Brock Daumler poses with some of his music compositions in the background.
Brock Daumler: "I like music that is spiritual, entrancing, and meditative.” (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Music can connect cultures and disciplines seemingly at odds with each other to foster new and interesting ideas. Lawrence University senior Brock Daumler has been using composition to do just that.

A music composition major from Green Bay, Daumler recently won first prize in the Wisconsin Alliance for Composers (WAC) contest for his composition, Via Negativa.

Daumler studies composition with Lawrence professors Joanne Metcalf and Asha Srinivasan. Via Negativa came from his work with Srinivasan in her Electroacoustic Music Composition class. Electroacoustic refers to music that combines aspects of acoustic and electronic music. Daumler said the course deepened his understanding of how we experience and contextualize sound. 

“We use the term acousmatic a lot, which is electronic sounds that are a bit abstract and can be interpreted in a lot of different ways,” Daumler said. “It [electroacoustic composition] is a combination of these kinds of sounds and sounds that sound like real instruments.”

The course is focused on creating and then continually improving a single composition. 

“He spent much of the term focused on fine-level detail work, honing the pacing and the timbre of each sound and each section,” Srinivasan said. “His focused and dedicated work yielded a well-constructed, beautiful composition that clearly made a strong impression on the judging panel” for the WAC competition.

Want to compose for a string quartet, write music for a percussion ensemble, or delve into electronic composition? It's all possible

Via Negativa will be featured at this year’s WAC New Music Festival at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater on April 16. Daumler said he is looking forward to attending the event with his parents. Via Negativa can be heard on Youtube, Soundcloud, and the Wisconsin Alliance for Composers website. Listen here.

Daumler learned of the WAC contest through Srinivasan and the Music Composition Department. 

“I’m also a religious studies minor,” Daumler said. “I think that’s often seen in my music. I like music that is spiritual, entrancing, and meditative.”

Via Negativa is named after a theology that approaches what is divine through what isn’t. He describes his piece in two sections: the first, dark and cavernous, and the second, minimalist and spiritual. The change embodies what via negativa is to Daumler: traveling through darkness to find light. 

Much like the way it connects light and darkness, Via Negativa brings together Eastern and Western music traditions. Daumler has explored both at Lawrence. He has continued to play and learn violin in addition to joining Lawrence’s Balinese gamelan ensemble. 

Balinese gamelan is an East Asian music form that doesn’t follow many common Western practices. Though many of the instruments have similar counterparts in Western orchestra, gamelan and orchestra follow different and sometimes opposed theories of composition and performance. Gamelan’s especial emphasis on collaboration and community makes it a space Daumler appreciates.

Learn more about Lawrence’s gamelan ensemble here

“All my friends are in there, I love the music,” Daumler said. “I went to Bali over the summer to study gamelan, and I met amazing musicians. It was great.”

Daumler’s award-winning piece pulls inspiration from other continents as well. His composition features the djembe, a type of West African drum. In Via Negativa, this instrument has been electronically modified to sound gong-like. Listeners can hear this in the first “cavernous” section of the piece. 

Though Daumler himself prefers to compose more minimalistic and experimental music, he appreciates how the intimate Lawrence Conservatory community allows him to meet other musicians and share ideas.

“You get to meet people from different disciplines,” Daumler said. “I hang out with jazzers, and all these different majors. I feel like that isn’t typical for most music schools.”

Daumler’s senior recital will be at 8 p.m. April 29 in Harper Hall. After Lawrence, Daumler would like to travel to Bali again. He plans to work as a commissioned composer, and he said he would like to eventually compose for horror movies and games.

Brock Daumler

Class Year: 2023

Major: Music Composition

Hometown: Green Bay

Activities: Music, religious studies