, Present and Future of Electronic Music

December 21, 2015
The AER (American Electronics in Rome) festival.
DJ performing at AER festival.
AAR Resident Annie Gosfield.
Audience watching the performance at the AER festival.
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Composer Annie Gosfield, current AAR Resident, sat serenely at her computer while percussionist Chris Cutler roamed barefoot around an ensemble of suspended garden tools. Three hours later, the rhythms of Rome-based phenom Lory D energized a crowd of mist-soaked dancers. There were two moments in an evening celebrating the many permutations of electronic music, from prize-winning composers to techno DJs, that took place on November 14 at Villa Aurelia.

The Genesis for this event took place 50 years ago when an extraordinary group of American Academy composers began collaborating with Italian engineers and musicians to initiate electronic music in Rome. The years 1964 and 1965 were heady at AAR and in Rome. The SynKet - a working prototype synthesizer - was born in the Academy basement from a partnership between AAR fellows and Italian engineer, Paolo Ketoff. The group Musica Electronica Viva was formed by American composers and musicians, while the still-active Nuovo Consonanza likewise began out of this fertile environment. As Alvin Curren, a founder of Musica Electronica Viva and student of Fellow Elliott Carter, reminisced at a roundtable launching the evening, these were days when the very definition of music was up for grabs and when not only. electronic forms, but day-long improvisation sessions, everyday objects-turned-instruments and cross-fertilization between the arts transformed the world of classical music forever.

The AER (American Electronics in Rome) festival was designed with this forward-looking spirit in mind. Itself the product of another collaboration between the AAR, the Rome-based curatorial team NERO, and Nuova Consonanza, the evening showcased the current face of electronica in Rome in its many guises. Since those days in the Academy basement, electronic music has broadened dramatically--both in its many genres and in its popular appeal. AER celebrated this diversity: veteran Alvin Curran performed some of his signature pieces for piano, electronics and found objects; current AAR Resident Annie Gosfield performed “EWA7,” a piece which mixed the mechanical sounds of factory machines with rock rhythms, while the later part of the evening featured techno-sets by Rome’s best-loved DJs, including Vipra and Lory D.