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Juniata Presents Offers Song Cycle 'Gravity Radio' on Stage

(Posted November 22, 2010)

Actress Veanne Cox reads news reports during a performance of "Gravity Radio" which plays at Juniata Dec. 3 at 7:30 p.m. in Rosenberger Auditorium.

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Mixing ethereal love songs and pristine pop music with the squeaks, squelches and national news breaks of commercial radio, composer Mikel Rouse will stage a dramatic look at the science of broadcasting in "Gravity Radio," at Juniata College at 7:30 p.m., Friday, Dec. 3 in Rosenberger Auditorium in the Halbritter Center for the Performing Arts.

For tickets and information about the Juniata College Presents series, please call (814) 641-JTIX (5849). General admission tickets for single performances are $20, except where otherwise noted. Single-show tickets for seniors over age 65 and children age 18 and under are $12. Juniata College students are admitted free with a student ID.

"Gravity Radio" has been described as a song cycle for string quartet, singers and guitarist that mixes music with radio "white noise" and the occasional Associated Press wire news story. The music is meant to be familiar, as are the radio news reports, yet as the production goes on, unsettling themes emerge.

Composer Mikel Rouse calls the production "an attempt to recapture or update my first memory of radio in the late 1960s -- Motown and British rock fading in from a faraway Chicago station as the local news faded out on my transistor radio."

Additionally, the performance will include multiple video screens showing a kaleidoscope of visual images and the live performance of an actress, Veanne Cox, reading the news reports -- complete with local news customized specifically for the Juniata performance.

"We have Rouse's works as living proof that complexity need not keep listeners at a distance, and that pop music can sustain serious interest with the right person at the helm," wrote a critic for Gramophone magazine.

Rouse graduated from the Conservatory of Music at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and immediately started a rock band called Tirez Tirez, a group largely known for playing as an opening act for the Talking Heads in 1978. He soon moved to New York and started a chamber ensemble, Broken Consort.

The composer became widely known as a composer of modern operas, including "Failing Kansas," which was based on the Truman Capote book "In Cold Blood," and "Dennis Cleveland," which was loosely based on the career of former talk-show host Jerry Springer, and "The End of Cinematics."

"Gravity Radio" is not considered part of Rouse's opera work. He describes it as a song cycle inspired by the research of physicist Raymond Chiao, a specialist in superconductors and gravitational waves (which exist in theory, but have yet to be detected). "I took the elusiveness of gravity waves as a springboard for a song cycle that would float and mutate through a combination of sound and visual ether," he says.

In addition to his original works, Rouse has a secondary career as a director and scorer for other people's projects. He created the score for "James Joyce, Marcel Duchamp, Erik Satie: An Alphabet" and "International Cloud Atlas," which was designed to played on multiple iPods set to "shuffle." (The idea was that each audience member would experience a different version of the score.)

He also released several CDs of his music, including "Cameraworld," "Test Tones" and "Music for Minorities."

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.