Education

Deep Blue, innovative Australian musical troupe, returns to SLO

The Australian musical performance troupe DeepBlue performs at Mission Prep high school in San Luis Obispo on Tuesday.
The Australian musical performance troupe DeepBlue performs at Mission Prep high school in San Luis Obispo on Tuesday. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

An innovative musical troupe from Australia is back to collaborate with Cal Poly faculty and students and add technical components and new ways of performing music.

DeepBlue’s approach is to engage younger audiences to symphonic music by including dancing, circus acts, robots, light displays and other thrills.

DeepBlue worked with Cal Poly students and faculty last year, holding workshops, showcases and auditions as the group gears up for a planned American tour in the next couple of years.

“We have been watching audience totals decline in recent years, and we want to make sure to keep the symphony alive,” said DeepBlue musician Greta Kelly. “We’ve conducted extensive research to gather information about what audiences want. And they say they want to be more engaged and participate.”

DeepBlue’s routine typically allows audiences the chance to select songs on a smartphone app for the orchestra to play, such as “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen and “Paint it Black” by the Rolling Stones. Those in attendance are asked questions such as “What are you most afraid of?" and "What is your most significant memory?”

The group receives some of its funding from the Queensland University of Technology, where some of their concepts were developed.

In the past, their digital answers were read aloud on stage. But as part of its collaboration with Cal Poly’s Liberal Arts and Engineering Studies program, Cal Poly student Petra Knapp helped DeepBlue integrate the live stream responses onto a screen for the audience to view.

Cal Poly’s LAES program has 75 students. The goal is to establish an ongoing exchange so that some Cal Poly students and Australian students from Queensland University of Technology collaborate and help build DeepBlue.

DeepBlue musicians, who memorize the music, dance as they play instruments. They’ve eliminated the role of conductor.

This year, the visiting troupe of eight musicians will offer a free show on Sunday and weekend workshops for a fee. Those who participate in a workshop will be included in DeepBlue’s Sunday show.

The group — which first performed in 2006 — presented a show in Australia in August that featured more than 50 custom-built robots from the Queensland University of Technology frolicking to the music. Robots won’t be used Sunday.

DeepBlue has traveled internationally and earned acclaim on “Australia’s Got Talent.”

DeepBlue violinist Deanna Connelly said that she trained as a classical musician but the experience wasn’t enough for her.

“I saw DeepBlue in high school, and I was hooked,” Connelly said.

On Monday in Liberal Arts and Engineering Studies co-director David Gillette’s class at Cal Poly and on Tuesday at Mission Prep high school in San Luis Obispo, DeepBlue showcased its act, playing songs such as “Misirlou,” featured on the “Pulp Fiction” soundtrack and popularized by surf rock musician Dick Dale.

At Mission Prep, they also performed popular tunes such as “Close to Me” by The Cure and “Happy” by Pharrell Williams, inviting students on stages to experiment with the theremin, an electronic musical instrument invented in the 1920s.

“I just like how unique they are,” said Cal Poly LAES major Tyler Huff, who specializes in video production and recorded some of their performance. “They make it a lot of fun to document. They’re certainly not boring.”

Experience the music

DeepBlue will offer a free show at 6 p.m. Sunday at Cal Poly’s Spanos Theatre. It is open to the public.

It also will hold workshops for young people ages 8 to 18 on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Cal Poly. The cost to attend is $150, though the fee will be waived for those who can’t afford it; more information is available at http://bit.ly/DeepBlue_InfoPack.

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