AMN Reviews: Thomas DeLio – Selected Compositions III (1986-2017) [Neuma 450-120]

Selected Compositions III (1986-2017) is Neuma’s third compilation of work by composer Thomas DeLio (b. 1951). As with the previous two CD releases, which surveyed his work of 1991-2013 and of 1972-2015, Selected Compositions (1986-2017) collects both acoustic instrumental and electroacoustic pieces, with a particular emphasis on DeLio’s settings of texts.

When writing about the second album in the series, I characterized DeLio’s work as embodying an aesthetic of intermittence—a focus on sound as such standing alone in well-defined islands of time. The pieces collected on this third album further elaborate DeLio’s deep engagement with the intermittences of sound. One area where this engagement makes itself especially felt is in DeLio’s settings of spoken texts.

On this as on previous releases, DeLio presents compositions that take recordings of the poetry of P. Inman as source material. Two pieces appear here: by parch reading (2016) and “decker” (1998). DeLio has said he has a particular affinity for Inman’s work and it isn’t hard to see why: what DeLio does with sound is analogous to what Inman does with language, which is to say, breaking it not at the joints one would expect, but instead dismantling it across those joints, the better to alienate it from its usual function—for Inman and language, the semantic or meaning-conveying function; for DeLio and sound, the function afforded by temporal continuity–and to recompose it in unexpected ways. Inman’s poetry recasts words and phrases from semantic elements into a kind of musique concrète of utterance; in a similar way, DeLio breaks sounds up to play off against each other as a series of timbral contrasts and likenesses. When DeLio electronically modifies recordings of Inman’s poetry a kind of multiplier effect is at work; what results are conflicts and concordances of consonants and vowels–an abstract music of the voice.

This same use of fragmentation is a significant factor in the instrumental works; for example, the two pieces for percussion ensemble: 2002’s wave / s for marimba and one-person percussion ensemble, and the earliest composition in the set, the two-movement Against the Silence…of 1984-1985. On both pieces sounds—a wash of cymbal, a trill on the marimba, scattered strikes on tuned and untuned surfaces of wood, metal, and membrane—play against the silence that breaks them apart and at the same time frames them. In fact it may be that this idea of silence—or at any rate a negative audio space—as a frame for sound is given its most complete expression in the series of six brief works from 2017 that appear interspersed throughout the album: each piece in itself traces silence as a framing device while at the same time serving to frame the works on either side. It’s a central motif of DeLio’s, put to work at two different levels.

AMN Reviews: Llyn Y Cwn – Twll Du (2019; Cold Spring Records)

“Windswept” is a term that fits Twll Du (Black Hole), the upcoming release – sixth overall, it seems – from Llyn Y Cwn (Lake Of The Dogs). Invoking either primeval landscapes or outer space, these deep drones somehow manage to be both utterly overwhelming and suitable for background listening depending on your volume level.

Each piece was crafted from a field recording as well as overlaid synths. The latter is not significantly layered.  Instead, the recording and the musical elements are laid beside one another. So arranged, the former provides environmental white noise while the latter swells and drifts. The result is a set of dark, ominous sound walls and atmospherics. A suitable example is the third track, Cwn Cneifion, which features ponderous drones and washes over rumbling that resembles a distant thunderstorm or the destruction of a star.

While the overall approach and sound over the course of the album do not vary dramatically, they are unusual enough to remain interesting throughout. Thus, Twll Du is a compelling slab of dark ambiance recommended for fans of Lustmord in particular.

AMN Reviews: Isaac Schankler – Because Patterns [Aerocade AM011-CD]

Identified as a significant artistic trend in the late 1960s, systems aesthetics—the quintessential programmatic statement was Jack Burnham’s 1968 essay by that name—has continued to represent a viable and important direction in contemporary art and music. Current systems music—simply put, music that is the product of a defined operation or set of operations performed on a defined input—often takes the guise of generative composition, frequently done by computer or other means of electronic music production, and sometimes done by hand. While the fit between a systems aesthetic and electronic music is a logical one, systems music for acoustic instruments, whether alone or with electronic augmentation, can be just as natural and the results aesthetically satisfying.

The title track of Because Patterns, an album of four works by composer Isaac Schankler, is one such work. Because Patterns—the title is a witty rejoinder to Morton Feldman’s 1978 Why Patterns for flute, glockenspiel and piano—is a generative composition for four-handed prepared piano. Commissioned by the duo of Aron Kallay and Vicki Ray, who perform it here, the work uses a set of rules to generate outputs from melodic and rhythmic patterns whereby the content of a measure is the product of a rule applied to the content of the preceding measure. The process may sound mechanical but the music isn’t; the piece has an engaging melodic logic and compelling rhythmic propulsion. The score calls for preparing the piano’s upper registers to shorten the notes’ sustain, producing a bright bell-like or pizzicato sound. For this album the composer chose to mix Kallay and Ray’s performance of Because Patterns with a performance of The Deep State (2017) for double bass and electronics. In contrast to the swift-moving Because Patterns, The Deep State—performed by double bassist Scott Worthington, to whom it is dedicated–is structured by long, slow, deep tones. The hybrid obtained by combining the two pieces makes for an interesting study in contrasts, but having each piece presented separately would have been welcome as well.

Because Patterns also contains Mobile I (2009) for solo violin and electronics and Future Feelings (2018) for piano. Mobile I is a beautiful piece with a generative electronics component and a translucent violin part, brilliantly played by Sakura Tsai. Future Feelings, performed by Nadia Shpachenko, opens with tautly cascading repeated phrases that serve as rhythmic cells or kernels shaping the first section of the piece; the second section features interactive electronics that take the piano part as input and outputs it as a ghostly afterimage. Like Mobile I, it unfolds in a dramatic arc of increasing complexity and emotional urgency.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Mike Barber – Duets for Saw and Deviated Septum (2019; Bandcamp)

This is a rather descriptive title of the compositional process rather than the resulting sound. Mike Barber recorded a hand saw cutting wood as well as his own snoring. From these sources, he looped, layered, and manipulated the recordings into three 20-minute pieces. The outcome is a distorted ambient environment that could serve as a soundtrack for a horror or science fiction movie.

Duet for Saw and Deviated Septum No.1 builds up slowly with sounds that resemble a machine or factory operating in the background. Shaped white noise and crackling elements drift in and out of the foreground along with prickly scrapings. Duet for Saw and Deviated Septum No.2 provides overlapping waves of muted grinding and distortion, with foreground aspects moving between speaker channels. This mix boils and folds upon itself for some time before featuring more immediate and indeterminate distortion processing. Duet for Saw and Deviated Septum No.3 is perhaps the most interesting piece, with undulating surges and gentler portions that juxtapose higher frequencies with the low-end rumblings.

The extent to which the overall sound of this recording departs from its source material is quite remarkable. While there are a few points where the listener can identify sawing and snoring, without the liner notes indicating such it would be been nearly impossible to discern. None of these recordings are overpowering – instead, in true ambient form, their influence is on both the subconscious and the conscious.

AMN Reviews: Jennifer Thiessen and Ida Toninato – The Space Between Us (2018; Ambiances Magnetiques)

This baritone sax / viola duet is another 2018 release that blipped the radar then got unjustly buried under 100 subsequent albums. Nonetheless, The Space Between Us serves as a high point of that year’s recordings, and provides some superb listening.

Toninato’s baritone drones and growls, producing rough textures and a shifting foundation over which Thiessen improvises with drones of her own, motifs and brief solos. But that is not to say that Toninato remains in the background – both members of this duet contribute to the complex, ululating melodies.

Still, there is a rich ponderousness to their approach. Thiessen and Toninato are in no hurry to get anywhere in particular, as the journey seems more important than the destination. Along the way, they explore melancholy and thoughtful themes. While not overly dark, each is imbued with a sense of foreboding and a subtle intensity. The Space Between Us is not so much about creating space, but instead exploring a space that is filled with ideas and emotions.

AMN Reviews: Christi Denton – Meduse (2018; Pan y Rosas)

Meduse by Christi Denton first crossed my desk over six months ago, right after its release. I promptly put it into the “must review” folder, which apparently became the “forget about until the weather is warm” folder.  This happens.  Sorry.  Nonetheless, this 30-minute effort is well worth the wait for anyone interested in electronic composition with a sprinkling of found-object noises and unusual instrumentation.

Captive/ate begins with oscillating drones, and then adds spiky electroacoustic burbles to the mix. Waves sweep in, as does a bassy sequenced line. Loops of loosely-actuated strings and percussive elements appear in interlocking figures. Ultimately, the patterns are repetitive, and the track is effectively a series of periodic compositions that morph and fade into one another.

Toybox features high-end plucked strings in an almost conventional sounding duet. Distorted, on the other hand, lives up to its name with more object percussion, bell-like sounds, and extended techniques applied to what sounds like it could be a stringed instrument.

Portland-based Denton was trained at Mills College and Center Iannis Xenakis in France. Thus, her overall sound is reminiscent of GRM-based artists but with a unique and personal flair.  She also works with sound installations, which further informs this work.  Highly recommended.

AMN Reviews: Max Giteck Duykers / Ensemble Ipse – Folding Music [New World Records 80811-2]

21904.covfile2In addition to being a composer, Max Giteck Duykers (b. 1972) is the co-founder of the Ensemble Ipse, which is featured on this collection of Duykers’ new and recent work for chamber ensembles. All of the pieces in the collection are scored for the so-called Pierrot sextet or its subdivisions, the Pierrot sextet, of which Ensemble Ipse is one, comprising piano, clarinets, flutes, violin, cello, and percussion. (The name derives from the quintet used in Arnold Schoenberg’s landmark 1912 work Pierrot Lunaire.) For such a small group it contains a surprisingly wide variety of instrumental colors, which Duykers ably exploits.

Duykers has written a number of works for the full sextet, two of which appear on Folding Music. The title track is one; it was composed in 2017 and opens the album. Duykers plays with the sextet’s color possibilities by breaking the group down into various subgroups of contrasting timbres; he distributes the piece’s thematic material, much of which consists of cells made up of a limited number of pitches, across the ensemble for maximum effect. The music has an ambiguously tonal sound to it—not quite inside and yet not quite outside either. The same is true of the other sextet on the album, 2007’s Twilight for Adored and Breathless Moments. Opening with an insistently hammered chord, it’s characterized by lively rhythms in changing meters and quasi-serial melodies allocated across winds and strings. Here again, Duykers’ effectively breaks the ensemble down into mutable subdivisions in order to create an engaging series of timbral harmonies and dissonances.

Other pieces on the album include Dark Body (2015), a quartet for flute, violin, cello and piano that’s notable for the violin’s astringent, chromatic lines and the flute’s uses of extended technique, and The Way In (2015), a setting of Robert Bly’s translation of the Rilke poem “The Way In,” arranged for soprano, piano and cello.

Daniel Barbiero