Northeastern University
Matt Collette
June 5, 2012

Some com­po­si­tions by Anthony De Ritis, pro­fessor and chair of the Depart­ment of Music in Northeastern's Col­lege of Arts, Media and Design, may not appeal to all clas­sical music fans. But that's just fine by him.

"There are people who truly hate the con­cept that a DJ and a sym­phony orchestra could meet," De Ritis explained. "People who think an orchestra should not reflect the pop­ular music of today often dis­like such com­bi­na­tions. But others see this as a fresh starting point, one which can get a whole new gen­er­a­tion inter­ested in clas­sical music."

De Ritis' com­po­si­tions — three of which are fea­tured on "Devo­lu­tion," which will be released today — com­bine tra­di­tional sym­phony orches­tras, aug­mented with non­tra­di­tional instru­ments such as drum kits, syn­the­sizers, effects proces­sors, elec­tric and bass gui­tars, and, of course, a DJ, who spins and remixes new music with each performance.

De Ritis says this approach to clas­sical music makes sense con­sid­ering that many revered clas­sical com­posers wrote their mas­ter­pieces under the influ­ence of the musical world around them.

"I think it's impor­tant for com­posers and musi­cians to think about the pop­ular music of their time, because that's what Mozart and Beethoven did," De Ritis said. "But too many com­posers today, for some reason, don't do that. They spend too much time looking back­ward, and not enough looking forward."

De Ritis col­lab­o­rated on the CD with Paul D. Miller, who per­forms under the moniker "DJ Spooky That Sub­lim­inal Kid." De Ritis first started to follow the work of DJ Spooky in the late 1990s, while researching the dif­ferent ways musi­cians can interact with music and tech­nology during live per­for­mance; they first worked together in 2004.

While "Devo­lu­tion" does not pro­vide spe­cific instruc­tions for the DJ — his or her per­for­mance is dif­ferent every time, much like the per­for­mance of a jazz soloist — they do include infor­ma­tion and mate­rial that can help shape that performance.

"Some people have tried to create a DJ nota­tion, telling DJs when to scratch or play a cer­tain piece of music back­ward or at a cer­tain speed. I'm not inter­ested in that," De Ritis said. "The only infor­ma­tion I give the DJ is where to start and where to stop. Plus I give descrip­tions of the type of music I'd like to hear and what the orchestra is doing at a cer­tain time."

De Ritis' com­po­si­tions are inspired by how DJs per­form: he gives musi­cians the oppor­tu­nity to impro­vise and remixes his own themes with what younger com­posers might call "loops," such as the familiar repeated melodies found in Ravel's "Bolero" and the Alle­gretto from Beethoven's 7th Sym­phony. That in turn inspires the DJ, who remixes the piece once again.

"Upon hearing this, DJ Spooky often chooses to cap­ture moments of these pieces and use them as mate­rial for his cadenza," De Ritis said.

He hopes the album's unique sound will engage the lis­tener. "I think art is sup­posed to gen­erate dis­cus­sion and dia­logue," De Ritis said. "That's what 'Devo­lu­tion' has done, and that's what I hope it con­tinues to do.”