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Mitch Webb

Photo of Mitch Webb
Graduation Year:
Fall 2017
"The process itself was incredible, but the final performance was something I’ll remember for the rest of my life."

Faculty supervisor: Patrick Hughes, Associate Professor of Horn
Name of project: Free Samples: Musical Pairings

Please give a brief, simplified overview of your research project.
Free Samples was an interdisciplinary performance combining live and recorded music with hand-drawn animation, dance, drawing, painting, collage, and electronic audio manipulation. This multimedia production was created to encourage the audience to experience a recital without the boundaries and formalities associated with classical music. The event featured four original musical works of my own, each combined with multimedia works and performances from students across The University of Texas at Austin, and began with a musical composition by Russell Pinkston, Professor of Composition and Director of the Butler School of Music’s Electronic Music Studios.

Describe the tasks you engage in as part of your work.
From the very beginning of the project and all the way through its final stages, my mentors and I debated how to walk the thin line between engaging with an audience and alienating them. My main goal was to attract a new crowd to a musical recital — one that didn’t necessarily have a classically-involved background. This goal influenced every other aspect of work.
Over the course of the semester, I composed music for solo dance, a screenplay and soundtrack for a three-minute animation, an ambient piece for cello, violin, guitar, and looping pedal, and a contemporary piece for drums, slide guitar, piano, vocals, and looped French horn. I then recorded, mixed, and mastered those selections that were not going to be performed live, found and arranged a venue, advertised the event, and designed signage and programs. A huge portion of this project for which I can’t pretend to take credit are the interdisciplinary aspects of each piece that were choreographed, animated, performed, painted, and drawn by some amazing students and graduates across UT’s campus.

Describe what you thought college might be like before you came to UT. Did you consider research when thinking about college?
When I first came to UT, I arrived as a mechanical engineering major, and was pretty sure I had made the right decision. It wasn’t until my sophomore year that it became clear how many of my passions lay outside of my major, and I began my transfer into the Butler School of Music. I never expected to change my mind about engineering, but college has a way of offering perspective and opening up new paths. It was a tough decision to make at the time, but looking back I am so relieved to know I made the right choice.
This research project was also an unexpected turn in my college experience. What began as an internal ideological dilemma presented to my French horn professor snowballed over a few months to become this multi-genre, interdisciplinary endeavor. The experience ended up completely defining my final semester of school.

How did you get involved with your research project?
I wrote a term paper on avant-garde music in popular culture a few semesters ago. Writing that paper led me to a fascination with the ability of another medium to bring classical music to a new audience. At the same time, I became increasingly aware of how few non-music majors attended classical performances at UT. I wanted to find a way to bridge this gap between academic music and something more relatable to a modern audience.

Do you see your project connecting with your plans for your future?
Absolutely. I’m currently working in music production. The composing, mixing, recording, editing, and organizing required by this project exercised skills that I now use on a daily basis. The most important aspect to me was the collaborative portion—working with and learning from people in creative fields outside of my own was an invaluable experience and something I will need to do for the rest of my life. I’m already waist-deep in similar work and am incredibly thankful for what I learned during this project.

What is the most interesting or surprising thing you’ve gotten to do for this project?
The process itself was incredible, but the final performance was something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. People from all over campus and far outside of UT attended, and the interactive portion of the night went perfectly. Some of the audience saw their first French horn performance, while others were introduced to the dance program at UT. The final piece asked for the audience to stand up, mingle, eat, and draw, all while a piece was being performed. It was incredible to see that portion of the project come to life and for everyone to be so willing to become a part of the performance.

What advice would you give to a student who was thinking about research?
Research is a wide-reaching term. There is so much valuable research to be done outside of what one might immediately imagine from the word. My project was certainly somewhat of an outlier, and it was an invaluable experience. Don’t be afraid to tackle research in whatever field of interest you find yourself. If there’s a question eating at you that doesn’t already have an answer, look for it yourself!