AMN Reviews: Alfonso García de la Torre & Guillermo Lauzurika / Ensemble Sinkro [Bandcamp]

Vitoria-Gasteiz is the capital of the Basque Autonomous Community; it is also the home of the Ensemble Sinkro, a group playing acoustic and electroacoustic works by contemporary composers. The group was formed in 2005, although its roots reach back to the establishment of the Jesús Guridi Ensemble and the Electroacoustic Music Laboratory of the Conservatory of Vitoria-Gasteiz in the mid-1980s. From the latter, in particular, Ensemble Sinkro seems to have derived its interest in the integration of new technologies with the compositional methods and instrumental techniques of the Western art music tradition. Recently, the ensemble has been issuing a series of recordings that provide an aural window into the fine work being made by the current generation of Basque composers, among whom are Alfonso García de la Torre and Guillermo Lauzurika.

Música de Cámara [CD010] collects eight of García de la Torre’s electroacoustic chamber works from the period 1998-2014. García de la Torre (1964), a native of Vitoria-Gasteiz, came to composition with a background in electronic engineering as well as music; among his studies were courses at the Computing and Electronic Music Laboratory in Madrid and at IRCAM in Paris. His work often involves multimedia and encompasses sound art as well as more traditional instrumental composition. The tracks on Música de Cámara demonstrate his deftness at melding electronic technologies with solo acoustic instruments or small ensembles. What makes each unique is what all have in common: a finely honed sensitivity to the way that electronics can bring out the particular natural characteristics of a given instrument. For example, Un Caracol Manchado (2000), for tenor saxophone and electronics, is a tightly integrated work that uses voice doubling, pitch-shifting and other processes to create the illusion of a ghost saxophone shadowing the actual instrument. By contrast, 2005’s Dark for baritone saxophone and electronics maintains each element as an independent yet complementary voice. García de la Torre describes Danba II (2014) for flute, cello, percussion, piano, and electronics as a piece exploring the affinities of these very different instruments’ sound characteristics; his non-hierarchical approach to the material leads to a naturally pointillistic setting for solo voices representing independent colors.

Like García de la Torre, under whom he studied, composer/pianist Guillermo Lauzurika (1968) is a native of Vitoria-Gasteiz. Also like García de la Torre, Lauzurika’s compositions are attuned to the opportunities afforded music by new technologies and multimedia environments. His background includes work with jazz ensembles as well as dancers, improvisers and experimental musicians; currently he teaches electroacoustic music and serves as Ensemble Sinkro’s artistic director. His portrait release [CD007] comprises six works including a piece for solo piano, three for solo instruments and electronics, a work for two pianos and two percussion instruments, and one for guitar, percussion, and electronics. As with García de la Torre’s collection, Lauzuritka’s includes pieces for tenor saxophone and electronics and baritone saxophone and electronics. On both pieces, Lauzuritka artfully integrates extended and conventional saxophone techniques into the surrounding electronic soundscape. Moving over to an entirely different sound palette, MOmmm (MI) momNN(ni)c for guitar, percussion and electronics elucidates the sometimes unexpected timbral convergences of nylon string acoustic guitar on the one hand, and drums on the other. The highlight of the recording is Zatiketa, in which Lauzurika skillfully weaves together the parts for piano and pitched percussion to afford their meeting on a common ground defined by the brusque, albeit melodious, sounds of things struck.

Daniel Barbiero


AMN Reviews: Aviva Endean – cinder: ember: ashes [Sofa 569]; Lea Bertucci – Metal Aether [NNA 108]

For better and for worse, “extended technique” describes the use of unconventional or nontraditional methods of playing an otherwise conventional instrument. There’s another sense in which the technical resources of an instrument can be extended, though, and one that’s more literal: the augmentation of the instrument with preparations, electronic devices, or the intervention of external objects of some other sort. Two stimulating new releases of music for solo reed instruments contain pieces played with extended technique in both of these senses.

The pieces on Aviva Endean’s cinder : ember : ashes, her first solo release, grew out of a practice of playing simply for herself, without larger agenda or ulterior motive. Endean is often a collaborative player, so her turn inward here would seem to represent something of a change: not quite woodshedding in anticipation of a performance, and not quite a performance either, at least not one directed toward an audience other than herself. More of an assisted introspection, externalized in sound. Thus there’s an almost autohypnotic quality to much of the album, the result of Endean’s proclivity for creating variations on motifs made up of a minimal collection of pitches which she orders, expands, condenses or distorts—all the while still somehow retaining their essential profiles. Endean’s signature sound throughout consists in fluctuations of pitch and timbre that find their centers of gravity in recurring long tones or simple pitch sequences. The opening track, burst in black : under for contrabass clarinet, is exemplary. There, Endean coaxes a changing set of overtones and timbres from pitches extending into an engulfing empty space. On apparition : above Endean augments the clarinet with a tympani, whose head she uses to amplify and modify the clarinet’s natural voice, giving it a quasi-electronic edge, a wind-like hollowness, or turning it into a facsimile of a trombone. Similarly, on vapour : between she manipulates the instrument—again, a clarinet—by running it through a pocket amplifier, which helps to foreground the fluctuations of the piece’s mantra-like, two-pitch quasi-melody. On the more extraverted undulations : behind, Endean plays umtshingo, a Zulu flute producing overblown harmonics, in conjunction with an effects pedal.

The concise, repeated themes that permeate much of cinder : ember : ashes find a counterpart in Patterns for Alto, the opening track of Metal Aether, a recording for solo alto saxophone and electronics by Lea Bertucci. Bertucci seems less directed toward the meditative potential of repeated sound cycles and more interested in exploring the harmonic implications of accumulating tones and overtones. Patterns for Alto layers its tones through speed; the piece is a rapidly pulsing performance with a well-defined tonal center of gravity, reminiscent in an oblique way of some of the classic Minimalist pulse pieces built over relatively simple harmonies. With the two tracks Accumulations and Sustain and Dissolve, Bertucci explores tonal interactions within a more extended time frame. Both pieces deliver what their titles plainly promise: harmonic development consisting in the piling up, lingering and jostling of tones separated by variably spaced intervals. It’s all in the overtones and the micro-scaled interference patterns that result from the way tones are juxtaposed and layered. The textural insight Bertucci has to offer here is that density isn’t (only, always) a matter of the simultaneous aggregation of sound events, but of the exploration of the detail of any given sound event’s microstructures.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Jestern & Tom Arthurs – Cahier de petits coquillages Vol IV/V [Setola di Maiale]

In August, 2017, Alberto Novello, the Italian-born composer, programmer, and multimedia artist, and UK trumpeter/composer Tom Arthurs shared an ArtOMI residency in Ghent, New York. The four-week summer program was intended to bring together international artists for the purposing of fostering collaboration; this recording, made during the residency, is one such successful one.

For these performances, Novello, who uses the stage name Jestern, accompanied Arthurs’s acoustic trumpet with analogue electronics. The musical relationship the two forged is one of strong, independent and parallel voices that nevertheless provide complementary parts of a distinctive whole. This they do largely through contrasts of timbre and phrasing, given the particular capabilities of their instruments. Novello’s electronics are glitch and jumpy; even at their most abstract they allude, however obliquely, to rhythms rooted in the body: foot-tapping, finger-popping, knuckle-rapping. Their chopped sounds are a sonic bed over which Arthurs’s melodic lines lie—sometimes uneasily, sometimes comfortably, but always appropriately.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Mauro Sambo & Matilde Sambo – …sibilava tra i denti… [Plus Timbre PT066]

…sibilava tra i denti…–“hissed between the teeth”—is the work of two generations of Venetian experimentalists. Multi-instrumentalist Mauro Sambo, here on electronics, double bass, kalimba, gong and other percussion, is joined by his daughter Matilde, who provides field recordings and plays electric guitar and electronics. Both bring sensibilities formed at the crossings of sound and various other media—videography for Matilde, and the plastic arts for Mauro. As might be expected, their collaboration shows a sensitivity to the ways sound can imply and simulate action projected into a three-dimensional space—implication being the soul of their musical wit.

The single, nearly twenty-nine minute track is permeated by an atmosphere of acousmatic mysteriousness, as the sources of Sambos’ sounds seem reluctant to reveal themselves. Until they do, in the form of clearly-shaped guitar arpeggios, a struck gong reverberating in a void, or the skittering of a hyperactive kalimba. Throughout its changes of texture and timbre, the track gives rise to an almost cinematic sense of obscure but purposeful actions performed with the help of unknown means, and all of it taking place just at the threshold of comprehension.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: KURUNDU (Zigo & Camila Dos Santos) – Yvykua Ipuva [Plus Timbre PT068]

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.

Daniel Barbiero

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.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Martin Küchen – Lieber Heiland, Lass Uns Sterben [SOFA560]

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.

Daniel Barbiero