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Bringing together classical instrumental, vocal repertoire and cutting-edge electronic music

L-R: Dr Martin Ennis, Yusuf Lahham, Stephan Crayton, Professor Margaret Faultless, and Dr Marta Gentilucci

Girton's Official Fellow in Music Composition, Dr Marta Gentilucci, took part in the Cambridge Festival 2024 as Artistic Director of the inaugural Electro//acoustic day, which created a space where the audience experienced classical and contemporary experimental music together.

Dr Marta Gentilucci is a trained opera singer, but after her studies in Italy, she discovered her passion for composition which seamlessly merged with her love for literature and poetry. Composition quickly became her primary focus, captivating all of her attention. In recent years, she has come to realise that her vocal training has profoundly influenced her development as a composer. She has always perceived music and sound as a physical experience rather than merely an intellectual one. This perception stems from her background as a singer, in which she has come to feel sound as breath and resonances as inherent parts of the sonic experience. For Marta, there has been always an attraction to the inner structure of sound, its way of resonating in space and oscillating within a timespan, its metamorphosis in colour. 

Technology and electronic music gave Marta the opportunity to delve deeper into the nature of sound, analyse it, decompose and recompose it in new ways, thereby building spaces of resonance within a concert hall, and within the musicians’ space in an ensemble, within the instrument and the scores. 

Three of her most recent projects have involved voice and electronics or voice and space. One is Canzoniere I, which premiered at Ircam MANIFESTE festival in Paris and then ECLAT Festival in Germany. Another project is moving still - processional crossings, commissioned by the Biennale of Venice. The last one is cartographies du corps, a sound-visual installation realised in collaboration with the photographer Susan Meiselas, produced by Les rencontre de la photographies de Arles and Villa Medicis in Rome (where Marta was resident in 2022-23). 

Dr Gentilucci tells us more about the electro//acoustic day and her aspirations for the commencement of electronic music studies that the Faculty of Music, University of Cambridge.

What inspired you to bring together both classical instrumental, vocal repertoire and cutting-edge electronic music to form the electro//acoustic day at the Cambridge Festival?

Coming to Cambridge, one is immersed in the beautiful vocal tradition and practice (and our Girton choir is one great example!). It has amplified my love for voice and its connection with words and their sounds.

So what better beginning for the electro//acoustic day than to have the first concert completely dedicated to voices, spatialised voice which resonates in the same space of specialised electronics?

Then, the two other concerts were connected to the baroque and classical instrumental tradition, and in both, the classical repertoire could coexist beautifully with the contemporary one. 

Anton Bruckner’s Ave Maria by Girton College Chapel Choir & St Catherine’s College Choir, directed by Gareth Wilson

What was your vision behind creating four concerts (voices, horizons, homages, and chambers) and the sound-visual installation?

The idea of the electro//acoustic day was and is to create a space in which the audience can experience classical and contemporary experimental music together. I believe they are not opposite or exclude each other. On the contrary, we created a porous space in which one can appreciate both without feeling disoriented. 


The event celebrated the commencement of electronic music studies at the Faculty of Music, along with the acquisition of cutting-edge surround systems and technology. What are your aspirations for this new course and what would it entail?

My hope is to nurture the curiosity and openness of both students and audiences. It will take time as the technology will need consistent resources. Once you have the instruments, the loudspeakers and all technical tools, the most important element is building a conducive environment in which students feel confident to challenge themselves, free to experiment, and open to learning new ways of composing and of listening. 

On the day of the event, I received one of the most beautiful and rewarding comments from a student who said “I didn’t know about electronic music before, but now I really want to know more about it and write for electronics”.  

There is a vast amount of classical electronic music that has been composed, and I am eagerly looking forward to sharing it with students and curious listeners. 


Outreach Programme

A hidden gem, not on the electro//acoustic day program was the Outreach Programme with Swavesey Village College. Around 25 students in Year 10 worked with educators before, during, and after the electro//acoustic day. 

On the day of the event, they showcased their recordings and work. They and their teachers are incredible. I wanted to mention in particular Nick Allen, Subject Lead for Music, who is incredibly passionate and caring for the Swavesey Village College’s students.