Pheromone, the third solo recording by San Francisco-area new music flutist Meerenai Shim, is a fine collection of new electroacoustic works, all but one of which were commissioned for this recording. The six compositions encompass their composers’ individual approaches to integrating the flute with electronics of various types, and reflect Shim’s own genre-challenging, eclectic engagement with new music.
The opening track, composer Eli Fieldsteel’s Fractus III Aerophoneme for flute and live electronics, is the one piece not written specifically for Shim. Nevertheless, from its stark first notes, whose breathy timbre and microtonality are somehow reminiscent of the shakuhachi, she makes it her own through a forceful, momentum-gathering interpretation enhanced by the electronics’ computer-generated sonic shadows. Here as in other pieces, Shim shows an affinity for lyrical playing that recalls folksong in its phrasing and hinted-at modality.
Other highlights include Huge Blank Canvas Neck Tattoo, Gregory C. Brown’s work for alto flute and Ableton Live loops. Here the interaction between Shim’s live and sampled lines builds up a cumulative, rhythmically-informed structure that at times takes on the appearance of a kind of virtual chamber ensemble. Douglas Laustsen’s 60.8% for bass flute and electronics was written during the lead-up to the 2014 elections in Greece. Explicitly referring to events outside of itself, the work is concerned with Greek travails and resilience in recent and historical form: The title represents the highest unemployment rate for Greek youth during the country’s recent economic crises, while the musical substance was inspired by rebetiko, a kind of Greek urban folk song of hardship and resistance that flourished during the first third of the last century. Shim’s performance evokes the grain of the human voice, while the modal, microtonally-informed melody and asymmetrical rhythms point to the rebetiko’s deep heritage in Ottoman sources.
The recording also includes two pieces for piano (played by Australian pianist Jacob Abela), flute and electronics: Emma O’Halloran’s aurally sumptuous Penciled Wings and Isaac Schankler’s Pheromone, in which overlaid flute and piano chase their own echoes in a decelerating game of aural tag. The closing track, the brief Etude for contrabass flute and T183+ calculator by Matthew Joseph Payne, is a good-natured, propulsive piece that allows Shim to riff like a bass guitar in a stylized funk-rock band.