Williams College I/O Fest kicks off “3 Days and Nights of the Music of Now” Friday
The I/O Fest kicks off Friday at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts.
To hear the fully produced piece, including samples of Francesca Hellerman's music referred to in the text below, hit the play button above.
The festival, billed as “3 days and nights of the music of now,” is presented by the Williams College Department of Music at venues throughout Williamstown.
“It's a festival we do every year at Williams College," Francesca Hellerman explained to WAMC. "And it's a time to really break out of what we do in the rest of the semester, where we usually perform a lot of classical music. But here, we're really exploring contemporary music, things that are being written now, things that are maybe unconventional in the way they approach sound and the way they approach the concert setting. And it's also mostly run by students. So, we have student composers whose pieces are being performed, we have students who are planning rehearsals, students who are conducting the pieces, students who are playing.”
21-year-old senior Hellerman is one of those students.
“I'm a music major," she said. "I play piano, I write music. I sing in choirs. I do very many different things in contemporary music.”
Hellerman has been involved with I/O Fest throughout her Williams experience. In 2020, she composed a piece called "Soundwalk" for the festival that combines improvised vibraphone with electronics inspired by the toad calls she heard while walking around campus.
This year, Hellerman is playing multiple roles at the festival.
“I am performing electronics on an hour-long song cycle called 'Penelope' by Sara Kirkland Snider, which is inspired by Penelope, Ulysses’ wife," she told WAMC. "It's a 10-piece ensemble with a singer, and then I'm playing electronics, which is a mix of like prerecorded musical sounds and also some sort of atmospheric sounds. I'm also playing a toy piano piece on that Friday afternoon concert at the Williams College Museum. It's a toy piano quartet, I'm really excited about that. And we also have a piece of mind that we're performing on that same Friday afternoon concert. The piece is called ‘[mis]communication,’ and it has two people who are typing texts at computers were what they type makes fun sounds, and then a bunch of musicians are improvising based on the text, and also based on the sound of the electronics being produced by the computer.”
“I really like to think of a lot of my music as a collaboration more than a piece that I've composed and where other people are just executing whatever I've put on the page," Hellerman continued. "The starting point for this piece was the electronics component that I built, where each letter or key press on the keyboard of the computer makes a different note, sound, and I at first was just trying to entertain myself over the summer. I thought, wouldn't it be really fun if writing emails made fun sounds instead of just being writing emails, and then I decided to turn it into this sort of indeterminate piece where there's so many things that could go in any direction. And my hope is that each of the two performers who's typing things types something really different, and so the musicians have to decide which of the two players they're going to sort of side with. So, my hope is that there's sort of a sense of conflict, but also of connection as everyone is improvising together.”
Hellerman stresses that no college education is required to appreciate the left field sounds and concepts that I/O Fest trades in.
“If you go in with an open ear and you're just ready to hear sounds that you may have never heard before, it can be a really joyful experience," she told WAMC. "Going in with an open ear and no expectations, you can just appreciate all these sounds and appreciate the artistry of people who are connecting with each other in front of an audience, and you don't necessarily have to know all the theory behind it and you can just sort of listen for the sounds themselves and any processes that you might be able to hear. And you might walk out thinking about something new or imagining a new story, a new way of interacting with the world around you that you maybe hadn't thought of before.”
I/O Fest features performances, film screenings, and more. It begins at noon Friday at the Williams College Museum of Art and runs through Sunday at venues across Williamstown.