An electronic spin on music

The Robot Bears make their mark on the UC music scene

Johnny Myers

Electronic music may get a bad rap from a lot of people, but Ursinus’s Electronic Music Production Club, also known as the Robot Bears, are here to change that. The brainchild of Dr. Michael Bratt, professor of music, the Robot Bears are a self-described “army of people who do electronic music.”

Bratt explained his inspiration for the club. “I was always obsessed with the different ways people create,” he said. “I wanted to learn about all the different aspects of how people make music. So, composing electronic music was another way of [doing] that.”

“I really think that if Beethoven were creating music today, he would be working in electronics as well. He wrote for the instruments of his day, and in our day the computer is now one of those instruments,” Bratt said.

According to first-year club member Andrew McSwiggan, most of the composing happens independently.

“Dr. Bratt will help with software if you ask him to, but the music production happens outside of the club,” said McSwiggan.“The meetings aren’t where the meat of the club is. What makes the club really special is what happens in the outside hours.”

McSwiggan is a veteran DJ and composer of electronic music. In addition to working as a professional DJ, he is the head of his own record label called Tradrec, an international label that reaches to the UK, Germany and New Zealand.

“The cool thing about music in general is that there [are] a few different aspects to it,” said McSwiggan. “The composition is where an artist sits down and tries to write a song, tries to figure out melodies, and tries to convey a message. The production aspect is when artists get to play with what they wrote. They get to go back and edit what they’ve done, and try something creative. That’s my favorite part of creating music.”

McSwiggan explained his interest in alternative genres such as electronic music and his aversion to popular music. “In pop music, country, and practically every genre, there’s radio,” he said. “Pop stuff on the radio doesn’t define the genre. It just shows what’s commercially successful. You can’t base electronic music on what you hear on the radio.”

“Electronic music, for the most part, is still an underground genre; these are the [types of artists] we analyze and listen to. We listen to artists like Varien, Direct, Koven, and Mr. Fiji Wiji,” he added.

Many people might assume that DJs have all of their music programmed into their computer, but McSwiggan and Bratt dispute this notion. In their view, DJs don’t just stand around and let their computer do the work.

Dr. Bratt said he tries to use traditional live instruments in tandem with electronics. “I want the computer to play some active role in the composition so it is not just a glorified mp3 player,” said Bratt.“A lot of my work is about the relationship between people and machines.”

The Robot Bears have been active for over two years, and  Bratt said that the club has “finally grown to the point where we can have concerts.” They currently put on two concerts per year, and plan on releasing an album on iTunes next semester.

McSwiggan indicated his desire for the club to branch out to other parts of campus. “I would love to DJ sometime at Reimert,” said McSwiggan. “I’m trying to get my name out there. And I’m sure the same is true with the other Robot Bears who create their own music.”

Bratt encourages students to give the Robot Bears a listen. “Anyone who has any interest in it should stop by,” he said. “Even if you have no background in it, you can have access to our lab and start learning. We are a bunch of people who make electronic music in our music lab. We are a really friendly bunch.”

For those who might not be familiar with the genre, Bratt emphasized the importance of listening to electronic music with an open mind. Bratt said he doesn’t “listen to electronic music much differently than [he] listen[s] to other music.”

He outlined his listening process. “I am more intent about sitting and listening to music with nothing else around,” he said. “Really listening and focusing my attention. I think the first thing I try to figure out with any piece of music is: What is this composer trying to say [and] how are they saying it? When I figure that out, I listen to how creatively they are going about it.”

He continued, “I adore it when people are inventive. The technical aspects—panning, spatialization, mastering, reverb, delay, etc.—all stem from those larger questions. I don’t want a slew of students that sound like me. I want to empower students to be who they are.”