Honey bees give buzz to campus concert

By Olivia Willoughby

Annex Group Computer Music Program will buzz Thursday night from a composition featuring recorded sounds of honey bees.

Annex Group, which will perform at 8 p.m. in the NIU Music Building Recital Hall, consists of several students, professors and alumni that form an “ad hoc” ensemble, created by associate music professor James Phelps.

“It’s a group that uses computer music and new media technology,” Phelps said. “Our events can be anything. Sometimes there’s a visual, dramatic or performance arts component. And sometimes there’s fixed media.”

Phelps said fixed media, featured in tonight’s event, means the concert is not meant to be constructed live, but recorded in the studio.

“There will be nobody on stage,” Phelps said. “You’re probably not accustomed to going to a concert, sitting and seeing nothing. That’s what this concert is about.”

But the buzz is not so much about an empty stage, but the fact that honey bees will be incorporated into the music composition.

Elizabeth Karczynski, bee keeper and graduate student, said she combined both her majors, biological sciences and music, to create her composition.

“I have figured out a way to combine my love for music and natural scions,” Karczynski said. “I have been recording natural sounds and honey bees for a few years now.”

Karczynski’s music is heavily influenced by French Composer Olivier Messiaen, who she said incorporated birds in his music.

“My pieces are very loud, violent just like nature,” Karczynski said. “I like Christian black metal and combining natural sounds and spirituality into musical compositions. The piece is a mix of field recorded sounds and piano and pure honey bee sounds, an element of music concrete.”

In this piece, “Harvest of the Blackened Bee,” Karczynski said guard bees, the bees that guard the hive, were the most “boisterous” and “gave the most powerful sounds.”

When Karczynski proposed the idea of incorporating these honey bees into her compositions, Phelps said it was fantastic.

“I like to get diversity into our program,” Phelps said. “I was very excited. And we’ve gotten to learn about bees in our classes. Otherwise, it would’ve never come up.”

Incorporating honey bees into music might not be the most common choice, since Karczynski said people are usually surprised and curious when she tells them about her compositions.

Tonight’s concert, will be an 8-channel piece, as opposed to a 2-channel. Karczynski said certain sounds will be directed differently to eight speakers to create the effect of surround sound. The 2-channel pieces resemble a stereo effect.

“The sounds were combined and manipulated electronically to exemplify the violent, powerful protection, yet peaceful submission honey bees have to their hives and to their honey,” Karczynski said. “And how in the end, humans are not the dominant species, just other species allow it to be.”

As a whole, Annex Group incorporates several genres such as dance club music and classical. However, Phelps said Annex Group’s genre fits in no specific place.

“It’s mostly experimental-based and not necessarily any kind of music people are accustomed to hearing anywhere,” Phelps said. “Each piece could be different than any other piece.”

Phelps said the concert is free and should last roughly an hour.