Sunday, November 19, 2017
Tampa Bay Music & Shows

USF iPad quintet Touch staging interactive rock concert

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Touch is one band that's proud to be playing flat.

As in, the flat screens of iPads, which the quintet from USF's school of music will use as musical instruments in concert Friday at the USF Concert Hall, thanks to musical apps from the Apple Store. But don't think this will be another laid-back, head-nodding DJ set or electronica show — we're talking a full-blown rock concert, with laser lights, video screens, interpretive dance and moments of bona fide audience participation.

That's right, the audience will be able to play right along, thanks to the power of smartphones and tablet computers. Breaking down that fourth wall of music performance is the true goal of the show, an encore performance called "Louder Than Ever Before," which is a followup to the group's first concert last year.

Touch member David Williams, associate professor of music education, said redefining the classic concert hall experience — a recital on traditional instruments — is the object here, in part to show learning to play can be accessible to small groups with new methods. But it will still be familiar to the audience, and not just because it will feature music ranging from the Troggs to Norah Jones.

"We didn't invent anything new; we just added the iPad to it," he said of the show. "Rock bands have been doing this for 50 years."

The concept of using iPads as instruments came to the group when the tablet was first released. When music apps that simulated drums, guitars and other instruments gained popularity, the progression was obvious, even if the idea sounds a bit foreign.

"An iPad as a musical instrument is just like any musical instrument. It can be played incredibly well, but it also can be played badly," Williams said. "You can set it down on the table and it won't do anything until a human directs it to. You've got to develop a technique and you've got to practice."

He and assistant professor of music education Clint Randles have had plenty of time to practice, as have this year's new members, doctoral students Victor Ezquerra, Chris Morris and Nick Stefanic. The program Friday features a collaboration with USF's dance and English departments, the USF Sun Dolls performing to Footloose and Wooly Bully, a livepainting session, a world drumming piece that will encourage the audience to join in on their own drumming apps and a special, improvisational retelling of The Wizard of Oz, during which the crowd will be allowed to tweet suggestions for the progression of the story (as long as they keep them clean).

With all those elements, the next thing in store for Touch is almost impossible to predict.

"That's so hard, to figure out the future," Williams said. "We're just now learning what the iPad can really do."

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