AMN Reviews: Osvaldo Coluccino – Interni [Kairos 0015062KAI]

Before he began writing music as a mature composer, Osvaldo Coluccino (b. 1963) was a literary artist. Although he had studied composition and classical guitar, had performed in concert halls in his teens and had begun to compose in 1979, from the end of the 1980s to the early 2000s Coluccino was mainly engaged in writing: poetry, drama and prose. Poetry in particular demands an ear for words as sonorous objects as well as a grasp of language as potentially an instrument of condensed meaning—of saying much with little. And while Coluccino may consider his work with poetry and with composition to occupy two separate and largely unconnected spheres, it does seem that both of those qualities of poetry—sonority and economy of expression—carry over into his compositions.

This is especially true of Interni, a 2017-2018 series of five solo compositions for various flutes and one for flute and electronics. As he did with earlier works, like the Emblema series for small chamber ensembles and Atto, which was composed for objects rather than musical instruments, Coluccino with Interni makes music focused on the quiet details of sound production and color.

From the opening notes of Primo interno for C flute, Coluccino’s sensibility reveals itself. In as pure an example of klangfarbenmelodie as one could want, Coluccino calls for each of the first four notes—all of them a G—to be played with different extended techniques, yielding a melody consisting of a sequence of changing timbres over constant pitch. As with the first Interno, so with the rest: the entire series stands as a kind of encyclopedia of extended flute techniques. These include key clicks, whistles, palate snaps, tongue rams, air pizzicato, multiphonics, harmonics and more. Coluccino draws attention to the specific characteristics of his sonorities by separating them with palpable rests; these islands of sound then function as brief meditations on sound in its qualitative dimension.

Interno sesto for contrabass flute, bass flute and electronics maintains the consistency of the preceding Interni by couching complex timbres at relatively low dynamics. The electronics serve as a kind of background curtain of undefined noise and a screen on which the flutes can project their sounds.

This music requires a technically advanced performer with an ear attuned to nuance; Coluccino is thus fortunate to have these fine works realized by the Italian flute virtuoso Roberto Fabbriciani.

http://www.kairos-music.com

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: exclusiveOr / Architeuthis Walks on Land / International Contemporary Ensemble – “modules” [Carrier 044]

Jeff Snyder and Sam Pluta have been working together since 2006 as the duo exclusiveOR.  With Snyder performing on analog synthesizer and Pluta on live electronics. Their work explores the intersection of composition and improvisation with live electronics. For “modules” the duo is joined by some of today’s leading creative musicians: Architeuthis Walks on Land (AWOL) which is Amy Cimini – viola and Katherine Young – bassoon, and members of ICEPeter Evans, Nate Wooley – trumpets, Ryan Muncy – saxophones, Weston Olencki – trombone and Ross Karre – percussion.

“modules” was commissioned in 2014 by the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) as part of their ICELab Series. It is a concert length work that utilizes both improvisation and strictly notated material. The piece covers a lot of ground as it flows through its fifteen modules in which seemingly opposing materials (pitch, sound and noise) and methodologies (composition, improvisation and live electronics) seamlessly interact with one another to create a unified whole. 

 

The fifteen “modules” are comprised of five composed by Pluta, five by Snyder and five improvisations from various small groupings of the ensemble. Each of these tracks or modules has its own distinct character, color and instrumentation. Pluta’s modules tend to be more aggressive and noisier, while Snyder’s are often more harmonically focused. The improvised sections are all sonically oriented and very original. Despite the contrasts within each module they really seem connected and many segments flow into one another in a conversational like manner.

Here is an earlier performance with brass quartet, analog synthesizer, live electronics, and percussion.  It’s interesting to hear both of these versions because it makes clear the significant contributions that improvisers can bring to pieces like “modules”.

For those that need some kind of categorization I would put “modules” under the banner of “creative music”; in that the sound worlds that the composers and improvisers create, freely explore many different contemporary and historical musical ideas without any allegiance or deference to any of the “school’s” associated with these ideas. This is a trend that has been growing for quite some time and I think the composers and improvisers on “modules” are among the best of a new generation of musicians continuing this exploration.

Highly recommended!

Chris De Chiara

 

 

AMN Reviews: Daniel Lippel – Mirrored Spaces [New Focus Recordings FCR239]

From guitarist Daniel Lippel comes a two-CD set containing a generous collection of recent work for solo guitarist. On the recording Lippel, a virtuoso specializing in the contemporary repertoire for guitar, plays both nylon string classical guitar and electric guitar, conventionally and with extended technique, with and without electronic augmentation. But no matter the instrumental set-up or the musical setting, Lippel’s performances are characteristically deft and assured.

A dominant theme on Mirrored Spaces is the use of alternative tunings and microtonality. The title work, a six-part suite co-composed by Lippel and Orianna Webb in 2006-2008, draws on quarter-tone tuning. The quarter-tone discrepancies create a wobbly choric effect, giving parts of the suite a strangely unstable feeling. Other parts sound like more conventional, albeit beautifully adventurous, classical guitar playing.

Ryan Streber’s Descent for scordatura electric guitar and two amplifiers was also a collaborative composition. The piece, which detunes the guitar’s four lowest strings from standard fourths tuning to the cello’s fifths tuning, has as its central trope the subtle incongruity of having an electric guitar played with classical technique. The piece slowly descends from the instrument’s upper to lower registers and in the process dresses it up in an increasingly overdriven, distorted sound.

Other pieces exploring alternative tunings include Christopher Bailey’s Arc of Infinity, a multi-faceted work for guitar and three layers of electronic sounds that uses overtones in standard tuning to create harmonies in Just Intonation, and Lippel’s own Scaffold, which incorporates three guitars using three different tunings.

Extended technique is more-or-less taken for granted on many of these performances, but they come to the fore particularly on From Scratch, a 2017 electroacoustic work by Sergio Kafejian, that envelops its skittering runs and fragmentary phrases in aggressive, percussive gestures, string scraping, snap pizzicato, and plucking behind the bridge.

No brief review can do justice to the rich variety of music in this collection. One can only say: Listen.

http://www.newfocusrecordings.com/catalogue/daniel-lippel-mirrored-spaces/

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: David Bowlin – Bird as Prophet [New Focus Recordings FCR237]

The violin virtuoso has been an important figure in Western art music for centuries. Over these centuries the nature of virtuosity has evolved, along with the techniques needed to achieve it. What a 21st century violin virtuoso sounds like is on display on David Bowlin’s Bird as Prophet.

Bowlin, Director of String Studies at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, is an adept interpreter of new music and a founding member of the International Contemporary Ensemble, one of the most esteemed new music groups in the world. The works on Bird as Prophet bring out both his versatility and lyricism in equal measure.

Mario Davidovsky’s Synchronism (1988) for violin and tape uses discreet electronic sounds to supplement a central focus on the violin. While the latter is indeed synched with the tape it could stand on its own as an example of late Modernist virtuosity: a technical challenge played out in a slightly fragmented arc of double stops, rapid runs into the extreme upper register, and mood-changing, introspective interludes.

Under a Tree, an Udātta (2016) by Du Yun, like Bowlin a founder of ICE, is another piece for fixed media and violin. Under a Tree is anchored on a recording of Vedic chanting, which sets up an insistently rhythmic drone for the violin to play over. Bowlin’s line, which has some of the looseness of an improvisation, is an eclectic mélange of raga-like microtonal swoops, percussive strikes and long-held, widely-vibratoed tones. What the piece seems to say in part is that contemporary virtuosity isn’t solely a matter of technical mastery, but of being conversant with multiple musical traditions as well.

Bleu (2011), a composition for solo violin, is a mature work written by the late George Walker for his violinist son Gregory when the composer was nearly 90. It’s a beautiful, expressive piece that combines a warm romanticism with chromatic, Modernist lines; Bowlin plays it with great depth of feeling, as he does Martin Bresnick’s Bird as Prophet (1999), a piece for violin and piano (Tony Cho).

Bowlin has previously interpreted the music of Alexandra Karasyoanova-Hermentin, a Moscow-born composer/pianist of Russo-Bulgarian background currently living in Austria; he premiered her violin concerto Mahagoni, which she had written for him, in 2007. Here she contributes two pieces for small chamber ensembles. Kastena (2003) for violin and cello, the latter played by ICE’s Katinka Kleijn, is a tension-filled work that floats an energetic violin part over a cello performance that alternates between drones and abrupt, percussive interventions. Mari Mamo (2009), a trio work for violin, flute (Conor Nelson) and percussion (Ayano Kataoka), constructs melodies out of discontinuous tone colors and plays fruitfully on the contrast between staccato flute and tuned percussion on the one side, and long, floating violin tones on the other.

http://www.newfocusrecordings.com/catalogue/david-bowlin-bird-as-prophet/

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Ryan Carter – Chamber Works [Kairos 0015048KAI]

Although composer Ryan Carter’s monograph Chamber Works contains work largely written for acoustic chamber ensembles and solo piano, the influence of modern electronic audio technologies is never very far away. Carter is, in addition to a composer of “classical” music, a programmer and electronic sound artist, one of whose projects uses a video game controller to create real-time electronic music.

Carter is particularly interested in the ways that technology informs, and at times distorts, the way people listen to music. It’s an interest that surfaces in his third string quartet, Too Many Arguments in Line 17 (2010), which was inspired by the glitches and loops of a badly buffered video Ryan was watching. The piece, which was written for the JACK Quartet who perform it here, mimics the jerky playback of the video with seemingly randomly repeated phrases broken up by hiccups, skips and other rhythmic interruptions.

If Too Many Arguments in Line 17 is marked by discontinuities of rhythm Grip, Carter’s second string quartet, is marked by displacements of architecture. The piece, performed here by the Calder Quartet who commissioned it in 2006, features synchronous and asynchronous layers of sound built up from glissandi, overlapping sustained tones, and tremolo bowings and plucking.

When All Else Fails (2016-2017) is a work centered on the sonorous qualities and interplay of two prepared pianos and two percussionists. The pianos sound at times like marimbas, gamelans and chimes; the preparations additionally alter the instruments’ pitch to throw out a hint of microtonality. The gradually becomes polyrhythmic as the instruments’ tempos go in and out of phase. It’s a highlight of the album and is played with characteristic verve by Yarn/Wire, for whom it was written.

The single work for acoustic instrument and electronics is On the Limits of a System and the Consequences of My Decisions (2016) for fixed media, piano and interactive electronics. Carter envisioned the electronics as another sustain pedal for the piano; they account for the intermittent drones and glassy, bell-like simulacra of the piano part. This latter, played by Keith Kirchoff, is couched in fragmented phrases scattered nervously across the instrument’s registers.

Chamber Works also includes the simultaneously hesitant and exuberant solo piano work Errata (2010), which wittily recasts Carter’s technical limitations as a pianist into technical challenges for the performer (Emanuele Torquati), and Break (2018) for piano and cello.

https://www.kairos-music.com/cds/0015048kai

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Louis Karchin – Dark Mountains/Distant Lights [New Focus Records FCR225]; Stuart Saunders Smith – Palm Sunday [New World Records 80813-2]

In the liner note to Dark Mountains/Distant Lights, an album of seven new and recent compositions of his, Louis Karchin describes one of the pieces as having been inspired by lyric poetry’s capacity to convey the moods and emotional states of an individual sensibility. In fact many of the other works in the collection are lyrical not only in the sense Karchin describes, but also in the original sense of something meant to be sung. This should come as no surprise, given the substantial amount of vocal music, including the opera Jane Eyre, that Karchin has written.

The point of departure for Karchin’s musical vocabulary is the pitch-oriented serial and post-serial composition of the last century. His lines tend toward the complex and highly chromatic, and are characterized by sudden turns and staggering leaps and falls. This is the case for Rhapsody (2005/2011), a work for violin and piano that features a tonally convoluted, register-spanning violin line. Nevertheless, the line has a continuity and phrasing that recall the human voice, and it isn’t hard to imagine it as an aria for soprano. It’s a virtuoso piece breathtakingly played by violinist Miranda Cuckson and pianist Steven Beck.

In addition to her affecting performance on the austerely beautiful Prayer (2004) for solo violin, Cuckson has two duets with oboist Jacqueline Leclair: 2016’s Dreamscape, and 2017’s Reflections. Both are challenging works that integrate extended techniques—multiphonics for oboe, unorthodox bowings for violin—with more conventionally played, though still demanding, passages. Karchin’s decision to pair oboe and violin, whose timbres contrast in the lower registers but tend to converge in the upper registers, is inspired.

Lyrics II (2014)—the piece Karchin was referring to in the liner note—is a two-part composition for solo piano that does indeed evoke the dynamic arc of emotional cycles.

Like the music on Dark Mountains/Distant Lights, the music on Palm Sunday, a collection of works for solo piano by composer Stuart Saunders Smith, is primarily organized in terms of pitch relationships. Smith’s background includes the formative influences of teachers and mentors such as Sal Martirano, who affirmed the value of improvisation, and Ben Johnston, who encouraged Smith’s reliance on his ear and intuition in composing. Smith’s tenure as leader of the REDS ensemble, which performed graphic and other non-traditionally notated open works, is also significant and finds resonance in most of the work on Palm Sunday.

Four of the five pieces on the album—all except for the early work Pinetop, a boogie-woogie inspired piece–are semi-open scores that notate pitch conventionally but leave the specific values for parameters such as phrasing, dynamics and articulation up to the performer to choose. Smith composes melodies that can be knotty and harmonies that are complex, and in Palm Sunday (2012) calls for the pianist to hum, sing, and recite a text along with the music. Pianist Kyle Adam Blair, who realizes the works on this recording, has a long history with Smith’s music and consequently brings a deep understanding of Smith’s methods and expressive purposes to his interpretations. That depth of understanding certainly shows in Blair’s performances, which exert confidence and a strong sense of narrative development.

http://louiskarchin.com/discography/dark-mountains-distant-lights-1/

http://www.newworldrecords.org

 

AMN Reviews: Musicians from soundSCAPE – After the End [New Focus FCR230]

It has to be said right up front: the music on After the End, which presents three new and recent vocal chamber works by the three contemporary composers Jesse Jones (b. 1978), Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon (b. 1962) and Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez (b. 1964), is of a refined beauty.

All three compositions are performed by small groups drawn from the faculty of the soundSCAPE summer Festival of Contemporary Music, an institution to which the three composers have been connected in various capacities in recent years. Given this history, it isn’t surprising that the performers—soprano Tony Arnold; flutist Lisa Cella; violinist Mark Fewer; percussionist Aiyun Huang; and pianist Thomas Rosenkranz—seem to have an especially good rapport with the work. Their realization of this sometimes rarefied, open-textured music is delicately balanced and austerely sensuous.

Jesse Jones’ After the End (2017), which was commissioned by soundSCAPE, sets a text by Jonathan Brent Butler to music for soprano, percussion and piano. Jones describes the text as pessimistic—it’s after the end of the world, after all—but at the same time holding out the promise of renewal. The vocal line is haunting but not despairing, proceeding at a measured pace intercut with rests. The accompaniment shimmers in slightly discordant, downward cascades of piano and vibes.

Flores de Viento III (1990, revised 2013), is a work in seven parts by Guadalajara-born Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon. The composition is scored for soprano, violin, flute/piccolo, and percussion, and sets a series of poems, most of them by the composer’s sister Laura Zohn-Muldoon, based on the Mesoamerican myth of the feathered serpent Quetzalcóatl. Zohn-Muldoon constructs the music from concise, atonal melodic motifs that he varies and orchestrates as distinct splashes of instrumental color. By breaking the ensemble out into constantly shifting groupings of solo, duo, trio and quartet voices, he exploits the group’s timbral potential to its fullest. And the sheer variety of percussion instruments he employs—vibes, marimba, crotales, gong, congas, maracas and more—contributes significantly to the richness of the piece’s textures.

Mexican native Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez’s Kikai no Mori/Chance Forest Interludes (2015) was given its premiere at the 2015 soundSCAPE festival. The work is a fusion of two separate pieces, Chance Forest Interludes for solo soprano, and Kikai no Mori for piano and percussion. When presented together, the interludes are inserted in between movements of Kikai no Mori. The interludes are virtuoso pieces that provide a relatively quiet tonic to the fragmented melodies and suspenseful, rhythmic intensity of Kikai no Mori. The percussion part encompasses pitched and unpitched instruments and even the piano itself, through various extended techniques—tone clusters, playing directly on the strings, holding the strings while striking the keys—is turned into something of a multi-voiced percussion ensemble of its own.

http://www.newfocusrecordings.com

Daniel Barbiero