In the late 70s, an interdisciplinary team led by the composer Iannis Xenakis developed the compositional tool UPIC out of an effort to transform drawings into synthesized sound.
Together with the Centre Iannis Xenakis, the ZKM is now addressing for the first time the genesis of this unique computational instrument and traces its technical, social, institutional, and educational significance up to the current practice of contemporary composers who work with the idea of UPIC in current computer programs.
The volume with 27 richly illustrated contributions is published by Hatje Cantz. It is available both there and through the ZKM Bookshop as a print publication. In addition, it is published in its entirety as an open access version and available free of charge. On this page, the digital version is available for download as PDF, as well as audio samples and additional archive material not included in the print publication are accessible.
First things first, a full disclosure: Cristiano Bocci, one half of the DuoSerpe, is a frequent collaborator and friend. That having been said — and another personal note here — it’s fascinating to listen to this set of music, which opens up a new window onto Cris’ work with a duet partner playing an acoustic orchestral instrument.
On Piovano Santi Bocci, a multi-instrumentalist from Tuscany, works with live electronics, synthesizers and voice. The other half of DuoSerpe is Paolo Acquaviva, a trombonist with a background in classical and jazz performance, who also is from Tuscany. The collaboration was begun in 2017 under the auspices of the BlueRing Improvisers Association, a collective dedicated to exploring improvised musics, and has developed since then through live appearances at various Italian events dedicated to radical improvised music. The three pieces collected here were recorded in April 2019 at the Octomusic School and Studio in San Quirico D’Orcia in Siena.
As is often the case with Bocci’s collaborative work with acoustic musicians, the electronic component of DuoSerpe’s music is an interactive agent intervening in, and transforming, the acoustic instrument’s lines in real-time. On all three pieces the electronics serve as a compositional tool by means of which Bocci—using loops, delays, live sampling and layering in depth in order to materialize structures through collage, repetition and dynamically changing densities–sculpts improvised sounds and melodies into robust structures with cyclical, timbrally-variegated features. Acquaviva’s refined sound and creative musical ideas are a fine complement to Bocci’s work with sonority and structure—the trombonist’s ability to play well-developed melodies within the constantly mutating electronic environment lends the music a linear continuity even as it undergoes shifts along its rhythmic and textural dimensions. The contrast of the unprocessed, natural sound of the trombone with its electronically enhanced doubles, some of which are traceable to their acoustic source and some of which aren’t, provides one of the set’s recurring timbral motifs. Bocci works similar contrasts using his voice as raw material on the first track, which features his dramatic reading of a text set against an elegiac trombone melody.
This is music successful not only on its own terms as experimentation with sonic qualities and structures, but as something aesthetically pleasing as well.
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 ICE – Peter 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.
Chris De Chiara
In mid-2017, New Haven, Connecticut double bassist/composer Carl Testa began to develop a SuperCollider-based music processing system he called Sway. Testa envisioned an autonomous program that could take individual musicians’ sounds as inputs, perform signal analysis on them, and on the basis of the results obtained, respond by modifying them with a given effect. A two-volume set of four Sway-enhanced performances recorded between September, 2017 and October, 2018 documents how Testa implemented the idea over several iterations of his program.
As the tracks on both volumes demonstrate, Sway has been an organically evolving program, changing and adapting as circumstances warranted or as Testa wished. Each improvised performance featured the system at a different stage of its development–although all stages, even the earliest, show a high degree of sophistication in design and execution. For the earliest piece, Three Sections, recorded with the mixed ensemble of Erica Dicker on violin, Junko Fujiwara on cello, Louis Guarino, Jr. on trumpet, Andria Nicodemou on vibraphone, and Testa on double bass and electronics, Testa conducted the players and triggered the processing himself. On the next piece, the hour-long Quadrants for the same group with the addition of vocalist Anne Rhodes, Testa eschewed personal intervention in favor of using a pre-arranged timetable to regulate the process of effects assignments. By the time of Emergence, also for sextet, Sway had evolved to the point where, in place of a set timetable, it could control the changes in sound sculpting through a more fluid, real-time interactivity with the instruments.
What Sway does exceptionally well on the three ensemble pieces is compose with color. Whether controlled by human input, timed sequences or real-time response, Sway moves instruments in and out of the foreground and mixes their voices in varying and unpredictable combinations. The closest analogy to listening to these performances would be to watching a multicolored Calder mobile set in motion. The timbral richness of the instrumental input—high-, low- and middle-compass strings; brass; mallet percussion; and voice—and the players’ evident skill in interacting with each other and the program, are both crucial elements in these performances.
Which is why the last piece on Volume 2, Bloom, a solo improvisation for double bass recorded in Hamden, Connecticut in mid-October 2018, is so interesting for what it shows of what Sway does given the limited input of a single instrument. The sounds fed into the system are more austere and consequently serve to lay bare with a dramatic clarity the metamorphoses, distortions and enhancements Sway injects into the flow of a performance. The spare lines and episodic structure of Testa’s improvisation dovetail nicely with the pacing of the program’s shuttling between, and overlapping of, granular synthesis, pitch alteration, delay and other effects. Here one can hear quite clearly how the system works: how it creates a dialogue with itself as well as with the instrument fed into it.
Three Free Radicals is actually two people: Minnesota electronics artist Scott L. Miller and Estonian guitarist Mart Soo. Miller and Soo have previously collaborated on two albums; for this third album, they were joined by Estonian harpist Liis Viira. The result is a sound centered within a neat triangulation of sharp-edged electronics, atmospheric guitar, and harmonically centered harp.
As becomes apparent from the beginning, adding Viira to the core duo was an inspired move. Miller and Soo are particularly adept at creating textural music, setting out shifting densities of sound underwritten equally well by the thick abrasiveness of the electronic hum, drone and feedback as by the reverb-soaked shimmering of the guitar. Soo, in particular, is able to create a brooding ambiance suggestive of empty landscapes: call it the soundtrack to unpopulated plains of the imagination. To all of this Viira brings a harmonic focus that manifests itself in chord progressions both cyclical and irregular, or in ostinatos and melodic lines hinting at modal harmony. In addition, the crystalline, staccato sounds of the harp contrast most dramatically with the denser interactions of guitar and electronics. On a piece like M12 Viira supplements Soo and Miller’s underlying polyrhythms with a set of on- and off-beats of her own, while on Sagittarius she sets the music within the angular frame of an altered mixolydian mode.
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.
Shelter Press with the support of INA GRM has published the new book “Spectres Composer l’écoute / Composing listening”. This book is the first in an annual series. The first edition features writings in English and French by François Bayle, Jim O’Rourke, Daniel Terruggi, Stephen O’Malley, Elaine Radigue, Chris Watson, Brunhild Ferrari, Beatriz Ferreyra, Espen Sommer Eide, Drew Daniel, François J. Bonnet, Régis Renouard Larivière, and Félicia Atkinson.
Each issue of “SPECTRES” will have a different subtitle / focus. “This book has been conceived as both a prism and a manual. Following the “traditional” arc of electroacoustic composition (listen—record—compose—deploy—feel), each of the contributions collected together here focuses in on a personal aspect, a fragment of that thrilling territory that is sonic and musical experimentation.
Although the term “experimental music” may now have be understood as referring to a genre, or even a particular style, we ought to hold on to the original use of this term, which was based more on an approach than on any particular aesthetic line to be followed. The experimental is first and foremost a spirit, the spirit of the exploration of unknown territories, a spirit of invention which sees musical composition more as a voyage into uncertain territories than as a self-assured approach working safe within the bosom of fully mapped out and recognized lands.”
More info at Shelter Press