Much experimental/electronic sound art can be austere and even severely cerebral; Kurundu’s five-movement suite Yvykua Ipuva, by contrast, revels in the polymorphous sensuality of sound.
Kurundu, named for South American ritual amulets, is a binational duo of Paraguayan cellist Camila Dos Santos and Argentinian electronics artist Zigo Rayopineal. Their collaboration has produced a set of richly atmospheric, layered musical constructions built in real time. Dos Santos and Rayopineal are particularly good at creating the illusion of spatial depth with sound, partly through a close attention to the stratification of texture and partly through the reverberant voices they tend to favor. The foundation is Dos Santos’ cello, suitably looped and processed. Her playing here is more about ambience than melody, although a melodic line does unfold slowly at the heart of the long second movement; her use of chords and drones, glissandi and extended techniques complements Rayopineal’s shimmering electronic settings. The latter dominate the fourth movement, which seems to allude to early electronic music’s sonic imaginings of outer space; the final movement puts the focus on Dos Santos’ cello—strummed, overpressured and bowed for harmonics and multiphonics, it sketches its self-portrait in a concave mirror.
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.
Martin Küchen’s grimly titled Lieber Heiland, lass Uns Sterben was, fittingly enough, recorded in a crypt. The room, a stone-floored space built in 1121 and reputed to be the oldest such space in Sweden, is part of Lund Cathedral. Küchen went there in May, 2016 to set out the music that makes up this recording. Küchen plays alto, tenor and baritone saxophones; he uses radio, iPod and electronic tambura as additional sound sources. Two of the tracks feature overdubbing, but it is the three unedited live performances at the literal center of the set that carry the greatest expressive immediacy, even when Küchen’s horn is supplemented by sounds in fixed media. The brief Music to Silence Music unfolds with the lightness of rising and falling waves of sound that recall a fluttering of wings. The resonance of the crypt’s acoustics undoubtedly enhance the subtle shadings Küchen coaxes from his instrument; here, as on other pieces, Küchen’s saxophone sound takes on a flutelike airiness. The long Purcell in the Eternal Deir Yassin is a slowly developing, uncluttered alap for solo saxophone accompanied by electronic tambura. Ruf zu mir Bezprizorni…also uses prerecorded sound, in this case of a piano, over which Küchen’s saxophone laments hoarsely. While the set seems to represent a meditation on history’s uneasy dialectic of barbarity and cultivation, the stark beauty of the individual pieces provides an opportunity for reflection that the listener can fill with his or her own meanings.
For over fifty years now composers and performers have used electronics to enhance, augment, and otherwise expand the range of sounds that can be produced by a conventional acoustic instrument. There Never Is No Light, the debut recording solo by clarinetist Joshua Rubin, works within this by now well-established tradition by situating the acoustic instrument fruitfully at many points along a continuum running from music to noise.
Rubin, who plays bass clarinet as well as clarinet, is a founder and artistic director of the International Contemporary Ensemble. His skills as a curator are well-displayed in the selection of the six works on this CD, which range over thirty years and two generations of electroacoustic composers.
The disc opens auspiciously with The Soul Is the Arena (2010) for amplified bass clarinet and electronics, a work that Rubin commissioned from composer Mario Diaz de Leon and premiered at Chicago’s Velvet Lounge in November, 2010. For this sometimes boisterous duet Rubin plays the bass clarinet with a harshly distorted sound as he chases electronic shadows in a vigorous game of pursuit. Synchronisms No. 12 (2006) is another duet for reed and electronics by another Mario—Mario Davidovsky. In contrast to the manic energy of The Soul Is the Arena, Synchronisms is a more restrained, reflective soliloquy for unaltered clarinet with discreet electronic interventions. Rubin’s playing is deeply engaging, using carefully modulated dynamics and drawing on the full compass of the instrument. The earliest composition in the collection, Olly Wilson’s Echoes (1974), is a duet for tape and clarinet; in addition to its own inherent interest as an effective pairing of acoustic and prerecorded sounds, it provides historical context for the newer electroacoustic works on the CD.
Suzanne Farrin’s Ma Dentro Dove (2010) for clarinet and resonating body is one piece within the larger cycle Corpo di Terra, a collection of compositions inspired by the sonnets of the fourteenth-century Italian poet Francesco Petrarca. The title, taken from a line in Canzoniere 9, translates as “but within, where”—an apt name for a work that takes the sound of the mic’d clarinet and feeds it into the resonant interior of a piano. The rhetoric of the piece is built on a virtuoso technical vocabulary turned to expressive ends; Rubin’s performance is as affecting as it is arresting. Mexican composer Ignacio Baca Lobera’s exhilarating Salto Cuantico (2011) also calls for a virtuoso performance for a prepared clarinet that confronts electronic sounds on their own turf, as it were.
Rubin is co-composer of 2012’s Toast, a kind of aleatory work in which a synthesizer unpredictably accompanies Rubin and co-composer/pianist Cory Smythe through the rises and defiles of sonically broken ground.
Sampler and Zither is a release from Difondo, the Cagliari duo of Sergio Camedda (sampler) and Giampaolo Campus (zither). The group’s name translates as “basically;” it’s a fitting name given their conceptual focus on returning sounds to the things themselves—that is, to the basic elements and materials of their instruments. The group’s specific interest lies in realizing the possibilities inherent in the divergent natures of the two instruments’ timbral profiles and properties. The sampler is programmed to replicate the sound of a piano, while the zither is played with a variety of extended techniques in order to make the sounds of its individual parts carry more dramatic weight than their sum. Campus makes specific regions and materials of the zither audible through the scraping, squealing, and scuffing sounds of friction and percussive strikes on wire, wood and metal. For its part the sampled piano mostly appears in paratactical fragments—isolated notes and chords sounded fully and allowed to fade slowly. Put together, the two instruments offer contrasts not only of sound color, but of mood: Much of the musical ambience arises from the tension between the meditative pacing of the piano and the restlessness of the zither’s interventions—a restlessness that models the anxiety of anticipation.
Composer/instrumentalist Dan Joseph has had a highly varied career since his start in Washington, DC’s 1980s punk scene. As a sixteen year old in 1983 he became the drummer for 9353, an art-punk band notorious as much for its volatility as for its visually arresting flyers, which I remember somehow seemed to be on every lamppost, telephone pole and buildingside in the city in the early 1980s; later in the decade he participated in the experimental tape underground. After a move to California in the 1990s he studied with Pauline Oliveros, Alvin Curran, Mel Powell and Terry Riley; the influence of these performer/composers can be heard in the immersive, drone-based form of structured solo improvisation that Joseph eventually developed for electronically enhanced hammered dulcimer.
The seven pieces composing this two-CD set of recent works represent long-form excursions into incremental harmonic and timbral movement, as realized through electronically altered or supplemented hammered dulcimer performances. The first disc is largely taken up by two live versions of Dulcimer Flight, one recorded in 2011 at Corvallis, Oregon and the other recorded in 2013 at Experimental Intermedia in New York. Both pieces demonstrate how Joseph blends structure and technique to texture an evolving soundscape. On both pieces he first sets up a central tone and basic harmonic kernel, looping a tremolo opening statement that gradually gives way to bowing with conventional bow and ebow. Through subsequent processing Joseph brings out or obscures selected overtones to achieve a sound best described as a constant chord whose colors are constantly changing. The second disc is given over to a 66-minute version of Periodicity Piece #6 (2005) for dulcimer, sampled instruments, sine tone, A440 tuning fork and miscellaneous sounds. As its title implies, Joseph works here with harmonic cycles of varying lengths, which are spun across changing tonal centers. Although predominantly meditative, the piece registers the occasional shock of abruptly intruding sounds and suddenly coarsened timbres.
Originally a saxophonist and later a bass clarinetist, versatile Montreal musician Philippe Lauzier works as well with the less conventional instrumentation of sound art. On two recent releases, he delves into both sides of his creative work.
In A Pond in My Living Room, Lauzier offers four substantive pieces for solo bass clarinet. Composed and recorded in winter, 2016, each piece features the acoustic instrument multitracked and with no electronic treatments added. The four tracks fit together like a suite of drone pieces, each moving slowly to reveal changing patterns of overtones and emergent harmonies. The timbres are such as to give the impression of an acoustic simulation of electronic music—so much so that when the sound of breath makes a sudden appearance, it feels almost like an intrusion.
DÔME, a release on cassette, finds Lauzier on an alternative path. Here he works with a sound installation consisting of bells, zithers, motors and a Korg synthesizer. The installation was created for Montréal’s La Passe, where these two seventeen-minute-long tracks were recorded on 31 July 2015. Although conceived as drone-based works, both pieces draw attention to their variegated textures rather than to an underlying constant of tone or texture. Far Side is a shimmering, iridescent metallic jangle shot through with the semi-pitched chirps of small motors and scraped zither strings that ends with a call-and-response for small bells. Far Out, which rides an undertow of ringing alarm clock bells and a sustained electronic tone, is closer to a more conventional drone piece. But it too centers around subtle changes in texture driven by a series of discrete, layered events for scraped or brushed zither and whirring motors.