Department of Music Professor Anthony Paul De Ritis recently released a CD with Albany Records, entitled Anthony Paul De Ritis: Electroacoustic Music (In Memoriam: David Wessel), that compiles music from his years of impressive, dedicated work. This recording of De Ritis’s music is a tribute to David Wessel, De Ritis’s mentor and former Director of U.C. Berkeley’s Center for New Music and Audio Technologies. The pieces on this CD span more than 25 years and feature a wide variety of both Western and Asian musical instruments and styles. De Ritis has been described as a “genuinely American composer,” “a visionary,” and “bracingly imaginative” by publications such as The Boston Globe, Gramophone, and Audiophile Audition – and De Ritis’ new work certainly does not fall short of these high expectations. Learn more about it here.
De Ritis is no stranger to the creation of CDs. His previous work includes Devolution, released in June 2012 by the six-time Grammy nominated Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) featuring three of De Ritis’ symphonic works: “Chords of Dust,” “Legerdemain,” and “Devolution.” And then, more recently, De Ritis’s second CD with BMOP, Pop Concerto, released in February 2017, offering four additional symphonic works: “Amsterdam,” “Ballet,” “Riflessioni,” and “Pop Concerto,” a guitar concerto featuring world-renowned guitarist Eliot Fisk. Each CD has met with acclaim for their unique style.
De Ritis often works with Chinese traditional instruments, a rarity in Western music, and to do so effectively, he has immersed himself in Chinese culture.
In Fall 2011,De Ritis became a Fulbright Senior Research Scholar at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, where he published his Selected Works for Pipa featuring compositions premiered by pipa virtuosi Min Xiao-Fen, Wu Man, and Yu Yuanchun. De Ritis was also made a “Special Professor” of the China Conservatory of Music’s new Beijing Advanced Innovation Center.
Now, it is De Ritis’s 20th year at Northeastern University, where he is a Professor in the Department of Music, right here in the College of Arts, Media and Design (CAMD). He also has courtesy appointments in the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Group, through the D’Amore-McKim School of Business, and the Asian Studies Program, through the College of Social Sciences and Humanities.
While De Ritis explains he does not necessarily have a “favorite” track on his new CD, he believes “Plum Blossoms” has had the largest effect on his career. It was the piece that introduced him to Chinese instruments, in particular the “pipa” (a Chinese lute), which are now a large part of his professional life and work in Chinese music and culture. “Plum Blossoms” uses audio samples performed by the Chinese pipa virtuoso Min Xiao-Fen as its source material.
De Ritis explained how he approached the piece: “as a first year Assistant Professor at Northeastern University, I ‘scattered and reconstituted’ these samples via cutting, splicing, transposing, reversing, and changing speeds, using the software tools BIAS Peak, and MOTU’s Digital Performer.”
His use of the pipa opened the gates to an amazing array of non-Western traditional instruments, including Asian and African instruments such as the piri, kalimba, erhu, and sheng.
Given these new musical influences, De Ritis explained that he had no idea what was to come next.
“Little did I know that this experience would initiate a twenty-year trajectory of work with Chinese traditional instruments and travel to China that would profoundly affect my life,” he said.
The very opening of “Plum Blossoms” briefly references the well-known Chinese composition “Dance of the Yi People” before transforming into increasingly noise-based elements. After De Ritis premiered this electroacoustic version at the 1999 International Computer Music Conference at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, Min Xiao-Fen requested a “live” version as a Concerto for Pipa and Orchestra, which De Ritis created for pipa solo, electronic sounds, strings, and glockenspiel, and premiered with the San Diego Symphony.
De Ritis also noted that he was pleased with the quality of the opening work “Tangled Impressions” as performed by Vicky Chow, pianist for the Bang on a Can All-Stars. He also praised the sound environment created by “Tine Curve Preludes” for live and pre-recorded kalimba, as performed by Jennifer Hymer.
Kyle Gann, a professor of music, critic, and composer, noted in the CD booklet for Anthony Paul De Ritis: Electroacoustic Music (In Memoriam: David Wessel) that he has followed De Ritis’s career from the very beginning. Gann calls the music of the CD “endlessly fluid, constantly wavering and sliding” and applauds that despite how it moves through pitches rather than focusing on them, the “soundworld of each piece” is uniquely singular. Gann closed his statement saying, “I’ve never heard a recording like this before… Anthony Paul De Ritis has come up with a music that is far more than the sum of its parts.”
Also included in the CD Booklet is a statement by composer and musicologist Marc Battier, who noted that “De Ritis’s music sounds like a successful synthesis of East and West, where real-time processing devices transform the sound of acoustic instruments into a rainbow of sound colours, often in slowly evolving but always changing landscapes.” He believes that De Ritis has created his own style of music, which is beautifully displayed in this new CD.
This style was partially thanks to the late David Wessel, a researcher and experimental musician who worked closely with De Ritis. Wessel certainly had a strong influence on De Ritis, inspiring him to innovate and create music that navigates between the way our brain perceives music and creation.
De Ritis has chosen to use the CD to honor Wessel, saying “Thank you for making a difference in my life and in the lives of so many others. You are remembered, and you will always be remembered.”
The CD is a gorgeous reminder of their strong relationship, and the beauty of their friendship can be felt in each flowing line of music.
Even with his CD’s success, De Ritis is continuing to create music and is currently working on a Percussion Concerto called “The Legend of Cowherd and Weaver Girl” for Chinese percussionist Wang Beibei, which will be premiered by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project on April 21 at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall.
If you are as fascinated by De Ritis’ work as we are, you can purchase his CD here!