AMN Reviews: John Persen – Electronic Works [Aurora ACD5090]

MI0003981837This set of two electronic works by Norwegian composer John Persen (1941-2014) focuses attention on a relatively little-known side of his work. His music for orchestra and chamber ensembles is well-represented on CD, while his opera Under Cross and Crown earned him a measure of renown.

Persen’s biography is somewhat unusual, and in its own way its trajectory from an upbringing in a religious minority community to a career as a modern composer, is oddly reminiscent of La Monte Young’s own passage from Mormonism to musical innovation. Persen, of Sami background, was raised in an environment shaped by Laestadianism, a conservative Lutheran revival movement. He studied at the Oslo conservatory and pursued further studies in composition in Germany with Ligeti. In addition to his compositional work, he took an active role in establishing or working with various cultural institutions in Norway.

One of the two pieces presented here has been issued previously, while the other appears for the first time. The first track is Things Take Time, a work originally conceived of as a six-hour, staggered-loop piece called Against Cold Winds. The track, structured as a long-period cycle, features an array of sounds—chiming metallic chirps and synthetic tintinnabulations—that stays more or less constant across various changes of texture. Almost halfway in a dully roaring, wind-like sound washes out the chiming sounds and the piece evolves into long, layered tones, eventually coming back around to the sounds at its beginning. The second track, Nota Bene—The Title Is a Lie, relies on sounds that, while mostly percussive, are interspersed with sounds broadly suggestive of environmental elements: Bubbling and dripping water, rustling wind and rattling leaves.

A minor complaint: The CD jacket lists the tracks in the wrong order and attributes a date of composition for Note Bene at variance with the date given in the liner notes. None of this takes away from the sound of the music, which is absorbing.

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Daniel Barbiero