Education

Cal Poly, DeepBlue partner on 'orchestra unleashed'

Mario Alberto Ojeda, a Cal Poly music student, performs for Sophie Loades, left, Andy Arthurs, and Greta Kelly, not pictured, from the Australian music/theatrical performance troupe DeepBlue during auditions at Cal Poly on Thursday.
Mario Alberto Ojeda, a Cal Poly music student, performs for Sophie Loades, left, Andy Arthurs, and Greta Kelly, not pictured, from the Australian music/theatrical performance troupe DeepBlue during auditions at Cal Poly on Thursday. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Over the next couple of years, Cal Poly will collaborate with an innovative Australian musical troupe that’s seeking to recraft the concept of the traditional orchestra and continue to build younger audiences.

Hundreds of university students are expected to work with the Australian troupe called DeepBlue as part of a partnership exchange.

The troupe, which visited Cal Poly and local elementary and middle schools this week, combines classical and contemporary music, circus tricks, and app-managed audience interaction.

DeepBlue held auditions at Cal Poly on Thursday, seeking to attract multi-faceted musicians with interests in composition, stunts, public outreach, and innovative uses of instruments.

The troupe won acclaim on the television show “Australia’s Got Talent” and it has performed in Australia, India and Vietnam with plans to tour in the U.S. in 2016.

DeepBlue wows audiences with acts such as a woman who plays the violin while being suspended upside down, musical performances to stilt-walking and unicycle rides.

Shows engage the crowd through a smart phone app that allows comments to questions such as “What are you most afraid of” and “What is your most significant memory?” some of which are read aloud mid-show, and choices of songs such as “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen and “Paint it Black” by the Rolling Stones.

DeepBlue and Cal Poly will work together on a number of projects through an exchange coordinated with the troupe and the Queensland University of Technology, which provides DeepBlue with some of its funding.

Through the Cal Poly’s Liberal Arts and Engineering Studies program, students will design information booths for community outreach events and a new app for audience participation with features such as lighting up the phones of audience members with different colors, creating a glow throughout the room.

“We like to call it orchestra unleashed,” said Sophie Loades, a troupe cellist and schools and community outreach coordinator. “We wanted something very refreshing and new with a component of community engagement.”

The troupe combines the traditional sounds of acoustic strings including violins, bass guitars and cellos with the reverberations of digital instruments, including synthesizers and the theremin.

The theremin — played by Cal Poly student David Levi in an audition Thursday — is an electrical instrument invented in the 1920s by Russian engineer Leon Theremin. The instrument is played without touch by waving one’s hands through electromagnetic fields created by two antennas.

Levi, a Cal Poly electrical engineering major, has created his own invention, a magnetic bow that allows him to play the cello by moving it around a copper coil on a wooden frame to induce an electric signal and produce sound.

Asked by Loades why he wanted to join DeepBlue, Levi said the troupe focuses on his instrumental and electronic interests.

“DeepBlue uses the theremin and cello,” Levi said. “I think the group is very expressive and relatable to audiences.”

The audition also attracted Cal Poly computer science major Eli Bacher, who designed a synthesizer that emits a rhythmic array of electronic beats.

Music major Mario Ojeda, who showed off his whistling skills as part of his audition on Thursday, said he hopes to play his violin with the troupe and one day become a movie studio musician in Los Angeles.

“We’ll have hundreds of our students work in some way with DeepBlue,” said David Gillette, the program’s director. “We’ll send some of our students to Australia and have some of the Australian students come here as part of an exchange.”

This week, the troupe visited schools in Atascadero and Los Osos to demonstrate their unique act.

DeepBlue strives to connect with younger audiences, noting on its website that “the audience for orchestral performance is aging and is not being replaced by a younger audience, while orchestras around the world are facing severe funding cuts.”

Plans are in the works for the troupe to return to Cal Poly next year to host community and school-based workshops and to gear up for the 2016 America tour.

“People have been so friendly and welcoming,” violinist Greta Kelly said. “People are curious about Australia and want to know what it’s like. …We hope to continue to build on the connections we’ve made.”

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