AMN Reviews: Milton Babbitt – “Philomel” [ATD4], Juliet Fraser – Soprano, & Luigi Nono – “La Fabbrica Illuminata” [ATD5], Loré Lixenberg – Mezzo-soprano

All that dust is a new independent label based in the UK that is dedicated to producing high quality releases of contemporary music. With the help of a Kickstarter campaign they have recently released five recordings. In this initial batch of recordings two of the five are high quality binaural recordings. Binaural recording is a recording technique that aims to create a 3-D stereo sound field that represents the listening experience of actually being in the room during the performance. It is best experienced with headphones or ear buds. Binaural recording is a very effective way of capturing the experience of a performance where there is a live performer(s) with multichannel tape/electronic accompaniment.

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ATD4 is “Philomel” a serial composition from 1964 by Milton Babbitt that utilizes recorded synthesizer with both live and recorded soprano voice. The piece is one of the earliest works to use the synthesizer and is considered to be Babbitt’s best-known work. Its text is taken from a poem by John Hollander and its three sections are based on Ovid’s myth of Philomela. A tale of a women who is the sister in-law of a king whom rapes her. The king has her tongue cut out so that she cannot talk and then imprisons her. Her sister discovers the truth and helps Philomel escape. As they are pursued by the king the gods intervene and transform her sister Procne into a swallow, the king into a hoopoe and Philomel into a nightingale. The piece is a dramatic representation of Philomel’s transformation.

Babbitt used synthesizer and voices in a four-channel tape accompaniment to try and make the listener feel trapped in the music, as a way of conveying Philomela’s inability to escape her fate. The four channels act as a moving sound ensemble. The music is both very rhythmic and colorful with a great range of synthesized timbres and with a very demanding virtuoso part for soprano voice. The pieces mood is tentative and shattered but despite the stories horror the music is never sentimental in its anger or sorrow. As the piece progresses the mood shifts more to bewilderment at the transformation that is taking place.

On this recording “Philomel” is beautifully performed by soprano Juliet Fraser.  Her voice is very expressive, with great tone and incredible control. She is not simply singing to a recording but is actively interacting with a four-channel ensemble. Fraser is able to make this performance feel as if she is driving this ensemble while bringing this piece to life. Juliet Fraser is an accomplished performer of early music and new music. She has performed with many ensembles and has recorded for Hat Hut, Neos, Kairos and many other labels. Fraser is also one of the principles of All that dust.

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ATD5 is “La Fabbrica Illuminata” it is a powerful work for voice(mezzo-soprano) and four-channel tape from 1964 by Luigi Nono. This binaural recording captures a fantastic performance by mezzo-soprano Loré Lixenberg. Lixenberg is an accomplished voice in contemporary and experimental music giving more than a thousand performances around the globe. Her voice has a beautiful tone that is rich with both power and subtlety. Lixenberg has performed with many of the world’s leading ensembles including the Ensemble InterContemporain, BBC Symphony, Berlin Philharmonic and the Tokyo Philharmonic.

“La Fabbrica Illuminata” came out of Nono’s work on a large-scale musical theater project depicting the conditions of factory workers. It utilizes texts by Guilaino Scabia and a fragment of Cesare Pavese’s poem “Due poesie a T.”  The mezzo-soprano voice sings a commentary on situations that are represented by the tape as it illuminates the conditions of factory work. The tape’s sound scenes are meant to represent the injustice and unfairness of capitalism to the working classes. While this description may make it sound like this piece is just some 60’s agitprop, it is not. It is much more than that. “La Fabbrica Illuminata” is a highly original piece that surrounds the listener with sonic scenes that can be dramatic, poignant and hopeful.  Even if you do not understand the language of the voices or appreciate the sentiment of the texts, the drama and intensity of the piece is clear.

“La Fabbrica Illuminata” is structured in three sections. The first section slowly builds from fragments and chants with the soloist appearing and disappearing while singing fragments of the texts. The section slowly builds up to an industrial crescendo. The second section is more reflective, often mysterious or dream like. The live voice sings while surrounded primarily by electronically processed voices occasionally punctuated by echoes of the illuminated factory. In the final section the tape is silent and the solo voice sings and intones verses taken from Pavese’s poem. Leaving us with a little bit of hope for the future as she sings “ … it will not be so  always  you will find something “.

In “La Fabbrica Illuminata” the listener is surrounded by sonic scenes that move into and out of one another. At times it can be dramatic or mysterious or even surreal. The four-channel tape makes use of electronic sounds, concrete sounds of factory noises as well as voices that go through multiple transformations.  Sounds move around the space to create distance and depth. As sound masses move into and out of one another it is as if we hearing sonic thoughts enter, unfold, transform and dissipate as another group appears. Nono wanted the listener to feel as if they were inside the sounds and to confuse them so that they are unsure of where the sounds are coming from. The experience of listening to this binaural recording on headphones achieves that. There is a wide dynamic range on this recording so don’t crank the volume up to much the first time you listen to it.

Binaural recordings are a unique way to present multi-channel works. In this time where so much music is listened to in the personal space of ear buds, binaural recordings provide the listener with a unique 3-D listening experience. For those of you that are afraid of Babbitt’s reputation as a serial composer of extreme mathematically based music, or Nono’s much maligned reputation as a composer of leftist agitprop, check your assumptions at the door and put on your ear buds and enjoy two of the twentieth century’s most spectacular sonic dramas.

Highly recommended!

Chris De Chiara

 

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AMN Reviews: Daniel Barbiero, Ken Moore, Dave Vosh – “transparent points on four axes”[pyr260]

Transparent-Points-on-Four-Axes-cover-768x768“transparent points on four axes” is a studio collaboration by Daniel Barbiero on double bass, sylosynth app and microbrute synthesizer. (Yes, AMN Readers this is the same Daniel Barbiero that frequently posts reviews here on AMN.) Ken Moore on STEIM Crackle Box, minimoog, emax sampler and various percussion. Dave Vosh on analogue modular synthesizer. It is a very interesting album that is bound to be the best free download you will get all year. It has been released on pan y rosas discos. A netlabel out of Chicago that focuses on experimental, noise, improvisation and weirdo rock.  It has a catalog of 260 releases all of which are free downloads.

The eight pieces on “transparent points on four axes” each began as a single layer of either a composed or improvised track to form a ground layer from which each of the participants then added additional layers. The use of this ground layer provides an underlying sense of direction as each piece’s dialog develops and unfolds. The pieces have a great deal of sonic and textural variety and the album is very well recorded and mixed. There are pieces that are driven by exceptional bass playing with lyrical use of bowed harmonics and the extreme upper register of the bass. Other pieces seem to be driven by more sensitive and nuanced percussion. The analog synth work is really interesting because it can at times give the pieces that retro analog early electronic music vibe, however I think that it really works on this album because it completely avoids the repetitive sequencer driven drivel that is currently being produced by so many contemporary musicians using analog and modular synths.

“transparent points on four axes” is a really interesting listen of solid contemporary experimental  music and it is free. So grab it and enjoy it!  And maybe poke around the rest of the releases on pan y rosas discos and explore some new sounds.

Highly recommended!

Chris De Chiara

 

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