AMN Reviews: Simon McCorry – Blue [Bandcamp]

With Blue, cellist Simon McCorry offers a kind of hypnotic chance music built up through the asynchronic layering of chord tones, interpolated pitches, and melodic fragments. On five of the nine tracks McCorry, who’s from Stroud, Gloucestershire in the UK, plays cello fed through looping devices and effects pedals; alternating between these performances are four electronic compositions constructed of manipulated recordings of the bells of Gloucester Cathedral.

On a number of the pieces, McCorry works a foundation of overlapping prolonged tones whose variable periodicities weave a gently rocking texture of real or implied harmonic movement. Forest, for example, begins as a drone but transitions to an alternating pair of chords over which McCurry plays an expansively serene melody. Similarly, the undulating, major-key harmonies of Light & Water anchor a refracted pentatonic melody liable to provoke a reverie in the listener. Invocation II is more unsettled harmonically and, in contrast to Light & Water, features a darker, slowly-paced polyphony in a minor mode. The abstract, metallic shimmering of the compositions for recorded bells provide an effective atmospheric offset to the cello pieces’ inherent melodiousness.

https://simonmccorry.bandcamp.com/album/blue

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Mariel Roberts – Cartography [New Focus fcr185]

Cartography, the second solo album from cellist Mariel Roberts, follows up and extends the work she did on her debut solo recording, 2012’s Nonextraneous Sounds. There, she presented five pieces for solo cello or cello in tandem with electronics, all of which she had commissioned from composers under the age of 40. Her new CD also presents new work, all of them composed last year. Two are for solo cello and one each are for cello accompanied by piano and live electronics. And in contrast to the earlier CD, the work of at least one veteran composer, George Lewis, is represented.

Roberts is known as a cellist working with the sometimes radical techniques and forms of contemporary composed music. Although all four of the works on Cartography are technically challenging, the technical resources they demand are simply a means toward expressive ends; the inspirations behind the compositions, far from consisting in the investigation of technique for its own sake, all derive from extra-musical ideas. Interestingly, these ideas largely have to do with time: Time as manifested in historical cycles, time as the measure of the finite lifespans of individuals and groups, and time as a perpetually unfinished sequence of moments and events.

Eric Wubbels’ gretchen am spinnrade, for cello and piano, turns on repetition. The composer, who also performs on piano, describes it as a “manic, hounded piece”—an accurate summary of its more or less relentless hammering away at repeated notes, phrases and rhythms. There are occasional, short-lived interludes of calm, but the piece is notably harrowing experience—an effect not only of the constantly tolling piano but of the dazzlingly virtuosic unison passages of rapidly changing time signatures and displaced accents.

Lewis’s Spinner was inspired by the Greek myth of the Fates, the three goddesses presiding over the finitude and fortunes of human life. The work calls for a wide variety of contemporary performance techniques—broad glissandi, discordant double stops, abrupt punctuation with plucked notes and harmonics, unusual bow articulations. Rather than sounding abstract, this mixture of techniques lends the piece a very human quality—much of it conveyed by the cello’s capacity for capturing vocal inflections, which Roberts’s performance brings out.

The Cartography of Time, by composer Davið Brynjar Franzson is, like Spinner, a work for unaccompanied cello. Franzson’s map is drawn with long, sustained tones gradually multiplied through layering. There is no real melodic movement, just a slow thickening of texture into standing, nearly immobile harmonies. The image of time that emerges is as a kind of dessicated, immaterial plain stretching ahead to an endpoint always receding beyond the horizon.

Cenk Ergün’s Aman, a word that in Arabic means “security” but in Turkish is a warning, is the one piece that doesn’t engage time directly. A work for cello and live electronics, Aman unfolds through discontinuities of texture and register, initially treating the cello almost as a percussion instrument. The electronics, supplied by the composer, take the piece farther away from a “natural” acoustic sound by introducing an element of distortion and colored noise, and eventually transforming the cello into a dispenser of backward-surging tones.

The four pieces differ significantly from each other and place different sets of demands on the performer; Roberts’s performances are consistently exciting and never allow technique to overshadow expression.

http://www.newfocusrecordings.com

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Michael Nicolas – Transitions [Sono Luminus DSL-92202]; Mari Kimura – Harmonic Constellations [New World Records 80776-2]

When joined to electronics, the solo acoustic instrument enters into a potentially complex and pointed relationship with itself. The instrument becomes its own double, its voice both converging on and diverging from self-identity as it undergoes modification, metamorphosis, multiplication and whatever other types of manipulation or accompaniment electronics afford. The effects can be modest or dramatic, depending on the degree and kind of interaction in question, but in all cases the translation of the solo acoustic instrument’s voice from its native language into an electronically-enhanced  dialect creates a dialogue between self and other in which the self is other, and vice versa. Two new releases, one of solo cello and electronics and one of solo violin and electronics, show the diverse forms this dialogue can take.

michael-nicolasTransitions features cellist Michael Nicolas in a variety of electronic settings that demonstrate the different kinds of partnerships acoustic and electronic elements can form. Mario Davidovsky’s Synchronisms No. 3 for Cello and Electronic Sounds is a duet that draws on an extended modernist vocabulary for cello and matches it to splashes of electronic sound. The acoustic nature of the cello is thrown into high relief as it confronts itself against the artifice of uncompromisingly electronic timbres. In David Fulmer’s Speak of the Spring the electronic component intervenes to modify the sound of the cello, its processing opening up a gap between the cello and itself; from this self-alienation an intriguing soundscape emerges. Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s austere Transitions, written in the contemporary language of fragmentary melody and microtonal harmonies, is the one track that dispenses with electronics. Because of its use of an expansive timbral palette, though, it doesn’t at all feel out of place. In contrast to the works made of discontinuous sound events, Steve Reich’s Cello Counterpoint, which transforms a multitracked Nicolas into a cello section in perpetual motion, and Annie Gosfield’s Four Roses for cello and synthesizer, are constructed around a more conventional rhythmic continuity. The album closes with Jaime E. Oliver La Rosa’s flexura, a tour de force duet for hypermodern cello and MANO. (The latter is a touchpad controller that generates and modifies sounds.) The piece draws on a thick repertoire of extended techniques, including pressure bowing, multiple harmonic effects and sound clusters, all of which weave in and out of the electronic tapestry with ease and a profound sense of belonging.

mari-kimura-harmonic-constellationsThe sonic center for all of the works on violinist Mari Kimura’s Harmonic Constellations is to be found in Kimura’s warm, singing tone, no matter what the larger context. Often, this latter takes the form of a pre-recorded backdrop, as for example in Eric Moe’s Obey Your Thirst. There, Kimura plays a frantic, irregularly accented pulse against simulated metallic and liquid sounds before falling back onto long, slow tones and double stops. Eric Chasalow’s Scuffle and Snap sets out an electronic background of popping, pizzicato-like sounds to complement Kimura’s actual pizzicato playing or to contrast with her smoothly bowed lines. Kimura’s own composition Sarahal, an exciting piece for two violins and live processing, represents the most forceful intervention of electronics into the violin’s natural sound world. An uncanny multiplication of sonic images, the performance consists of Kimura’s virtual duet with herself within an otherworldly thicket of pitch shifting, flanging and delay. The CD’s center of gravity lies in Michael Harrison’s seven part Harmonic Constellations, a microtonal piece for overdubbed violin and sine tones. As its title suggests, the piece is made up of harmonies arising from knots of coincident tones. A study in undulating, incremental harmonic movement, much of its sound derives from the choric effect of juxtaposed, nearly-identical pitches which beat against each other. The violin is woven directly into the shimmering drone to such an extent that it seems to be just another electronic tone—a submergence of identity that isn’t a loss of identity so much as the inspired creation of a new hybrid.

http://sonoluminus.com

http://www.newworldrecords.org

Daniel Barbiero

Cleveland contemporary-music ensemble No Exit ready to introduce itself

Lutos?awski
Image via Wikipedia

From cleveland.com:

No Exit New Music Ensemble will make its debut with free concerts at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 20 at Cleveland State University’s Drinko Recital Hall, 2001 Euclid Ave., Cleveland, and 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 21 at the Barking Spider Tavern, 11310 Juniper Rd., Cleveland.

Founded by composer Timothy Beyer, the core group comprises pianist Nicholas Underhill, violinist Cara Tweed, violist Tom Bowling and cellist Nick Diodore.

Their inaugural program will include Witold Lutoslawski‘s “Sacher Variation” for cello, the Adagio from Zoltan Kodaly’s Duo for Violin and Cello, works by Underhill and Beyer and new pieces by Al Kovach and James Praznik.

According to Beyer, “Our mission is to promote and perform contemporary concert music with an eye towards the avant-garde. We will have a strong focus on living composers and are particularly interested in championing the music of talented young composers who have not yet received much exposure.”

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New Work by a Speedy Elliott Carter

NYTimes.com discusses a recent interview with Elliott Carter about his new compositions.

Now that hardly a month goes by without a new work by Elliott Carter, a listener could easily forget that in former times Mr. Carter spent years writing each piece. If he had been this prolific four decades ago, when he was 60, his catalog would probably rival that of Liszt or Villa-Lobos.

With his 101st birthday approaching in December, Mr. Carter still has projects in mind. In a freewheeling interview with the cellist Fred Sherry during a Works & Process concert at the Guggenheim Museum on Monday evening, he discussed his current one: a woodwind quintet in which all the parts are written with instrumental doublings, so that the five musicians will play 10 instruments.

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New CD From Taylor Ho Bynum & SpiderMonkey Strings Coming September 15th

From Improvised Communications:

On September 15th, Firehouse 12 Records will release Madeleine Dreams (FH12-04-01-011), the second recording from cornetist/composer Taylor Ho Bynum’s improvising chamber ensemble, SpiderMonkey Strings. The seven year-old group features Kyoko Kitamura (voice), Jason Kao Hwang (violin), Jessica Pavone (viola), Tomas Ulrich (cello), Pete Fitzpatrick (guitar), Joseph Daley (tuba) and Luther Gray (drums).

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Anthony Braxton & The Walter Thompson Orchestra Reviewed

Anthony Braxton
Image via Wikipedia

One of probably many reviews of this weekend’s concerts:

Braxton was a busy man, moving from composing to playing three instruments (alto, soprano and sopranino sax?) as part of the ensemble. At times, Braxton and Thompson were conducting simultaneously, using a combination of their musical systems (Language Music and Soundpainting, respectively) to shape the music and action (there were also a group of actors who moved behind and through the musicians and contributed various vocalizations – spoken, chanted and sung). Instruments included (prepared?) piano, synth, electric guitar, bass, various horns, gong and woodblock percussion, cello and violin.

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