String Theory forms a fresh hypothesis of music

Jack Purvis /Courtesy

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String Theory, a three-member band comprised of  junior Angela Lee, senior Wisam Reid and alumna Maia Donachy, approaches music as much more than a listening experience. The band’s work, consisting of live electronica, experimental samples and classical instruments, feathers the distinction between the act of listening and emotional reality through an emphasis on organic sounds and their consequent perceptual depth.

The members’ academic backgrounds in electrical engineering, computer science, statistics and classical music enables a customization in their approach to music, from designing their own electronic instruments to adjusting the spherical propagation of their speakers. The band is currently wrapping up their first EP and recently performed at the Lucidity Festival in Santa Barbara last Saturday, where they featured an audience-interactive audio art installation: a laser harp, which passes data to change visuals and sound as it is played.String-Theory2_Jack-Purvis-theory

The Daily Californian sat down with String Theory in Cory Hall to talk about the live experience and authenticity in sound, among other fundamental qualities of their music.

The Daily Californian: How would you define your music’s genre?

Angela Lee: Genre-less.

Maia Donachy: Electronica with live strings.

Wisam Reid: So, it’s got kind of a classical feel in some ways because of the live strings, but we use a lot of bass.

DC: How did you come together as a band?

WR: The way it all started, actually, is that I got commissioned to do a movie score, and I started working on it, and then I wanted to expand what I was doing. So I started working with Angela, and we started working with electronics and cello. Maia was my roommate at the time; I kind of talked her into it, and she jumped in. In hindsight, what ended up being the best thing that happened and kind of sucked at the time was that the director sold the rights to the movie, and we had all of this musical content that had no home. So we started repurposing the content we wrote and rearranging it, and it turned into our first track “A Walk In The Rain” which is now online.

DC: What does your music production look like?

WR: Well, it’s actually expanding right now as it is. We’ve been doing some of the more traditional studio methods where we’ll jam on something and start creating pieces and layering, but the next thing that we’re pushing into here is, we’ve written some papers on the fact that we feel that spatial information is embedded in music structure. For instance, producers will mix their tracks in stereo, and they use all these tricks that give it perceptual depth. The analogy we’ve been using is (that) you have a painting, and it’s inherently two-dimensional, but you can use all these tricks that give it its perception of depth, and that’s kind of what’s been happening with stereo. The distinction between tracks you do and don’t like usually have a lot to do with this spatial coherence. It sounds natural to your ear. And then, here, we’re trying to take it to another level, and instead of tricking your ear about that spatial information, we’re creating a genuine acoustic space. So the sound sources are actually coming from their intended locations, rather than deceiving ones.

DC: Have your studies at UC Berkeley affected your music?

WR: Stats is actually pretty interesting with music, because you can model things statistically, based on probability. Or even the way a sound diffuses or propagates in the physical world that it’s all probabilistic, so you can model that authentically with probability. Also, at this point, we’re writing all our own code, so instead of trying to get functionality out of commercial software, we’re able to design our own software to sound the way we want to.

DC: What instruments are used in your music’s production? How do these instruments affect your sound?

AL: Well, for now I play cello and bass, but we’re definitely gonna use a lot more instruments like the harp and the mandolin.

MD: And the sitar.

WR: We’ve been doing a lot of sample drumming, but now we’re moving into live drumming as well. I have a drum module, and I’m building a 3-D drum machine.

DC: Do you think your music represents the direction music is headed — incorporating electronic instruments, drum machines and other types of technology?

WR: Yeah, our music is a fusion of live instrumentation, which is more of a traditional approach, with electronic synthesized sound — but we like to use a lot of sampling, and we’re more experimental in they way we use our samples. We firmly believe that spatialized audio is on the horizon of where music is going. I feel like the more we can put it into people’s ears, the more people will understand that there’s this large perceptual leap, the difference between watching a movie in stereo and watching it in surround sound.

Find String Theory on and

Contact Tiffany Kim at [email protected].