AMN Reviews: Kevin Cogen – Electroacoustic Miscellaneous [bandcamp]; Todd Francis Smith – Electroacoustic Works [bandcamp]

The appeal of early electronic music systems consisted in their capacity to allow composers and performers access to a spectrum of sounds that literally had been unheard before. Over the ensuing decades electronic systems were miniaturized, digitized and democratized, but their original, fundamental function—to open up to artists an expanded world of timbres—never went away. These releases by two young composer/performers show just how vital this function remains.

Montrealer Kevin Cogen’s Electroacoustic Miscellaneous is, as its title announces, an eclectic olio of compositions, collages and musique concrète. Purely electronic works run up against electroacoustic pieces, atmospheric soundscapes jostle tracks with a rhythmic backbone. Cogen works from such raw materials as recordings of conversations or cymbals or performances on piano and then manipulates them to varying degrees, so that the substance of a conversation may still legible or a chord progression retained, if sometimes redirected. The compositions tend toward textures built up of classic electronic sounds and cyclical structures, whether rhythmic—some of them poppish–or harmonic.

Like the pieces on Electroacoustic Miscellaneous, the tracks on Electroacoustic Works by Todd Francis Smith, a jazz guitarist and composer from Bellingham, WA, focus on the interplay of timbral qualities inherent in sonically thick surfaces. The structures here are looser, but the sonorities are rich and shimmering, enfolding the listener in an almost tactile experience of sound.

Each in its own way, these two releases are consistent with the timbrally-centered aesthetic that animated the early electronic experimentalists. Like them, Cogen and Smith treat sound color as a value in itself, to be grasped—and enjoyed–on its own terms.