AMN Reviews: Dario Palermo – Difference Engines [AMRN040]

amrn040_cover_hiThis, the first CD dedicated entirely to work by composer Dario Palermo, features three substantial electroacoustic works written between 2009 and 2012.

Palermo (b. 1970) has been involved with the use of new technologies in music since the early 1990s. His background includes studies with Giorgio Colombo Taccani and Giovanni Verrando and others, including Gerard Grisey, as well as in orchestral and chamber performance. His work, as typified in the three pieces presented here, is built around the confrontation of electronics with acoustic instruments or the human voice.

RO-Premiére danse de la lune (2012), the newest composition represented here, is for amplified drum kit and real-time electronics. The individual pieces of the kit are treated as separate instruments within an ensemble, each of which can be differentiated in terms of their characteristic ranges and timbres. The electronics tend to enhance rather than erase the sonic signatures of the drums and cymbals—there’s added resonance from reverb or delay but very little outright dismantling of the native sounds. Percussionist Milo Tamez leverages both conventional and expanded techniques in order to explore the available timbres to the fullest extent, often exploiting color variety by opposing the high and low frequency sounds of cymbal and tom-tom.

The nearly half-hour long The Difference Engine (2010-2011) is, fittingly, the centerpiece of the recording. This work for amplified string quartet with real-time electronics and mezzo soprano served as the soundtrack for a multimedia theatrical production, also called The Difference Engine, staged in London in October 2011. The piece, given a bravura performance by the Arditti String Quartet, is a fragmentary yet coherent construction of more or less saturated passages of arco and pizzicato playing, many of which make dramatic use of the instruments’ extreme upper registers. Microtones and glissandi make for a highly fluid tonal ground constantly shifting underfoot. Mezzo soprano Catherine Carter, who appeared in the London stage production, blends in with the strings as a kind of fifth instrument, playing with and against the strings’ lines.

Trance-Five abstract stations (2009) for the solo voice of Jean-Michel Van Schouwburg and live electronics is in a sense the mirror image of RO. Just as the latter piece employs electronics to underscore the essential sound of the drum kit, Trance uses them instead to distort and rearrange the voice—to alienate it from itself as it were, and make it into an abstract other.