For full orchestra and computer
In association with the Center for New Music and Audio Technologies (CNMAT), UC Berkeley

Selected Performance History:

American Composers Orchestra, Carnegie Hall, March 17, 2006 (premiere)
American Composers Orchestra, Annenberg Center, Philadelphia, March 18
Berkeley Symphony with Kent Nagano, June, 2006 (Full Orchestral Version)
Nice Philharmonic with Peter Rundel, November 2009, Manca Festival of Contemporary Music with Peter Rundel
University Symphony Orchestra with David Milnes, February 2009, Hertz Hall, UC Berkeley

Practice was composed (in Berkeley) in response to a commission from the American Composers Orchestra in 2005. Practice is scored for flute, piccolo, 2 oboes, clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon, contrabassoon, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, tube, 2 harps, timpani, percussion, MIDI keyboard controlling a Macintosh computer running the Max/MSP application, and strings. Duration: ca. 11 minutes.

Practice opens with a cinematic flare as the orchestra explodes into a noise-filled scene. Old forms of expression wash by as the music cyclically erupts into new configurations. Fleeting and ungainly musical surfaces drown in a sea of rehearsing musicians (hence, Practice). Secretly bound by technological models, scientific analysis and resynthesis of triangle sonority, the musicians in Practice gravitate around the din of metallic sound. The orchestra plays on, and like a terrible alarm, the triangles never fall silent.
The aesthetic foundations for this approach to music are found in what has come to be called “spectral music.” Spectral music is a wide-ranging compositional practice whose source can be tracked to the musical works of Gérard Grisey, among others. Grisey (one of my teachers) explored new musical forms that relied heavily on scientific models of sound. In Practice, the “scientific model” is only a rough guide, a container that holds a musical fantasy. Like many of the spectral composers, what interests me is the total collection of sounds, the composite.

The computer creates a dense and noisy environment that is pervasive throughout the piece. The computer part comes from analysis of the triangles that are played by the two percussionists on stage (but not in real time).
Metaphorically, the musicians are “unaware” that all this noise around the room has anything to do with them—they are literally practicing their parts. Nevertheless, they can’t help but conform—they join with the spectral content of the electronics without completely being aware of it. As the piece progresses, they become better adapted to the environment. They move within the din and they imitate the spectral content of the triangles—not the triangles themselves. That is their “practice.”

For me, technology is more than a complex tool, it is a totalizing force that changes thinking and action. Culturally, I am no more rooted in the history and practice of orchestral music than I am in the burgeoning digital age. But since the digital age is upon us and that is where I live, I allow my musical works and language to be formed by these momentous changes in culture and life.

Practice was commissioned by the American Composers Orchestra and composed in partnership with The Center for New Music and Audio Technologies (CNMAT), in the Department of Music at the University of California, Berkeley. The principal software programmer was Matthew Wright, working to specifications provided by the composer. The goal was to build a new computer-based instrument whose core sound is born from hybrids of the orchestral triangles. The new digital instrument is played in real time using a MIDI keyboard.
—Edmund Campion

Various quotes from reviews of Edmund Campion's “Practice”

My personal favorite of the evening was Edmund Campion’s stunningly nuanced Practice which showed the Dallas-born composer’s deep French roots, especially his study at IRCAM and with Gerard Grisey. It make a strong case that spectralism is one of the most promising avenues for this type of music. And, who knew you get such musical bang out of a triangle?

Sequenza 21/contemporary classical music portal
March 18, 2006
Carnegie Hall, Tech & Techno at Zankel Hall
Jerry Bowles

But the evening's most consistently interesting offering was the curtain-raiser, Edmund Campion's "Practice." Written last year for the American Composers Orchestra, this turned out to be a wonderful 10-minute exercise in orchestral color and abstract pictorialism.

Campion, who teaches in the UC Berkeley music department, often combines electronic technology with live performers, and the blend here seemed to be particularly subtle and evocative.

The electronic component is simple enough: a steady pulse created by the sound of two triangles subjected to computer manipulations. Against that backdrop, Campion writes big washes of orchestral sound, crashing and cresting in Debussyan waves.

The effect is something like a luscious and composed-out version of Terry Riley's proto-minimalist classic "In C," with its steady piano pulse. The triangles provide both a rhythmic grid and a tonal reference point, and everything in the piece occurs in relation to their sound -- either pushing back against it or, increasingly as the piece progresses, conforming to it.

San Francisco Chronicle
Friday, June 23, 2006
Joshua Kosman

Campion's "Practice" for orchestra and computer, which opened the concert, was the evening's unknown quantity. It emerged a thriller. Written in 2005 for the American Composers Orchestra, the 11-minute work builds a driving, percussive wall of mechanistic sound shaped around the rhythmic lines established by a MIDI computer program and two live percussionists (playing triangle, and moving from side tiers onto the stage). Nagano led a precise, engaging performance.

Contra Costa Times
June 24, 2006
Georgia Rowe


Surprisingly, the most successful piece of the night may have been ``Practice,'' for full orchestra and computer, by Edmund Campion, which began the program. Campion, who co-directs the Center for New Music and Audio Technologies at the University of California-Berkeley, has created a new MIDI-controlled musical instrument from the sounds of triangles, those ubiquitous little percussion instruments.

Their digitally processed sounds formed the music's jangling heart, around which the orchestra stormed, fluttered and flared -- ``practicing,'' as it were, beside this electronic presence. The MIDI sounds grew into a shiny obelisk at the center of Campion's sound-world, which, in its most quiet moments, conjured distant points of light in space.

San Jose Mercury News
Friday, June 23, 2006
Richard Scheinin


His best work on the program came in Edmund Campion's Practice, the premiere. Nagano conducted this complicated piece effectively and made an excellent case for it. Campion, who has studied with the French composer Gérard Grisey, wrote Practice following some of the principles of the spectral music style. The composer's notes suggest that the work is intended to evoke an orchestral warm-up or practice session. With its emphasis on sonority and color, rather than melodic or harmonic development, Practice succeeds in this. Its sonorities are often extremely beautiful, from sinister and subtle ostinatos in the lower instruments to swirling harp and flute arpeggios to shimmering strings and beautiful clusters of sound in the winds and brass.

San Francisco Classical Voice
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
Lisa Hirsch

Edmund Campion
Brief Description
Practice was commissioned by the American Composers Orchestra and was written for full orchestra with non-reactive computer-based instrument. the electronics are produced with a real-time algorithmic selection engine based on hundreds of audio samples taken from six specific triangles. The spectral analysis of each of the triangles was used as the harmonic basis for the orchestral writing. The Practice technology was created in collaboration with CNMAT research and Matthew Wright. The software is available in the CNMAT MMJ-Depot package found on the download page at CNMAT. The algorithmic engine has been extracted and released along with the entire triangle sample library on the CNMAT download page as the Triangularium.