AMN Reviews: James Caldwell – Pocket Music (2021; Neuma 135)

“Pocket Music” is collection of suites of electroacoustic miniatures from composer James Caldwell.  Caldwell is Professor Emeritus at Western Illinois University (WIU). In addition to his teaching, Caldwell co-directed the annual New Music Festival at WIU where he programmed hundreds of new pieces by living composers. “Pocket Music” is his first portrait release and represents just one facet of his wide-ranging interests as a composer.

For this CD Caldwell’s compositions explore his sonic imagination with everyday items that are often found in his pockets. As he writes, “For more than twenty years I have pursued a sporadic project of making small musique concrète pieces. The original set used sounds I made with things I found in my pockets while working in the studio—coins, keys, plastic pill bottle, comb, paperback book, rubber band, and a screwdriver struck against a wrench. … As I returned to the project, I continued working with small found sounds, but not necessarily things from my pockets: ping-pong balls, a stapler, M&M’s,  binder clips, finger cymbals, a pencil run over the rungs on the back of a chair, dresser handles, the bag from a bunch of apples from the grocery store, a wine glass, and then — moving outside into my yard — cicadas, lawn furniture, garden stones in a wheelbarrow, birds, the distant rumble of the Macomb Speedway, and some odds and ends sitting around on my hard drive. Even as the objects became larger or farther from me, the pieces remained pocket size.”

Armed with his imagination and his computer Caldwell explores the various relationships between representation and abstraction with the object(s) he has chosen; sometimes imposing his compositional ideas on the object and other times led by his discovery of hidden sonic properties in the object itself. There is a great deal of variety amongst each of these miniatures. Some are very rhythmic, a few are very harmonic, others are more acousmatic. There is always a sense of both an idea and of playfulness in each of these pieces and that is what makes “Pocket Music” a really interesting listen. Recommended.

Chris De Chiara

AMN Reviews: Mari Kimura – “Voyage Apollonian” [Innova 958]

kimura-coverComposer/performer Mari Kimura is a violinist that has earned international acclaim in both standard and contemporary repertoire. She is one of contemporary musics finest interactive computer music specialists and has premiered many new interactive works from composers such as Jean Claude Risset and Robert Rowe. Her latest effort “Voyage Apollonian” is a compilation of her recent work featuring six original compositions and arrangements of pieces by Brazilian composers Egberto Gismonti, Joao Bosco and Hermeto Pascoal.

Kimura’s current work makes use of her many years of research and collaboration with leading institutions such as IRCAM, into the use of new technology for interactive computer music and technological extension or augmentation of the violin. Working with IRCAM and Liubo Borissov, Kimura has developed a glove that uses various motion sensors to transmit the motion of the bow into the computer via WiFi. The motion sensing technology is able to detect gestures such as pizzicato and various types of bowing. This motion or gestural control is then used to interact with custom software. Kimura uses this ability to communicate to the computer her expressive intentions in real time. This allows her to control the real time signal processing of her violin as well as the ability to use gestures as cues or triggers that interact with the computers software.

The title track “Voyage Apollonian” has kind of an impressionistic or spectral feel to it as it alternates between various pizzicato and bowed phrases in a kind of call and response. This alternation develops as a kind of interplay between phrases and their articulations. By using the gestural control of the glove/bow, Kimura is able to choose in real time which software signal processing techniques – doubling, reverb, echo, harmonization, etc. she wishes to apply to the phrase she is playing as she is playing it. But this gestural interaction is not just limited to signal processing. On her arrangement of Hermeto Pascoal’s  “Bebe” Kimura uses the sensor technology to cue the virtual pianist as it plays a vamp for her to solo on. This allows her to dynamically control the length of the accompaniment for her improvised solo.

In addition to her inventive use of technology, Kimura’s compositions also bring her own unique twists to familiar forms. For example in “Bruer Vivant” Kimura paints a passacaglia with bits of “Romanticism” mixed with dazzling contemporary electronics. “Canon Elastique” is a two voice canon where the glove/bow gestural control is used to modify material she has played after it has been delayed by software forming a second canonic voice. However the result is not a simple echo or a minimalist texture. The technology allows Kimura to change her musical past in real time by the way in which she articulates the first voice.

Mari Kimura’s sonic explorations are not just limited to using technology with the violin but extends to discovering and perfecting new acoustic techniques. She has developed an innovative extended bowing technique that is able to produce subharmonic pitches that sound up to an octave below the violins lowest string without re-tuning the instrument. While she uses this technique throughout the works on this disc it is prominently featured on the only unaccompanied acoustic piece on this CD “JanMaricana”.

“Voyage Apollonian” covers a great deal of territory; from Brazilian sambas and jazz to unaccompanied violin with subharmonics to new musical interfaces with interactive computer technology. Despite the use of cutting edge technology and new innovative acoustic techniques the music on this disc does not sound very “technical”. The use of technology is at the service of the performer and has been carefully designed to be flexible and expressive. In Kimura’s hands the results are a highly expressive music that is warm and organic, rich in color and nuance. Highly recommended.

Chris DeChiara