When Professor Rodney Waschka takes off his teaching hat, he does so with little fanfare or costume change. On this occasion, he slipped in and out of the role of host to vocalist/actor. This first program of the Arts NOW Series featured works by David Dunn, Bruce Hamilton, Mara Helmuth, Scott LindrothPauline Oliveros, Charlemagne Palestrine, and Christian Wolff. Waschka was joined by Tom Karches, an engineer, composer, and graduate student. The concert took place in Broughton Hall’s Truitt Auditorium on the campus of North Carolina State University.

Language has unique musical characteristics: rhythm, timbre, pitch and amplitude. Seemingly without effort, we learn the craft of speaking as infants: listening, babbling, mimicking. How we derive meaning, however, is the miracle. I thought about this process while attempting to understand the electronics composers use to create works of art. Each of the seven compositions has a unique connection to the sound of speech.

Christian Wolff, a true experimentalist, allows performers flexibility and listeners room to interpret. His 1971 “You Blew It” was superbly performed by Karches and Waschka. Their pitch, timing and dynamic of simple phonemes conveyed the message.

Two recently constructed electronic pieces were on the program. For his composition “Hennecker’s Ditch Fantasy” (2014), Bruce Hamilton created source material from a live recording of Kate Kilalea‘s poetry. He refers to his work as a “… gut response to the poem, abstract and similarly indirect.” The result is alluring, playful, and mysterious. Hamilton teaches at Western Washington University where he directs the WWU Electroacoustic Music Studio.

A distinguished composer and active member of the community, Scott Lindroth serves on the faculty at Duke University. He constructed “Twitter Music” from electronic “tweets” captured shortly after the assassination of Osama Bin Laden. Converting digital information to analog with a process he calls sonification, Lindroth created a sound track. A video display of assortment of filtered text runs simultaneously, thereby becoming a light source for the darkened room. I imagined the “situation room” wherein our highest-ranked leaders watched the event in real time. My stomach rumbled.

Waschka can be funny, brash, even frightening. In Mara Helmuth’s 2008 “Where is My Voice?” for voice and fixed medium, he added compassion to the mix of feelings and emotions that veterans of war bring home. Helmuth’s composition is based on “Vet’s Sangha: 2005” by Steve Sunderland; the electronic media was created from sound samples of acoustic instruments. This beautifully constructed work is deeply moving.

Other pieces were acoustically less complicated. Waschka’s performance of Pauline Oliveros’ 1989 The Witness was, nonetheless, powerful. And judging from the responses of the young audience, the piece is still relevant. Closing with Charlemagne Palestrine’s “Singing Against the Floor” (1974), Waschka collapsed on the floor; his voice had given out.

There will be two more Arts NOW series events during the fall 2014 semester. Guest Lecturer Jeff Morris will speak on October 7 in the Truitt Auditorium in Broughton Hall at 1:30 p.m., and Swiss saxophonist Laurent Estoppey will perform in the Ballroom of Talley Student Center on Tuesday, October 28 at 7:00 p.m. For details, see our calendar.