AMN Reviews: Lou Cohen – Music

Lou Cohen: Music [Pogus 21071-2]

The unassumingly titled Music is a 3 CD collection of recent electronic work from Boston area composer Lou Cohen. Cohen, whose early compositions grew out of algorithmic engagements with twelve-tone and serial methods, later turned to computer-based composition and granular synthesis—which in a sense was a logical development for him given the systematic nature of his previous compositional methods. The pieces collected here cover Cohen’s work of the last ten or so years, and represent his varied approaches to electronic sounds and processes.

Disc 1 contains ten “shapes”—compositions based on control signals (the titular shapes) that determine the pitch, amplitude, duration and density of each composition’s tones. In some of these works Cohen is concerned with using contemporary electronic means to engage more conventional notions of consonance and dissonance. For example Shape 05 is centered around the tones of a dominant seventh chord, which dissolve into dissonances and then re-form into chord tones as the piece develops. Shape 06 follows a similar pattern, this time using a chord progression rather than a single chord for its tonal points of reference.

Disc 2 features a heterogeneous set of works, including the lovely Harmonies. Somewhat reminiscent of John Cage’s Quartets I-VIII, Harmonies takes brief, consonant bits of sound and arranges them in a way that resembles a randomized sequence of diatonic chords. Concerto, which borrows the concerto’s soloist-and-accompaniment structure, samples toy piano, clavichord and marimba for the solo voice, and winds and strings for its orchestral setting.

Much of Disc 2 and all of Disc 3 are given over to Cohen’s “symphonies.” The symphonies are a variety of sound collage in which segments of sound sources are extracted and inserted into the final piece. The sources can be pre-existing synthesized sounds, sounds generated by Cohen’s improvisations, or samples of acoustic instruments. An example of the latter is Symphony 6, which combines samples of flute and strings into a kind of artificial chamber quintet playing what sounds like a serial work with a pronounced number of starts and stops.

With its generous helping of works, Music provides a stimulating view into this distinctively systemic electronic composer.

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