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

AMN Reviews: Todd Dockstader – From the Archives [ Starkland ST226 ]

Dockstader_Booklet_ Printer Spreads.inddThe world was reintroduced to outsider electronic music composer Todd Dockstader in the 1990’s when Starkland reissued most of his work from the early 1960’s on two CD’s. The Starkland discs were met with widespread critical acclaim. Stunned by this newfound interest and acclaim for his work Dockstader returned to composing. In 2002 Recommended Records reissued additional work from the 1960’s on CD. Dockstader then teamed up with David Lee Meyers (AKA Arcane Device and Pulsewidth) releasing two CD’s on Recommended Records in 2004 and 2005. During 2005 -2006 Sub Rosa released a three CD set from Dockstader entitled “Aerial”. Many believed that this was to be his final work. Todd Dockstader passed away peacefully on February 27, 2015 surrounded by his friends and family while listening to his own music.

“From the Archives” is a posthumous release of new work by electronic music composer Todd Dockstader. When Dockstader passed away in 2015 he left behind a computer full of new work totaling more than one hundred fifty hours. Daughter Tina Dockstader Kinard enlisted enthusiast Justin Brierly to go through the material and select fifty pieces to send to Thomas Steenland at Starkland. Steenland selected fifteen pieces for this outstanding new release.

The compositions on “From the Archive” were composed during 2005 – 2008. They demonstrate Dockstaders growing comfort with the computer and his original imaginative style firmly finding its way into the digital sphere. The pieces cover a wide range of sonic texture and are generally less ethereal and atmospheric then “Aerial” which was Dockstader’s last release during his lifetime. What set Dockstader’s compositions apart from many of his contemporaries is that his work is focused on highly imaginative constructions of organized sound as opposed to the use of sampled sound collage or synthetic extensions of the traditional composition world of “do re me” that continues to dominate electronic music. Dockstader’s compositions had a kind of cinematic drama in their construction and this continues to be the case with the pieces on this new volume – “From the Archive”. In this new work we are treated to a subterranean prelude of ringing filters in “Basement Passage”. The sounds of a choir of ghosts singing and wailing in whispered tones on “Whispered Smooth”. Contrasting cinematic edits between real and imagined sounds in “Todt 1”. “Anat Loop” is a subtle construction of glitch and loops. Then there is the noisy, rhythmic, almost industrial sonic assault of “Big Jig” and so much more.

Todd Dockstader’s “From the Archives” is one of the best releases of 2016. It provides us with an hour of new music from one of the masters of sound art. “From the Archives” will make long time Dockstader listeners extremely happy and will hopefully bring his incredible work to many new listeners. Thanks to the efforts of Tina Dockstader Kinard, Justin Brierley and Thomas Steenland we have the chance to hear this new work and to enjoy it for many years to come.

Highly recommended!

For more information – http://www.starkland.com/st226/index.htm

Chris De Chiara

AMN Reviews: Jorge Antunes – “Música Electrónica” [MENT007]

 

The vinyl reissue craze continues and many experimental, electronic and free jazz recordings are being reissued on LP. If you are a fan of the LP and of contemporary electronic music, musique concréte and contemporary classical music then “Música Electrônica” will be of interest to you.

Jorge Antunes (b. 1942, Rio de Janeiro) is a pioneer in the development of electronic music in Brazil. In 1961 Antunes attended the first concert of electronic music in Brazil, which included “Scambi” by Henri Pousseur and “Essai” by Gottfried Michael Koenig. This music so inspired the nineteen year old radio technician that he built his own gear and set up a little electronic music studio in his parents living room. Two of the five compositions on this LP were recorded in this home studio between 1962 – 1970.

Antunes studied violin, composition and conducting as well as physics at the University of Rio de Janeiro. By 1965 he had established himself as a leader in the Brazilian avant garde and began his research into the correspondence between sound and color. In 1970 Antunes left Brazil to continue this research at the Institute of Sonology at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands. While at Sonology he began to specialize in Computer Music under the guidance of Gottfried Michael Koenig. In 1972 -73 he attended the musique concréte course and worked at the Groupe de Recherches Musicales (GRM) in Paris. Jorge Antunes is currently the director of the Electroacoustic Music Studio at the University of Brazil.

The pieces on “Música Electrônica” are striking in that Antunes makes extensive use of what were undiscovered and new techniques such as various waveform oscillators, noise, feedback, loops, tape manipulation, treated vocals, glitches, turn-table manipulation and so much more. He did almost all of this in his parent’s living room between 1962-1970, often on equipment he built himself.

“Valsa Sideral” is the first electronic work produced in Brazil. It was composed in 1962 at the composer’s home studio. As the title suggests it is a kind of waltz. It is a remarkable piece that uses a minimalist sounding tape loop of three rhythmic pitches as an ostinato while improvised sine and saw tooth melodies glissando over it with echoes and reverberations. It reminds me a little bit of the early pieces by the Barons for “Forbidden Planet”.

“Contrapunctus Contra Contrapunctus” was realized at the composer’s home studio in 1965. By this time Antunes’s technique had really grown, particularly in the ability to assemble lots of very small tape edits into smooth sections of sound. The work makes use loops of pitched material and treated voices. As the title suggests the loops are used in counterpoint against each other as treated sine and sawtooth melodies float over them, joined by occasional blasts of filtered noise.

“Cinta Cinta” was composed in 1969 during a visit to the Electronic Music Laboratory of the Institute Torcuato Di Tella, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. This is Antunes’s first piece realized in a professional studio. The material in this piece is primarily filtered noise and additive synthesis sounds that bump up against each other in washes and chaotic rhythms till they disintegrate into silence.

“Auto-Retrato Sobre Paisaje Porteño” is an incredibly innovative piece composed during 1969/70 in Buenos Aires. In this piece Antunes “samples” a found object – a record of a tango by Francisco Canaro. A scratch in the record skips to create a loop that transforms the tango sample into a kind of samba. This sample is then used as material for additional processing and manipulation in series of loops overlaid with additional electronic sounds into what sounds like what might be the very first pure electronic dance piece, but just as it settles into the groove, abstraction intervenes and the piece transforms into more and more abstract sounds. The abstract sounds then give way to treated, sliced and cutup overlapping vocal and speech sounds. This is followed by a short return to the tango sample samba, only to be interrupted by speech with low percussive sounds and low evolving filtered sawtooth sounds. This continues to develop till the piece ends with a long evolving crescendo that is a mix of all of the different sound types used in the piece.

“Historia de un Pueblo por Nacer ou Carta Abierta a Vassili Vassilikos y a todos los Pesimistas “ was composed in 1970 in Buenos Aires. The piece was inspired by the novel and film “Z” by Vassili Vasilikos. It is in three sections with a coda. Each of the sections begins in silence and slowly builds a noisy texture to a loud intensity and then is crushed by a single pitched sound. The coda uses a fragment from the “International” in a canonic texture, which closes the piece.

Jorge Antunes is an electronic music pioneer and this LP reissues his earliest electronic music. The compositions on “Música Electrônica” despite their age are imaginative and innovative making “Música Electrônica”essential listening for electronic music fans. For more information visit: http://www.guerssen.com/catalogue.php?ide=26007

Chris De Chiara

AMN Reviews: Various Artists – An Anthology of Turkish Experimental Music 1961-2014 [SubRosa SR390CD]

srv390This welcome survey of electronic and other experimental music by Turkish artists covers a five-decade period and encompasses a range of diverse sounds.

The first disc is devoted to electronic music, beginning with Bülent Arel’s 1961 Postlude from Music for a Sacred Service. Arel, along with Ilhan Mimaroğlu, was involved in some of the pioneering postwar experiments in electronic music. Both were connected to the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center in the 1960s, and both worked on electronic composition with Edgard Varèse. Arel’s Postlude sounds of its time but is still fresh, its undulating bursts of characteristically electronic timbres making for a richly textural work. Mimaroğlu is represented by Istanbul Fog, a program work from 1996 that leverages overlapping tones to convey the discordant harmonies of multiple fog horns sounding in a harbor.

The other works on the first disc are largely within the classic electronic tradition of timbral exploration. Some, like Cenk Ergün’s Forge (2008) or Erdem Helvacıoğlu’s Resonating Universe Part I (2010), manipulate samples of acoustic instruments, while others, like Mehmet Can Öser’s sparse, skittering Plug-Out: Balzklar II (2007), Batuhan Bozkurt’s Kun (2012) or Sair Sinan Kestelli’s Earthworks (2007) sculpt inharmonic sounds into elegantly dynamic forms.

The pieces on Disc 2 move away from the predominantly formal experiments of Disc 1 and instead represent an eclectic set of mostly very recent work based variously on field recordings, loops, drones and glitches, post-rock and socio-political commentary. As such, it’s a fine introduction to the many varieties of contemporary Turkish experimentalism.

http://www.subrosa.net

http://www.forcedexposure.com/home.html

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Kevin Cogen – Electroacoustic Miscellaneous [bandcamp]; Todd Francis Smith – Electroacoustic Works [bandcamp]

The appeal of early electronic music systems consisted in their capacity to allow composers and performers access to a spectrum of sounds that literally had been unheard before. Over the ensuing decades electronic systems were miniaturized, digitized and democratized, but their original, fundamental function—to open up to artists an expanded world of timbres—never went away. These releases by two young composer/performers show just how vital this function remains.

Montrealer Kevin Cogen’s Electroacoustic Miscellaneous is, as its title announces, an eclectic olio of compositions, collages and musique concrète. Purely electronic works run up against electroacoustic pieces, atmospheric soundscapes jostle tracks with a rhythmic backbone. Cogen works from such raw materials as recordings of conversations or cymbals or performances on piano and then manipulates them to varying degrees, so that the substance of a conversation may still legible or a chord progression retained, if sometimes redirected. The compositions tend toward textures built up of classic electronic sounds and cyclical structures, whether rhythmic—some of them poppish–or harmonic.

Like the pieces on Electroacoustic Miscellaneous, the tracks on Electroacoustic Works by Todd Francis Smith, a jazz guitarist and composer from Bellingham, WA, focus on the interplay of timbral qualities inherent in sonically thick surfaces. The structures here are looser, but the sonorities are rich and shimmering, enfolding the listener in an almost tactile experience of sound.

Each in its own way, these two releases are consistent with the timbrally-centered aesthetic that animated the early electronic experimentalists. Like them, Cogen and Smith treat sound color as a value in itself, to be grasped—and enjoyed–on its own terms.

http://kevincogen.bandcamp.com

http://composertoddsmith.bandcamp.com

AMN Reviews: Maurizio Bianchi – Untitled 1980 / Untitled 2013 [imprec414]

414-bianchi.webjpgMilanese-born sound artist Maurizio Bianchi has been making challenging, noise-inflected work since the late 1970s. Describing himself as a non-musician, he created proto-industrial musique concrète collages and sound manipulations in a series of cassette releases issued between 1979 and 1983, when he suddenly stopped making music in the wake of a religious conversion. After a fourteen year hiatus he began again in 1998 and is once again creating sound art, sometimes by revisiting and reworking early material as he does on this recording.

The first two tracks, two untitled works of approximately seventeen and eighteen minutes each, are reissued from a cassette originally released in Japan in 1980. Both were created on a KORG MS20, a semi-modular monophonic synthesizer. Untitled A 1980 is a pulsing, industrially-tincted work containing apparently randomly placed pitches and glissandi whose tones sound as if received through radio static. Untitled B 1980 is built around an oscillating buzz that seems something like the product of the chance encounter of a jaw harp and a ring modulator on a mixing table. The remaining four tracks are reworkings of the 1980 recordings, done in 2013.

The juxtaposition of the originals with these recastings is a revealing testament to Bianchi’s ongoing commitment to working with sound, his periodic withdrawals from music notwithstanding. To the extent that he takes his own work as source material, the new pieces represent a kind of self-commentary embedded in a peculiarly reflexive form of musique concrète. As such, these new works manage to retain the salient features of the originals while rephrasing them in a more contemporary electronic vocabulary deriving primarily from drone. The anti-melodies of Untitled A 1980, for example, are recognizable under the manipulations Bianchi subjects them to in two of the new compositions. But even when the source recordings are obscured, something of a family resemblance between old and new can be perceived through the noise.

http://www.importantrecords.com/

AMN Reviews: Alvin Lucier – Music 109: Notes on Experimental Music

Alvin Lucier: Music 109: Notes on Experimental Music (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press)

Music 109 is composer Alvin Lucier’s personal tour of some of the highlights of postwar musical experimentalism.

Lucier, a professor emeritus at Wesleyan University, has been at the forefront of sound art composition and performance since the 1960s. His 1965 work Music for Solo Performer employed EEG electrodes to detect brain waves that were subsequently amplified to vibrate percussion instruments; other work has made creative use of technology to create varied sonic phenomena. Many of his compositions are concerned with the acoustic properties of the spaces in which they are realized and the effects of those properties on the listener’s sense of perception. Along with composers Robert Ashley, Gordon Mumma and David Behrman, Lucier formed the Sonic Arts Union, which presented advanced works by the four from 1966-1976.

The book is a loosely structured collection of Lucier’s reflections on some of the milestone works of experimental music of the past fifty years or so. Lucier discusses specific pieces by John Cage, Earle Brown, Morton Feldman and Christian Wolff, as well as work by Ashley, Mumma and Behrman, and others. He offers insights, often based on first-hand experience, into the ways the compositions were written or performed, in many cases demystifying such matters as how exactly to realize graphic scores such as Wolff’s For 1, 2 or 3 People, Brown’s From Here, Cage’s Cartridge Music and Feldman’s King of Denmark. Lucier walks the reader step-by-step through the processes involved first in interpreting the marks on paper, and then in translating them into the appropriate actions. In doing this he draws on his experiences as a performer or conductor of the works in question.

Lucier is perhaps best known as the composer of I Am Sitting in a Room, the creation of which he describes in lively detail. It came about in spring 1969 in what Lucier describes as a “sordid” apartment in Middletown, Connecticut, where Lucier was teaching at Wesleyan. Using two borrowed Nagra tape recorders—state of the art technology in 1969—Lucier read a deliberately unremarkable text into one recorder, transferred the tape to the second recorder and played it back while recording on the first machine. He repeated the process through fifteen iterations, until he got a result that turned his recorded voice into an abstract pattern of sound that provided, in effect, a portrait of the room’s acoustic characteristics. It’s interesting to read that the inspiration for the text, which simply described what Lucier was doing while he was doing it, came from a specific performance by Judson Church dancer Trisha Brown.

Music 109 is adapted from the lectures Lucier delivered for his Introduction to Experimental Music course at Wesleyan. This accounts for the conversational tone—the reader often feels as if he or she is sitting in a room with Lucier, listening to him talk. Plain and direct-spoken and with an uncluttered prose style, Lucier easily blends analysis, anecdote and digression into a reader-friendly first-person account of some of the most interesting music to come out of the postwar period.

http://www.wesleyan.edu/wespress