Mercy’s Post-Modern Musical Makeover

Clepsydra composers in Mercy Studio

Clepsydra composers in the studios at Mercy College

The world's oldest timepiece just got a post-modern musical makeover in a concert at the Rotunda at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry. The year-end performance of “Clepsydra” incorporated water clocks into an evening of electronic music. The performance was part of a senior project by Mercy student Pablo Piña, whose co-composer and faculty mentor, Associate Professor Stephen B. Ward, also took the stage. The composers work with the live and pre-sampled drips the way a painter works with watercolors. They incorporated percussive sounds, melodies, bass lines and ambient noises into the performance to create a completely original mix of sounds.

“What I try to do in my classes is get students to understand that all sounds are potentially musical,” Ward said. “This year my class has sampled the two-liter bottle. We blew into it, shook it with tacks, whacked it with sticks and tried to get as many sounds out of that one source as possible. Then everybody composes with them.”

That's the basic idea behind “Clepsydra.” Ward and Piña took live sounds as they were created by the water clocks and then added prepared samples, sometimes looping them. The performance has been recorded, and the resulting album and DVD will be part of Piña's student portfolio.

The music industry and technology program at Mercy serves around 100 students and is housed in a multi-studio complex on the Dobbs Ferry campus. There, the focus is more on the creative, and less on the mechanical.  “There are many programs around the country that now offer courses in this, but they tend to be focused upon audio engineering, and we do that as well, of course,” Ward said. “But we give students some music theory, and they experiment writing electronic music in order to have some more creative output.”

Piña began studying the guitar, the piano, bass and synthesizers at the age of eleven. Since then, he has performed in venues all over the world, including clubs in Mexico, Australia, France, Turkey, Spain, and Germany. He plans to start a record label after he graduates Mercy.

Ward has studied electronic music at Berklee College of Music and New York University, and has actually built synthesizers for the famed ARP Instruments, Inc. in the 1970s. He has performed as a keyboardist and singer with several New York City-based groups including Uncle Izzy, The Beeps, Mimi Maura, PHAM All Stars and Lulu Lewis.