AMN Reviews: Alfonso García de la Torre & Guillermo Lauzurika / Ensemble Sinkro [Bandcamp]

Vitoria-Gasteiz is the capital of the Basque Autonomous Community; it is also the home of the Ensemble Sinkro, a group playing acoustic and electroacoustic works by contemporary composers. The group was formed in 2005, although its roots reach back to the establishment of the Jesús Guridi Ensemble and the Electroacoustic Music Laboratory of the Conservatory of Vitoria-Gasteiz in the mid-1980s. From the latter, in particular, Ensemble Sinkro seems to have derived its interest in the integration of new technologies with the compositional methods and instrumental techniques of the Western art music tradition. Recently, the ensemble has been issuing a series of recordings that provide an aural window into the fine work being made by the current generation of Basque composers, among whom are Alfonso García de la Torre and Guillermo Lauzurika.

Música de Cámara [CD010] collects eight of García de la Torre’s electroacoustic chamber works from the period 1998-2014. García de la Torre (1964), a native of Vitoria-Gasteiz, came to composition with a background in electronic engineering as well as music; among his studies were courses at the Computing and Electronic Music Laboratory in Madrid and at IRCAM in Paris. His work often involves multimedia and encompasses sound art as well as more traditional instrumental composition. The tracks on Música de Cámara demonstrate his deftness at melding electronic technologies with solo acoustic instruments or small ensembles. What makes each unique is what all have in common: a finely honed sensitivity to the way that electronics can bring out the particular natural characteristics of a given instrument. For example, Un Caracol Manchado (2000), for tenor saxophone and electronics, is a tightly integrated work that uses voice doubling, pitch-shifting and other processes to create the illusion of a ghost saxophone shadowing the actual instrument. By contrast, 2005’s Dark for baritone saxophone and electronics maintains each element as an independent yet complementary voice. García de la Torre describes Danba II (2014) for flute, cello, percussion, piano, and electronics as a piece exploring the affinities of these very different instruments’ sound characteristics; his non-hierarchical approach to the material leads to a naturally pointillistic setting for solo voices representing independent colors.

Like García de la Torre, under whom he studied, composer/pianist Guillermo Lauzurika (1968) is a native of Vitoria-Gasteiz. Also like García de la Torre, Lauzurika’s compositions are attuned to the opportunities afforded music by new technologies and multimedia environments. His background includes work with jazz ensembles as well as dancers, improvisers and experimental musicians; currently he teaches electroacoustic music and serves as Ensemble Sinkro’s artistic director. His portrait release [CD007] comprises six works including a piece for solo piano, three for solo instruments and electronics, a work for two pianos and two percussion instruments, and one for guitar, percussion, and electronics. As with García de la Torre’s collection, Lauzuritka’s includes pieces for tenor saxophone and electronics and baritone saxophone and electronics. On both pieces, Lauzuritka artfully integrates extended and conventional saxophone techniques into the surrounding electronic soundscape. Moving over to an entirely different sound palette, MOmmm (MI) momNN(ni)c for guitar, percussion and electronics elucidates the sometimes unexpected timbral convergences of nylon string acoustic guitar on the one hand, and drums on the other. The highlight of the recording is Zatiketa, in which Lauzurika skillfully weaves together the parts for piano and pitched percussion to afford their meeting on a common ground defined by the brusque, albeit melodious, sounds of things struck.

Daniel Barbiero

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AMN Reviews: Aviva Endean – cinder: ember: ashes [Sofa 569]; Lea Bertucci – Metal Aether [NNA 108]

For better and for worse, “extended technique” describes the use of unconventional or nontraditional methods of playing an otherwise conventional instrument. There’s another sense in which the technical resources of an instrument can be extended, though, and one that’s more literal: the augmentation of the instrument with preparations, electronic devices, or the intervention of external objects of some other sort. Two stimulating new releases of music for solo reed instruments contain pieces played with extended technique in both of these senses.

The pieces on Aviva Endean’s cinder : ember : ashes, her first solo release, grew out of a practice of playing simply for herself, without larger agenda or ulterior motive. Endean is often a collaborative player, so her turn inward here would seem to represent something of a change: not quite woodshedding in anticipation of a performance, and not quite a performance either, at least not one directed toward an audience other than herself. More of an assisted introspection, externalized in sound. Thus there’s an almost autohypnotic quality to much of the album, the result of Endean’s proclivity for creating variations on motifs made up of a minimal collection of pitches which she orders, expands, condenses or distorts—all the while still somehow retaining their essential profiles. Endean’s signature sound throughout consists in fluctuations of pitch and timbre that find their centers of gravity in recurring long tones or simple pitch sequences. The opening track, burst in black : under for contrabass clarinet, is exemplary. There, Endean coaxes a changing set of overtones and timbres from pitches extending into an engulfing empty space. On apparition : above Endean augments the clarinet with a tympani, whose head she uses to amplify and modify the clarinet’s natural voice, giving it a quasi-electronic edge, a wind-like hollowness, or turning it into a facsimile of a trombone. Similarly, on vapour : between she manipulates the instrument—again, a clarinet—by running it through a pocket amplifier, which helps to foreground the fluctuations of the piece’s mantra-like, two-pitch quasi-melody. On the more extraverted undulations : behind, Endean plays umtshingo, a Zulu flute producing overblown harmonics, in conjunction with an effects pedal.

The concise, repeated themes that permeate much of cinder : ember : ashes find a counterpart in Patterns for Alto, the opening track of Metal Aether, a recording for solo alto saxophone and electronics by Lea Bertucci. Bertucci seems less directed toward the meditative potential of repeated sound cycles and more interested in exploring the harmonic implications of accumulating tones and overtones. Patterns for Alto layers its tones through speed; the piece is a rapidly pulsing performance with a well-defined tonal center of gravity, reminiscent in an oblique way of some of the classic Minimalist pulse pieces built over relatively simple harmonies. With the two tracks Accumulations and Sustain and Dissolve, Bertucci explores tonal interactions within a more extended time frame. Both pieces deliver what their titles plainly promise: harmonic development consisting in the piling up, lingering and jostling of tones separated by variably spaced intervals. It’s all in the overtones and the micro-scaled interference patterns that result from the way tones are juxtaposed and layered. The textural insight Bertucci has to offer here is that density isn’t (only, always) a matter of the simultaneous aggregation of sound events, but of the exploration of the detail of any given sound event’s microstructures.

http://www.sofamusic.no

https://leabertucci.bandcamp.com/album/metal-aether

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Reinhold Friedl / Quatuor Diotima – String Quartets [Bocian Records]

Berlin-based composer Reinhold Friedl (b. 1964) occupies an emblematic place within contemporary art music. As the latter has become increasingly open to influences from other genres and cultures, it has ample room for a composer like Friedl, who has worked with artists from worlds as diverse as punk and post-punk rock, free improvisation and noise. Friedl’s background is itself diverse, including training in piano performance, mathematics and musicology as well as composition; as a pianist specializing in the techniques of playing inside the instrument, he performs with Zeitkratzer (“time scraper”), a chamber ensemble fluent in the musical languages of electronic sound, minimalism and improvisation as well as modern composition, which he founded and serves as musical director.

Not surprisingly, Friedl’s three string quartets, realized for this collection by the Quatuor Diotima, deliberately avoid the traditional string quartet conventions of linear and contrapuntal writing in favor of a texture-based manipulation of mobile sound masses. In String Quartet No. 1 (2005), he accomplishes this by centering the nine-and-a-half minute work on the development of a single gesture: circular bowing. The piece, which was commissioned by the BBC and is dedicated to cellist Anton Lukoszevieze, rides on a slowly crescendoing surf of white noise, glassy harmonics and muted and open strings. The ebb and flow of the sound follows the movements of the musicians’ bowing with an uncanny transparency.

At double the length of the first quartet, String Quartet No. 2, composed in 2009 for the Diotima quartet, erects an abstract acoustic wall of sound that develops by increases in saturation, volume and intensity. As with the first quartet the piece, which is constructed around sustained tremolo bowing of ever greater speed, is an essay in gestural crescendo.

The closest Friedl comes to traditional string quartet writing—and really it isn’t that close—is on 2016’s String Quartet No. 3, commissioned in Copenhagen and dedicated to Diotima cellist Pierre Morlet. The solidly constructed piece consists of long-toned, pungent chords arranged as sound blocks slowly moving in lockstep across audio space.

https://bocian.bandcamp.com/album/reinhold-friedl-string-quartets

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Anthony Cheung – Cycles and Arrows [New Focus Recordings: fcr215]

Cycles and Arrows, a collection of complex, well-crafted compositions for chamber ensembles, is the third portrait CD of work by Anthony Cheung (b. 1982). The recording highlights Cheung’s interest in composing with a focus on the qualities of instrumental voices both alone and in combinations.

Cheung’s concern with instrumental color follows naturally from his formation as a composer. A pianist as well as a composer, Cheung had as his primary composition teachers the spectralist Tristan Murail and Bernard Rands; he wrote his dissertation on Ligeti’s Hamburg Concerto, a late work exploring non-harmonic sonorities for solo horn and chamber orchestra. Given this background, it isn’t surprising that Cheung’s compositions tend to engage sonority as a substantive product of careful orchestration.

With the exception of 2015’s Après une lecture, a work for solo oboe, all of the pieces on Cycles and Arrows locate their musical centers of gravity in the timbral effects of instrumental aggregations and divisions. One of the more adventurous instances is More Marginalia (2014) for a ten-piece ensemble. The composition represents a reworking of Cheung’s 2012 piece for ten traditional Chinese instruments, originally written for the Taipei Chinese Orchestra. For the newer work, Cheung replaced half the Chinese instruments with Western instruments of more-or-less analogous makeup. The ensemble’s unconventional makeup allows Cheung to set up shifting timbral alliances and oppositions between groups of instruments whose contrasting voices reflect contrasting traditions and playing techniques; especially effective are the contrasts between the plucked and bowed Chinese instruments on the one hand, and Western strings and winds on the other. In this piece as in the other works for chamber orchestra, Cheung plays instrumental coalitions off against each other in constellations of color that break apart as quickly as they cohere.

Although a solo piece, Après une lecture also is essentially about the dynamics of sound color. Based on a free reading of Leoš Janáček’s transcriptions of spoken language, Cheung’s composition, forcefully realized by oboist Ernest Rombout, draws on a vocabulary of microtones and multiphonics to mimic the vagaries of the human voice; its irregular accents and tempos, along with mercurial changes of register, convey something of the range of sonic nuances that are an integral, if often overlooked, dimension of linguistic meaning.

https://newfocusrecordings.bandcamp.com/album/anthony-cheung-cycles-and-arrows

Daniel Barbiero

 

AMN Reviews: Jestern & Tom Arthurs – Cahier de petits coquillages Vol IV/V [Setola di Maiale]

In August, 2017, Alberto Novello, the Italian-born composer, programmer, and multimedia artist, and UK trumpeter/composer Tom Arthurs shared an ArtOMI residency in Ghent, New York. The four-week summer program was intended to bring together international artists for the purposing of fostering collaboration; this recording, made during the residency, is one such successful one.

For these performances, Novello, who uses the stage name Jestern, accompanied Arthurs’s acoustic trumpet with analogue electronics. The musical relationship the two forged is one of strong, independent and parallel voices that nevertheless provide complementary parts of a distinctive whole. This they do largely through contrasts of timbre and phrasing, given the particular capabilities of their instruments. Novello’s electronics are glitch and jumpy; even at their most abstract they allude, however obliquely, to rhythms rooted in the body: foot-tapping, finger-popping, knuckle-rapping. Their chopped sounds are a sonic bed over which Arthurs’s melodic lines lie—sometimes uneasily, sometimes comfortably, but always appropriately.

http://www.setoladimaiale.net

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Leslie Ross – Drop by Drop, Suddenly [XI Records XI 141]

Leslie Ross’s Drop by Drop, Suddenly is a set of texturally exploratory pieces for bassoon augmented by multiple microphones. As a performer, Ross, an instrument builder as well as an instrumentalist with experience in experimental, classical and early music, has focused her attention on the physical aspects of sound, particularly as manifested through the use of multiphonics and microtones. The two CDs making up this release attest to the variety of textural and acoustic effects that can be created with a single wind instrument, with and without real-time sound processing.

Although Ross deliberately eschews large-scale pitch movement and otherwise strips her basic sound material down to a minimum, her performance techniques and use of miking serve to unravel individual tones and reveal them as containing multitudes—complex sound spectra of varying internal consonance and dissonance. Ross pushes far into this territory in two ways: first, with all those microphones, which she places at tone-holes and feeds out to multiple speakers; and second, by reducing musical movement to increments. The microphones pick up minute differences of timbre and pitch across the instrument, differences created and enhanced by circular breathing and multiphonics. Out of this she’s able to create textures that follow the breath as they expand and contract in thickness, volume and frequency–much like the cycling of lungs filling and emptying of air.

http://www.xirecords.org

Daniel Barbiero

Baltimore SDIY Summerfest Concert Three, August 25

The Baltimore SDIY Group announces its 2018 Summerfest Concert Three, to be held Saturday, August 25, at the Electric Maid, 268 Carroll Street NW, Washington DC 20012. The concert is all-ages with a $10 admission.

The concert features Fast not Safe; Chaka Benson; Novparolo; Hovercraft; & Mr. June Lopez.

Saturday, August 25, 7:30 PM. Doors at 7:00.

For more information, visit the Baltimore SDIY webpages.